A Discussion on the Ethical Implications of Human Interactions With the Environment

In discussing the ethical implications of human interactions with the environment, as well as production and marketing issues stemming from such activities, our group overwhelmingly recognized the importance of these topics in a context that considered the planet, and not simply humanity, as the quintessential stakeholder tied to the continued existence and prosperity of nature and its resources. Similarly, our group reasoned, for organizations in the here-and-now, managers must be cognizant of the ways in which their products are created and distributed with respect to Earth's limited resources, especially on the micro level in establishing honest connections with consumers through sound design, production, and information processes that place buyer and seller on even footing.

Delving deeper into the lessons learned, a fairly even split in takeaway messages emerged between these two topics, with particular attention given to the environmental issues as related to the importance of new and emerging business practices. Techniques such as cost-benefit analyses and social audits were emphasized as a means to bridge the gap between private costs (which are associated with the production of a commodity) and social costs (tied to the pollution costs and medical care resulting from a product's manufacturing and usage). For those who most strongly identified with the environmental issues, consent was unanimous in that the ever-increasing pace of technological progress and globalization, which has led to one of the most comfortable, and indeed peaceful eras of humanity for a large swath of the population, is entirely resting on the greatest depletion rate of finite resources that this planet has ever seen.

Our continued existence, as one classmate summarized, “may be separated by borders, cultures, and languages, [but) the environment belong[s] to all of us, and we should collectively come together to ensure that there is something to pass on to future generations.” Ensuring this survival for our descendants must reverse the current trend that places social costs on the backs of the lower classes, and encourages those controlling the means of production to invest capital that encourages conservation and attempts to find a balance in pollution control at the crux of bearing both private and social costs from within.

Turning to consumer production and marketing, our discussion gave special attention to the advertising dimension. Unanimity was reached in the belief that companies seeking viable long-term success should engage in product representation that does not exaggerate, overplays the benefits, nor skimps informing the consumer of potential hazards. That final dimension, information, rests on a more difficult, often subjective level in determining who has the most responsibility in researching the benefits and hazards of a product based simply on its advertising. From this, viewpoints arose that challenged the textbook's assertion that advertising shifts the consumer's focus from basic, physical needs to utterly materialistic values. Namely, that “falling victim to advertising is a choice – the consumer can just as easily research and make an informed decision, so I don't believe the ethical responsibility can fall on the business."

Another seemingly-murky quandary, that of the ends justifying the means in terms of "shock ads”, did not meet opposition within the group as the middle ground was strictly defined. Increased public health awareness through the use of violent, realistic depictions of chronic smokers, for instance, seeks to not only grab the audience's attention, but to improve their general well-being. Organizations selling not-so-practical products must, therefore, find ways to increase the attention factor, as the ultimate efficacy of their product may not have as significant an effect on their consumers' daily lives. Especially with television and web ads, which must work within very specific time and space restraints, ads with an element of shock or surprise have an especially high tendency to stand out from the crowd, and as such, their usage must be limited to more basic, need-to-survive mentalities and products.

All in all, while the majority of this particular discussion group session resulted in largely harmonious results, a number of strong counterparts to certain points did indeed emerge within the greater discussion on the environment and general marketing practices. Problems have been identified and well-documented within the status quo, and while new practices may be beneficial in the future, the uncertainty as to the potential level of their success is still in question, and requires innovative new discussions and implementations.