I had to update the "Meet Megan" section of this blog recently and realized I've been doing environmental work for almost 15 years. Shoot. Time flies. But then again, in such a fast-moving and constantly evolving profession as sustainability has turned out to be, that feels like light years ago. Particularly when thinking about the future I see for how corporate sustainability is shifting. And in this regard, the environmental movement and its theory of change going back decades has not yet embraced what I believe to be the greatest opportunity for corporate America to "step up". But before I can get to advocating for what I think is the answer, we have to get on the same page, and that involves dipping into how we all got here (I'll make it quick! Like ripping off a band-aid). But I really do have to give you the skinny on why the environmentalists got to their belief system on what causes corporations to reduce their impact on the planet. They have a really good reason for being that way.
In the days of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the blue marble photo of Earth that sparked the environmental movement, there wasn't a political lens to it. I mean, consider: who doesn't benefit or get impacted by waterways, drinking water and air clean of pollution? Passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were strongly supported on a bipartisan basis by Congress (I know...feels like a fairy tale to say that these days!). And then....came the reaction. The backlash. President Reagan's underlying principle of "economy vs environment" meant appointing a blatantly anti-environmentalist to lead the EPA and ripping out the solar water heating system installed by President Carter. Which all led to the formalization and codification of environmental issues being deeply partisan with the GOP being "anti" for all things environmental, and that divide has stayed the rule pretty much to this day. With the notable and extremely temporary exception of when climate had it's moment in 2007 where conservatives supported taking action until they collapsed into this still toxic and resistant strain of denialism. Deep roots that denialism has. Sigh. Anyways, that concrete-like hardening on the political front was a result of multinational corporations deciding that environmental regulation was onerous, expensive and corporates came in heavy to all levels of government against any further action.
So how did this play out outside of the Beltway? How were companies interacting on environmental issues in their business during the 80s and 90s before corporate sustainability became "a thing"?
(Read on below the jump)