The Environmental Ethic

by
Dr. John Vann, Department of Marketing
Green Initiatives Coordinator
March 2002

The adoption of behaviors that support environmental sustainability can be aided by a simple environmental ethic.  Among other considerations, we can ask ourselves "What is the environmental impact of the action I am about to take?"  Once the question is asked, we can address the structuring of systems and policies within which our behaviors occur.  If we don't ask the question, we are unlikely to make progress toward environmental sustainability.

For example, we can ask what the environmental impacts are of printing documents.  There are numerous negative impacts ranging from depletion of resources, to pollution, to landfill requirements.  Of course there are also economic costs ranging from paper purchase to waste disposal.  Once we ask ourselves what the environmental and economic consequences are, we can change the system, policies, and behaviors to reduce the negative consequences.  For example, the computer lab in WB 216 has a printer with duplex printing capability (printing on both sides to save paper).  So, the structure is there.  Policies could include requirements that any College of Business documents and student assignments be printed on both sides.  Additionally, our policies may state that high post-consumer recycled content paper will be used, or that students will pay for printing beyond an initial page allotment per semester.  A value system endorsing the desirability of environmental sustainability will guide the development of favorable systems, policies, and behaviors.

The same framework may be applied to other behaviors.  For example, our classrooms have been equipped with recycling bins (structure).  We need a consensus on values that support a recycling policy and the accompanying behaviors.  All of our classrooms are also equipped with light switches.  Will the last person out please turn off the lights?