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The Weekender: Pennsylvania Plastic Resistance and the Role of Watchdogs


Image credit: Blue Lens

The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great weekend.

This week....Pennsylvania's Plastic Resistance (Greenpeace)

My notes...toothless watchdogs

Nonprofit environmental organizations, once the hand-waving watchdogs of industry, the sailor on the bow pointing to the iceberg and sounding an alarm, are increasingly "partnering" with companies to advance mutual interests. Though I believe in the potential of such partnerships, I also recognize their complexities and the research suggesting mixed motives and dubious outcomes.

Though nonprofit-corporate partnerships are increasing, they don't always go as planned and moreover they have slowly pulled the teeth out of the mouths of the watchdogs. Many devout watchdogs still exist--Greenpeace and Sierra Club being leading examples with a full set of sharp teeth--and they serve an important purpose. Though sometimes derided by executives and scholars as not understanding the financial and economic realities of their urgent, impassioned calls for change, these groups serve as an important moral backstop to the incrementalism that characterizes most environmental and social impact efforts. That is why I share something from Greenpeace about the local manifestation of a global movement against plastics: to remind us of the important perspective and influence of these activist groups.

These groups serve an important moral backstop to the incrementalism that characterizes most environmental and social impact efforts.

Companies report single digit reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or new supplier codes of conduct they claim will trickle down to benefit workers in the deep supply chain. These incremental steps are then celebrated in annual reports. Having worked on such changes in large organizations, I understand that even the smallest, inconsequential change is difficult. Therefore, we need science and nonprofits to hold up a standard that says what is really needed to make a difference. Companies will always be biased to see their progress as sufficient.

At Smeal we are committed to a focus on results, for the business and society. It's not just about good ideas or things that glitter in the moment. Unless the business is solving real problems; unless costs are reduced or profits increased; unless the Chesapeake Bay is cleaner; unless the atmospheric concentration of carbon decreases; unless products are actually safer and workers' rights are measurably better....it's all just a game of words.

I believe the activist community, watchdog groups like Greenpeace, which makes us uncomfortable with their calls for greater change, never satisfied, that will play a key role in helping us avoid the iceberg ahead.

Image credit: Blue Lens

Pennsylvania's Plastic Resistance (Greenpeace)

"The Break Free From Plastic coalition and Earthworks have launched the “Stopping Plastic Where it Starts Tour...activists Lakshmi Narayan from India and Myrna Dominguez from the Philippines are representing the voices of communities impacted by plastic pollution by speaking directly with Americans who live at the very start of the plastics supply chain...Fracking, drilling, and plastic production are harming communities right here in the United States, but people are fighting against petrochemical production to prevent plastic pollution at the source."

"People who are poor and do not have good job prospects are more likely to be willing to trade the health of their land, air, bodies, and neighbor’s bodies for a job or for a royalty payment. Right away we can see that this creates an economic justice issue, where there is apparently no 'fundamental standard' for protection of citizen health. Instead, we collectively protect the health of affluent communities more than poor communities simply by the nature of businesses that those communities are willing to tolerate nearby."

Image credit: Blue Lens

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