Awhile back, there was an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "Will Big Business Save the Earth?" A startling question given that corporations are firmly entrenched as evildoers in the public mind, with an environmental record as black as an oil spill and as toxic as the waste dumps in Bopal. Yet the author, noted professor and counter-thinker Jared Diamond, comes up with a more nuanced view: "While some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world's strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability."

He speaks from experience, having served on the boards of conservationist groups and talking to oil company workers at every level. Corporations face the same decline in natural resources that the world does in general, and they realize that wasting precious resources isn't the smartest way to make money. Diamond finds a host of reasons corporations may wind up going green while still pleasing their stockholders.

You and I are entitled to have a skeptical reaction—millions of people would—but there's a larger issue here. To go green represents a shift in consciousness for anyone, whether an individual or a corporation. What does it take to become conscious if you're a businessman? The shift isn't easy. The lack of contrition from Wall Street has been a stunning example of corporations that ignore public outcries, flaunt their greed and shrug of all moral responsibility.

Is that how things have to go? We need to widen our viewpoints. This isn't a stark contrast of good versus evil or us versus them. The traits we hate in corporate behavior belong to society as a whole. Materialism, rampant consumerism, a refusal to think long term, isolation from global problems, reckless spending and the drive for wealth are all around us. They are woven into everyone's life directly or indirectly. Corporations always point to shareholders as the merciless forces that makes them worship the bottom line. A debt-ridden society intoxicated with gadgets, games and diversion can't be left out of the equation.

Corporations won't change, we are told, unless there's money in it, but I think that's wrong. Corporations also change in order to improve what it's like to be in a corporation. Google and eBay aim at high worker satisfaction, whereas 100 years ago John D. Rockefeller had the troops called out to shoot strikers who displeased him. This is a huge shift, and what it represents is a new idea: Work is intimate to life as a whole.

The ever-changing workplace


Next Story