Example Of Sustainable Business Development: Computers, The Environment And Sustainability Management Essay
Sustainable Business Development: Computers, the Environment and Sustainability Management
Introduction: Background Information
Computers are electronic devices which were invented for storing and processing of data in binary form (Gerdes, 201, p. 57). These devices have revolutionized the world as we know it enabling us to make further advancements in other areas. Today, computers can be found in 1 out of every four households all over the world. The wide spread manufacture and use of computers has however increased the pollution effects of this device.
Computers are a source of environmental degradation right from the point of acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing to how they are disposed. A desktop computer requires about 240 kg of fossil fuels and chemicals during its manufacturing process (Haley, 2003, p. 110). This quantity is much more than is required to manufacture other items such as refrigerators or even an automobile. Even though computers are becoming more smaller in size, their environmental pollutions effects are on the rise.
Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (Gerdes, 2011, p. 69) showed that computers produced tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The research revealed the presence of environmentally dangerous chemicals in different parts of the computer; Arsenic was present in older cathode ray tubes, selenium in the circuit boa and the presence of cadmium in the circuit boards. These chemicals have been known to cause serious illness in human beings leading to death (Orme, 2009, p. 67).
Computers generally have a life span of about five years, after this they are disposed off (Tueth, 2009, p. 111). The presence of mercury in the switchboards and casing of computers raised concern over the leakage of this substance in water bodies which could lead to death of fish and risk to human health. The process of land-filling, crushing or incineration posed the risk of the release of some of these deadly chemicals into the environment. Research shows that a stunning 40 % of all the lead that in lad fills is as a result of CTR monitors.
Computers are also high energy consumers. When computers are left on, it results in large energy consumption. Research shows that computer data centres are responsible for a tenth of the world`s energy consumption (Board, 2012, p. 91). The use of paper to acquire the information that is electronically stored is also a huge consumer of energy, not adding that waste paper also ends up polluting the environment
Parts of the computer such as the keyboards, monitors and mice are made of plastics. These, materials are non-biodegradable hence cause an ever bigger problem. The fast pace at which the computer is evolving is also just making the situation worse, many computers are becoming obsolete very fast and hence they are being disposed of before their operation period has expired (Little, 2011, p. 124). This basically means that the computer waste is accumulating at a faster rate than it can be disposed off.
Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility: Literature Review
Sustainability has to do with ensuring long-term success of business, while at the same time contributing towards “economic and social development, a healthy environment and a stable society” (Bendel 2005, p.364). In this particular case, ‘sustainability’ refers to the utilization of natural resources in a way that safeguards these resources for the future generations. In this respect, sustainability entails three major components. The first component is described as “people, planet and profits” (Crowe 2002, p.7); the second is “the social, economic and environmental dimensions” (Crowe 2002, p.7); and, finally, the third is expressed in the “triple bottom line concept” (Crowe 2002, p.7). Besides these three, there are also the questions of accountability, transparency and stakeholder engagement” (Bendel 2005, p.364). In the end, however, the term ‘sustainability’ has various meanings in relation to aspects of business, including good governance, environmental impact, treatment of employees, impact on local communities (as key stakeholders) as well as the relationship between the business with its suppliers and customers. Most- if not all- of these variants are referred to in this paper. They all complement each other one way or another, all being a part of a ‘system’.
The contemporary organizations carry a new responsibility, caring for the future even as they exist in the present; that even as they aim to meet the needs of the present generation, they must not compromise the ability of future generations to have their needs met. Organizations are, therefore, called on to take responsibility for how their goals and objectives as well as operations towards pursuing these goals impact societies, including natural environments. In this respect, organizations are expected to adopt sustainability principles in how they conduct their businesses (Kotler & Lee 2005).
As shown above, the term sustainability means a range of things, depending on the context. However, they all agree on one thing, that sustainability has to do with the “organizational activities, typically voluntary, that demonstrate the inclusion of social and environmental concerns in business operations and in interactions with stakeholders” (Van de Loo 2006, p.75).
Organizations can no longer experience economic prosperity while excluding the agents affected- positively or negatively- by their actions. Now they must also focus on increasing their bottom line and building their reputations as good corporate citizens. In pursuing these goals, organizations have been forced to reshape their frameworks, business models and rules to keep abreast of global trends and remain committed to financial obligations and delivering benefits to both the private and public groups. Trying to understand and boost their current sustainability efforts, organizations committed to sustainability continually revise their agendas (short- and long-term) and stay ahead of a highly dynamic global marketplace (Kotler & Lee 2005; Campbell 2007).
There are many approaches to implementing sustainability objectives. Most- if not all- of these have to do with a strong relationship with corporate social responsibility (CSR). Some authors focus on why organizations start CSR, arguing that it (i.e. CSR) can function as a central component of business strategy and corporate identity, but can act as a defensive policy (especially for the organizations that activists have targeted). CSR can also be justified on the basis of a moral, rationale or economic arguments (Werther & Chandler 2006). According to Campbell (2007), social responsibility at corporations’ level are also influenced by other factors, including the organizational financial conditions, health of the general national and global economy (that is, having to do with macro-economic factors) as well as well-enforced stat regulations.
