The Behavior of Corporate Species
in Ecosystems and Their Roles
in Environmental Change
The scientific study of ecosystems and environmental change focuses on the ways in which species produce, use, and transform material and energy, as well as the roles they play in environmental processes. The behavior of species, in turn, may be viewed as having two components: a purely biophysical component explainable by principles of biology, chemistry, and physics, and a social component related to the decisions that lead to behaviors influencing material and energy use. Understanding this latter component clearly becomes more important as focus shifts from plant species to animal to human, with corporations being among the most complex human organizations. This chapter provides a framework for analyzing the role of corporations in the material and energy flows that govern the environment, and for understanding how that role is in part controlled by the balance of principles from the emerging concept of sustainable enterprise: economic vitality, social justice, and environmental quality. It uses methods of ecological analysis to trace the environmental impacts of corporate behavior, relating this behavior to concepts of precaution in the face of uncertainty, product stewardship, environmental citizenship, and sustainable development.
Global climate change, conservation of species, impacts of ozone on human health, and myriad other challenges facing society share a common root: the role of the environment in affecting key human values, and the role of human institutions and behavior in governing that environment. Environment, however, is a topic that easily spreads out to encompass all aspects of the world; essentially everything is part of our environment in some sense. And yet it is impossible to imagine everything all at once in assessing the environmental behavior of an organization. So a framework is needed to focus attention onto those aspects of the world that are most central to environmental study. As with any framework, one can start at any point and work in all directions from there. This chapter begins with the science of the environment, or at least the parts of the environment studied by the sciences. It is from this vantage point that the more social issues, including the behavior of corporations and their role in environmental change, are viewed.
The theme advanced here is that corporations may be viewed as part of an ecosystem and studied much as we would a herd of elephants or field of corn. It is necessary to view corporations, or any other part of human behavior, not as separate from ecosystems or the environment, but rather as structural and functional parts of that ecosystem. Doing so moves corporations toward a philosophy of earth system management, as has been proposed by Graedel and Allenby (2003) in their thoughts on industrial ecology. It moves society toward a view of corporations as participants