Straight Up Social Responsibility
A couple of days after Earth Day, I departed on a week long vacation and this note finds me recently returned from Nevis, the small sister island of St. Kitts in the West Indies. While a great opportunity to relax and to disconnect from technology for awhile, there was plenty on this little island to keep one’s mind thoroughly occupied as relates to the environment, sustainability, corporate social responsibility and individual respect for the planet and its inhabitants.
On the second day of our trip, my husband and I ventured to a well-known beach on the Atlantic side of the island to take an afternoon stroll. From our first steps onto the sand, it was clear that something was amiss at this place revered as a body-surfing destination and beautiful beach. As we tried to walk in one direction and then the other, we found ourselves confronted by the same barrier – impassable rocky piles of plastic. Empty soda bottles, tossed oil jugs, lost flip flops, spent lighters, and anything else you can imagine made of plastic. It was tragically mesmerizing and I found myself compelled to snap picture upon picture of all too familiar labels and personal objects abandoned to the sea and retired to this beach or the belly of wildlife.
I know it is a rather bleak holiday picture to paint, but it is the reality in more places than just Nevis. Wealthier nations are so good at hiding or burying waste that many never get to see first hand the impact our actions have on the earth and the quality of life of others.
Before I had even heard of William McDonough, or knew of cradle-to-cradle design theory, it seemed to me that companies that produce things should be responsible for their proper re-use or end-of-life disposal. Perhaps this stems from my experience of growing up in Maine, where aluminum cans and plastic bottles always came with a deposit for return and recycling. Some would argue that re-use or disposal is the responsibility of the individual that buys the product, and I would not argue with them. By virtue of the fact that one produces and the other uses naturally implicates both parties and therefore it is a shared role. This got me to thinking that perhaps it is time we stopped separating corporate responsibility and personal environmentalism and started operating in partnership – call it straight up social responsibility.
What would social responsibility look like and could it actually work? Could all products eventually require a return deposit? Could companies develop easy ways for individuals to return used items (e.g. Apple)? Could we as humans care enough to do our part if more things we bought or borrowed came with disposal and/or return instructions?
One of the things I value most about Net Impact Boston is the forum it provides to challenge how we currently think about business and the corporate social relationship. I trust that in the responses I will receive to this note, I will learn from fellow members and those exchanges will prompt even more ideas that generate awareness, inspire innovative solutions, and push shared sustainability goals forward.
Vacation is over for me and it is time to get back to work putting ideas into action. I hope that you will join us at an event this month or contribute to the conversation online. We would love to hear your ideas and provide new ways for you to take action as well.
Net Impact Boston