Discussions of the reason why organizations undertake sustainability efforts also touch on the specific initiatives within which sustainability may fall. These rationales are described in various ways. Some are skeptical, basing their arguments on the premise of cause-related marketing. Others are more hopeful, seeing CSR as a “genuine socially responsible business practices” (Kotler & Lee 2005, p.21).
A number of researches have been conducted to ascertain how organizations implement CSR. Mirvis & Googins (2006), among others, have used developmental framework to track “change in awareness, strategy, and action over time, and posits stages of CSR from elementary to transforming” (p.8). Taking a more how-to approach, Jackson and Nelson (2004) offer a principle-based framework to help master the new rules of CSR. Some of these principles are: harnessing innovation for the benefit of the public; taking a people-centered approach; and spreading economic opportunity.
Ultimately, though, while there remain significant differences in how and to what extent organizations implement sustainability and CSR initiatives, there remains room for further research to inspire and guide future reflection and action.
Another important question on sustainability and CSR has to do with what drives or inspires the current organization commitment to the two. In this regard, organizations are driven by either economic self-interest (that is, solid business case) or ethical reasons (having to do with the moral importance of sustainable development).
The business (profit) case applies when referring to significant and positive value. In this regard, much effort has focused on how CSR can lead to improved financial performance. According to Husted and Allen (2007), there is a general view that when corporations look after and empower the people and the communities (including the environment), it ultimately helps their long-term business survival. Indeed, the business case for sustainability and CSR is strong. However, many express doubt and even cynicism, considering that sustainability is not the same character across contexts. For instance, Hartman et al. (2007) conducted a cross-cultural analysis of how organizations communicate their CSR activities in United States (US) and European Union (EU) corporations. The authors find that while US corporations justify their CSR efforts based on economics and bottom-line in communication, EU companies, on the other hand, focus more on language, as well as citizenship theories, including corporate accountability and/or moral commitment. In this regard, EU companies see sustainability and financial commitment as both important. In agreement, Hulm (2006) notes that US companies are more concerned with financial justifications, while EU companies focus on both the financial and sustainability elements. For these differences in what organizations across contexts focus on, it becomes hard to make a conclusive and indisputable case for the profit aspect of sustainability and CSR.
There is much more to sustainability and CSR than what this literature review provides. However, generally, in all its variants, sustainability and CSR is about financial and social accountability. Most importantly, sustainability and CSR must go hand in hand with a fitting organizational culture and strategy, which ensures a workplace that, through the workforce, is conducive for all these efforts to work. The employees must believe in the value of sustainability and CSR.
Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Life Cycle of Computer Production and Use
This section focuses on two areas:
The specific initiatives to undertake in response to the specific problems mentioned above, and
The managerial aspects that can make the initiatives (discussed in i. above) possible. This looks at the relatedness of both internal and external organizational factors and how management can leverage them to effective sustainable development.
Specific Sustainability Initiatives
More particularly, sustainable packaging focuses on three key areas:
Optimization of the use of material, water and energy involved in the production lifecycle. Minimization of waste from the product and the used packaging
Maximization of recovery of value from waste as material, energy or compost.
These generally involve the reduction of the quantity of raw material for the “same quantity of packaging material produced” (Klak & Ross 2008, p.17), as well as the adoption of innovative ingredients or composition of “raw material to reduce effluents” (Klak & Ross 2008, p.7).
Substitute for Existing Raw Materials
Another important factor is to find substitutes for the currently-used products that are causing waste problems. Degradable plastics have been a major focus in this regard. Besides, non-biodegradable plastics have been a major problem for the environment. Indeed, biodegradable plastics would be a major solution. However, question of “sustainability does not just concern the sustainability solution in isolation, but also how that solution relates to other factors” (Klak & Ross 2008, p.35). In the case of biodegradable plastics, the question of cost remains big one; that is, biodegradable plastics are of higher prices, which may lead to higher costs of production. In turn, manufactures may have o recover this money from the consumers (through higher prices) and even workers (through lower wages). Many have also cited health factors associated with biodegradable plastics. In this regard, many have argued that these plastic cannot be used for food packaging because of the risk that the product may interact with the content, thereby exposing the consumers to health problems. Most importantly, there still are suspicions that although the physical properties of synthetically produced biodegradable plastics may diminish due to exposure to elements, the host polymer remains bio-resistant (i.e. non-biodegradable). For this reason, there is increased search for 100 percent biodegradable materials.
Nonetheless, because it is hard- if ever possible- to avoid the disposal of products (owing to technical and logistical reasons), plus the fact that the current alternatives to waste disposal are marred with many problems, the search for biodegradable plastics for packaging makes sense.
