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Corporate Environmental Responsibility: Unifying Competing Perspectives with a Kantian Moral Framework

Applicant Leist Anton
Number 124706
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Ethik-Zentrum Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.04.2009 - 31.03.2010
Approved amount 45'738.00
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Keywords (7)

Kant; Business Ethics; Environmental Ethics; Corporate Environmental Responsibility; Moral Theory; Environmental Philosophy; Environmental Responsibility

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
The central problem to be dealt with in this project is the significant gap existing between the fields of business ethics and environmental ethics. One aspect of the importance of trying to decrease this gap or even to unite these two fields of ethical inquiry can be found in the fact that in the "real world" (i.e. the world as we experience it) there exists a physical, symbiotic relationship between business (or commerce) and the natural environment: the fate of one is intimately tied to the fate of the other. However, this symbiosis has (at least since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the US) transformed into a parasitic relationship where, generally speaking, commerce depletes the natural environment by taking more than it gives back to (i.e. replenishes) the natural environment. This parasitic relationship has invigorated people to question from various perspectives the relationship that humans should (in both the moral and pragmatic senses of the term) have with their local and global environments. While the field of environmental ethics has over the past three decades focused on the human-environmental relationship, little has been done in the field of business ethics to address this relationship in a sophisticated, systematic manner. The gap between these two fields is further widened by the dissonant ideological perspectives of each camp: on the one side business ethics is thought to be inherently anthropocentric and on the other, environmental ethics is perceived as being staunchly ecocentric, or at least fundamentally nonanthropocentric.In this project the researcher hopes to show that such a stark dichotomy between these two camps actually does not exist, but instead a gradation of perspectives exists, which can be used to develop a substantial area of overlap, integration, and cooperation. Presuming that this hypothesis is confirmed, the current project is intended to contribute to the development of a hybrid perspective that unifies the highest values of both business-minded perspectives and environmentally-minded (or ecologically-minded) perspectives. So, the overall goal of the current project is to integrate the fields of business ethics and environmental ethics by using a Kantian normative framework so that both business-minded and environmentally-minded ethicists can begin to work together in helping to solve ecological problems caused by or exacerbated by particular business practices.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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Abstract

The central problem to be dealt with in this project is the significant gap existing between the fields of business ethics and environmental ethics. One aspect of the importance of trying to decrease this gap or even to unite these two fields of ethical inquiry can be found in the fact that in the “real world” (i.e. the world as we experience it) there exists a physical, symbiotic relationship between business (or commerce) and the natural environment: the fate of one is intimately tied to the fate of the other. However, this symbiosis has (at least since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the US) transformed into a parasitic relationship where, generally speaking, commerce depletes the natural environment by taking more than it gives back to (i.e. replenishes) the natural environment. This parasitic relationship has invigorated people to question from various perspectives the relationship that humans should (in both the moral and pragmatic senses of the term) have with their local and global environments. While the field of environmental ethics has over the past three decades focused on the human-environmental relationship, little has been done in the field of business ethics to address this relationship in a sophisticated, systematic manner. The gap between these two fields is further widened by the dissonant ideological perspectives of each camp: on the one side business ethics is thought to be inherently anthropocentric and on the other, environmental ethics is perceived as being staunchly ecocentric, or at least fundamentally non-anthropocentric. In this project the researcher hopes to show that such a stark dichotomy between these two camps actually does not exist, but instead a gradation of perspectives exists, which can be used to develop a substantial area of overlap, integration, and cooperation. Presuming that this hypothesis is confirmed, the current project is intended to contribute to the development of a hybrid perspective that unifies the highest values of both business-minded perspectives and environmentally-minded (or ecologically-minded) perspectives. So, the overall goal of the current project is to integrate the fields of business ethics and environmental ethics by using a Kantian normative framework so that both business-minded and environmentally-minded ethicists can begin to work together in helping to solve ecological problems caused by or exacerbated by particular business practices.The four aspects of the project’s central focus are as follows.1)Searching for or developing a significant overlap or a reasonable consensus concerning the highest values of both businesses and environmentalists in general. (See 2.3.a and 2.3.b below.)2)Developing and applying a personal-social heuristic method for sorting morally relevant issues arising at the intersection of business ethics and environmental ethics. This method is proposed to help understand and thereby address such issues by sorting them into either personal moral issues or social moral issues. The general moral issue arising at this intersection that will be address, along with some of relevant specific issues, is that of global climate change. (See 2.3.c below.)3)Developing and applying a bottom-up/top-down heuristic method which is proposed to further sort out (in conjunction with the personal-social heuristic method) the most appropriate means for instituting or encouraging behavioral changes at both the individual and social levels. This method will also be applied to the issue of global climate change. (See 2.3.c below.)4)Developing and implementing a Kantian normative framework that will be used to determine and achieve a reasonable consensus and to adjudicate value disputes arising within and between the business-minded and the environmentally-minded camps. (See 2.3.d below.)
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