Class discusses environment

This weekend, Carnegie Mellon’s concern for the environment will take the spotlight in a three-day program that offers inspirational lectures as well as course credit. From this Friday through Sunday, the university will play host to “Corporations and Environmental Responsibility,” a series of lectures and activities aimed at a better understanding of the duties of a corporation in maintaining a healthy environment.

This year’s events were funded by a grant provided by Carnegie Mellon’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, whose goal is to educate the public about the environment.

This weekend one year ago, a similar program was held on environmental justice and was also funded by the Steinbrenner Institute.

Also similarly to last year, three units of course credit will be available to students who attend all of the weekend’s events. Students can enter the course by registering for 99-522: Corporations and Environmental Responsibility.

The events include a number of small group discussions and lectures given by environmental experts.

This weekend’s speakers will include Mary Beth Buchanan, the United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Rob Bear, the director of environmental affairs at Alcoa.
Topics to be covered include environmental public policy of corporations, best practices in environmental management, and environmental responsibility of corporations.

Peter Madsen, coordinator of the event and H&SS professor and advisor for environmental studies, commented on the changes in behavior of corporations concerning the environment and the need for such a weekend program.

In the past, many large companies took advantage of the environment, Madsen said, adding that this caused a continual environmental degradation. However, since the 1960s, environmental tragedies such as pollutant fires, toxic exposure, and oil spills have become increasingly public.
According to Madsen, the publicity of environmental issues has reached an all-time high.

“Corporations have needed to take steps to police themselves since a public alarm went off exposing their [negative environmental effects],” he said.

Madsen also noted that being green now has taken on additional meaning — it makes companies more popular or trendy. The potential to win over more consumers has inspired many companies to take up green methods.

In May 2005, General Electric launched the “Ecomagination” campaign aimed at creating environmentally friendly products — a campaign which has been continually expanding its objectives.

Retail stores have also joined in on the trend.

In July 2006, Wal-Mart announced a green initiative, including activities such as recycling and a waste-reduction campaign, in addition to manufacturing environmentally safe products.

At the end of last year, Whole Foods announced that the company will ban plastic bags nationwide; instead, the company now offers its customers a choice between recyclable paper bags and reusable canvas bags.

A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods co-president, spoke of the reasoning behind the change.

This is something our customers want us to do,” he said in a USA Today article. “It’s central to our core values of caring for communities and the environment.”

However, Madsen brought up the concern of companies that are “green washing,” or claiming to be environmentally friendly in their marketing without actually doing so.

“Corporations need to really consider what’s more important — profits, or the ability to continue producing,” said Austin Redwood, a sophomore humanities and arts scholar and president of Sustainable Earth. “Once certain resources are gone, they won’t return for a very long time, which is why it’s crucial to learn how to produce things in a sustainable manner right now, before we don’t have the means or time to do so.”

This weekend’s program will address the need for corporations to fully carry out green initiatives and avoid “green washing.”

“Our main goal is to gain clarity as to what role corporations did or can play in environmental issues and heighten awareness on this topic. This is open to the public and we invite all to come,” Madsen said.

Kishore Mahubhani, a sophomore civil engineering and engineering and public policy double major, added that environmental education can be of great benefit to students.

“Students who have a greater environmental awareness will be an asset to employers and will be able to change the culture of businesses and their interactions with the environment,” he said.
Madsen spoke of the many opportunities available to students to becomeenvironmentally aware at Carnegie Mellon, this conference being only one such way.

“Things at Carnegie Mellon have changed dramatically both in awareness and activity. There are many more opportunities such as different clubs or majors that allow more student activity,” he said. “It’s phenomenal how much we’ve changed.”