Carbon Footprint and Regulatory Compliance
With global warming climate change becoming key global political, social and economic agendas today, all countries and sectors of the economy (including specific organizations within them) are required to undertake certain initiatives to address the problem of ‘carbon print’. Essentially, ‘carbon footprint’ refers to “the sum of all greenhouse gases emitted during a product’s lifecycle’ (Schmidt 2009, p.20). This covers the raw materials used, the process of production, distribution through the supply chain, consumption and end-of-life treatment (such as disposal) of the product.
In this respect, companies should measure the carbon footprint of their operations globally via the World Business Council on Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This should setting targets for reducing carbon emissions. These targets cover the rate of reduction (i.e. by percentage) and time (i.e. between what times).
Recycling and New Technologies
Recycling is an answer for both biodegradable and non-biodegradable products. Plastics can all be recycled.
Holistic Approach Management
Holistic approach is very much like systems thinking strategy. Both concepts acknowledge the relatedness of various factors that influence management decision-making. The idea is that management should focus on this relatedness, how they all work as a system.
The issues discussed above are the specific initiatives to undertake in sustainability management. However, these initiatives cannot work without a sound supporting framework. One of the concepts of sustainability management is social stewardship.
This covers a number of areas, including employee responsibility, social responsibility and stakeholder management, among others.
Employee responsibility is driven by the premise that satisfied and motivated employees are more driven towards ethical business practices and behaviors. In this regard, the question is whether the organization provides a conducive work environment that gives the workers job satisfaction. In this respect, organizations should provide supportive work environment, as well as key employee training and development initiatives to help improve efficiency.
The corporate social responsibility concept promotes the premise that organizations should exercise some social responsibility toward all other stakeholders, both within and outside the organization. These stakeholders include customers, the communities within the environments in which organizations operate and government, among others. But it is not just about one-time charity works that disappear in only a short while. The main goal is to provide long-term (i.e. sustainable) benefits to the organization’s various stakeholders “across value chain and contributing to the development and overall growth of economy” (Garcia-Arca et al. 2014). Corporate social responsibility includes respecting the way of life of the communities in which an organization operate. Such a community may be in the immediate environment, or one in a geographically distant place but which is still affected one way or another by the organization’s plan and processes (such as the communities around the raw material source forests). These long-term benefits can be done through investments in education (such as providing educational sponsorships and building schools), social amenities (such as health centers), small-medium enterprises (including investing in sustainable for-profit farming), etc. All these issues are related. They all promote the premise of trusteeship, Mahatma Gandhi’s concept on general business and economic activities that asserted the need for organization to focus not just on the profits side of their activities, but also the overall wellbeing of the environment where they function. In this regard, organizations are not just assessed for profit/loss or input/output ratio, but also for the qualitative aspects of business, with special focus on how the business(s) contribute(s) to the society (including in what ways it improves the lives of the people)(Alvord et al. 2004; Klak & Ross 2008; Gracia-Arca et al. 2014).
In the same respect, the organizational norms and targets of research and development expenditures should have ecological benefits. These should guide the development of new products and variants. This will help reduce organizational reluctance to apportion finances to sustainable development. Such research should focus on all the four areas of product development: raw material, production process, final product and waste management (Garcia-Arca et al. 2014).
However, sustainable development cannot be an isolated phenomenon. According to Klak and Ross (2008), “it is a culture that entire society should imbibe” (p.39). In this regard, it is important for organizations to understand its relatedness other factors, including how global and political pressures influence this culture.
Internally, organizations must ensure that all levels of management and employees understand the objectives and policies put in place. In this regard, among other things, the organization must focus on ensuring availability of information. This would enhance management control and external reporting. Such reporting should cover internal management, stakeholder management, and outline the objectives of the organization’s sustainable development, while also comparing performance with those of others.
Computers have become one of the most common household devices I the 21st Century (Miller, 2007, p. 12). Even though they are very useful and functional, these devices pose a serious threat to our environment in now and in the future. Their immediate and long term environmental impacts are and will be felt more than most other home appliances such as refrigerators or iron box.
In this regard, this paper focuses on two key areas of solution. The first focuses on specific solutions to specific problems (such as disposal ad littering). This include sustainable practices in the cutting of trees, the development of more effective waste management systems, as well as the development of cost-effective biodegradable plastics and recycling, among others. However, these solutions cannot be realized without the right managerial framework. Organizations in the industry must understand what sustainability and corporate social responsibility and recognize its role in saving the environment for other use and future generations. In taking a holistic approach, this paper shows how a focus on both internal and external factors can facilitate and enhance sustainable development. Most importantly, sustainability and corporate social responsibility must be a matter of organizational culture, so that every member unites in achieving this common goal.
In conclusion, this paper gives the holistic approach more attention. This is because everything else (i.e. the specific solutions to specific problems) depends on organizational and industry understanding and acknowledgement of the need for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Once the packaging industry and specific organizations within it understand that, everything else follows- not necessarily concrete answers, but the intent and will, and that is the starting point.
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