Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility

Hartman: Business Ethics: Decision−Making for Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility

9. Business, the Environment, and Sustainability

Text © The McGraw−Hill Companies, 2008

Chapter 9


Business, the Environment, and Sustainability A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.

Aldo Leopold

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Edward Abbey

Waste equals food.

William McDonough

Hartman: Business Ethics: Decision−Making for Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility

9. Business, the Environment, and Sustainability

Text © The McGraw−Hill Companies, 2008

370 Chapter 23 Capital Asset PricingOpening Decision Point Should Toxic Wastes Be Exported?

Tons of toxic wastes are created every day in the production and disposal of countless goods and services. Business and government must decide what to do with such leftovers as the radioactive wastes created in nuclear power plants, the fly ash from industrial and municipal incinerators, chemical residues from industrial processes and consumer goods, and heavy metals in computers and other consumer electronics. Consumers are challenged to find ways to dispose of toxic chemicals in household cleaners, lawn and garden pesticides, home appliances, and consumer electronics.

Ordinary waste disposal is a serious enough public policy challenge for every level of government. Newer landfills soon reach their capacity; many older and closed landfills contaminate groundwater; and incinerators spew noxious pollutants. But the challenge is compounded when the wastes entering into the disposal system are themselves highly toxic and dangerous.

Historically, industry has disposed of wastes into the easiest and least desirable sites. For decades, industry simply dumped waste into the air and water or buried it underground. Landfills, trash dumps, incinerators, and other socially undesirable activities were located either in out-of-the-way and unattractive locations, or in the most convenient location to ease disposal. Such decisions seemed to make economic sense; if land values would be degraded because of proximity to a toxic waste dump, it makes most sense to choose a location that already has the lowest valued property.

One result of this dumping is that domestic waste disposal often creates a cycle of decreasing land values that seem clearly to harm the poorest and most disenfranchised citizens. Areas with the lowest land values, and therefore areas targeted as the location for socially undesirable activities, tend to be the areas in which a society’s poorest citizens live. As those areas accept more of the undesirable wastes and industries, they became even less attractive locations in which to live, thereby making them poorer and poorer, as those who are able to move away leave behind those who are less able to do so. This practice raises fundamental questions of social justice when society’s least advantaged citizens pay the highest costs for the social benefits of industrial society.

In recent decades, this same economic logic has created a market for toxic wastes among the world’s poorest countries. The incentive to send toxic wastes offshore increases as waste disposal has become more expensive domestically. The world’s less developed countries need the income and, because they are less developed, often do not have the industrial pollution problems that plague developed countries.

Should waste disposal be treated simply as an economic issue, to be resolved through private market exchanges, or should government regulations place greater responsibility on producers for the entire life cycle of products?

What facts do you need to know to form an opinion on the practice of export- ing toxic wastes to foreign countries? What values are implicit in the economic reasoning that leads to the decision to export such wastes? Does it matter if the countries that accept such wastes are democratic?