Business, Ethics, and the Environment: Imagining a Sustainable Future

Joseph Desjardins

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Business, Ethics, and the Environment: Imagining a Sustainable Future

By Joseph Desjardins
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Joseph Desjardins
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For courses in Business Ethics, Business and Society, Applied Ethics, and Environmental Ethics.



The concept of sustainability and sustainable development has taken hold throughout the world as a new guiding principle of economic development.  Sustainability involves “meeting the real needs of the present without so harming the biosphere that future generations will be unable to meet their own needs.”  As used by such institutions as the United Nations and the World Bank, sustainable development usually applies to entire economies and societies, and less so to industries and individual businesses.  Yet already some corporations, especially in Europe, have adopted sustainable business practices.  The future is clear: given present global environmental, population, and poverty trends, economic institutions will be judged by how well they meet environmental and ethical, as well as economic, goals.  Joseph R. Desjardins wrote this book to make the case for this claim.


Joseph DesJardins is a professor in the philosophy department at the College of Saint Benedict, Sain John's University in Minnesota.


  • Diverse material.  The movement toward sustainable business is emerging from a diversity of venues and academic disciplines, ranging from economics and philosophy to architecture and finance.  This text brings these diverse materials together.
    • Unifies the material into a coherent and straightforward format.
  • Range of ethical issues.  It is often said that sustainability rests on three pillars:  economic, ecological, and ethical.  This text highlights the ethical questions and challenges that accompany the move towards sustainability within business.
    • Helps students understand how to overcome the obstacles that come with moving toward sustainability.
  • Solution-oriented.  This text examines the many ways that business is changing, and should change, to meet the demands of a sustainable future.   It argues that to become sustainable, business institutions must find a way to be economically vibrant enough to meet the real needs of a global population of 6 billion people without jeopardising the health of the biosphere on which all human life depends.  
    • Encourages students to think of solutions to ensure sustainability
  • Clear and accessible style.  Because this field is fundamentally interdisciplinary, it is important that conversations about sustainability be as free from academic and disciplinary jargon as possible.
    • Helps students understand issues of sustainability without a background in the discipline being discussed.


  • Chapters 1-6 focus on the theoretical and philosophical aspects of sustainable business. 
    • Chapter One provides the preliminary case for a shift to sustainable business models. 
    • Chapter Two offers a glimpse of the present state of the earth’s ecology, highlighting those areas that pose the most significant challenges to environmental sustainability. 
    • Chapter Three describes the dominant economic paradigm of growth and free markets, the major alternative to sustainable business, and spells out the models of corporate social responsibility that follow from that paradigm. 
    • Chapter Four provides a detailed critique of this dominant paradigm and defends a more active role for business institutions in addressing these challenges. 
    • Chapter Five presents the alternative economic model of sustainable economics, and sketches an alternative understanding of corporate social responsibility. 
    • Chapter Six make the business case for the shift to sustainability and provides descriptions of several conceptual frameworks that can guide the evolution of sustainable businesses.
  • Chapters 7-9 focus on the more practical and managerial side of corporate sustainability.  These chapters provide an ethical framework for sustainable business.  They indicate several practical developments already contributing to the emergence of sustainable business. 
    • Chapter Seven examines the question of sustainable production, investigating both the products themselves and the entire production process from the perspective of sustainability. 
    • Chapter Eight examines the issue of consumerism and considers business’ responsibilities for hindering or encouraging sustainable consumption. 
    • Chapter Nine offers some thoughts concerning new directions that can be expected in the evolution of sustainable business.  Major business professions and the functional areas within business are already beginning to address sustainability issues within their own domain.  Further, business’ role in creating sustainable communities adds a social dimension that is often overlooked in standard discussions of business ethics. 
Table of contents
  • Chapter One: The Coming Age of Sustainable Business
  • Chapter Two: The Biosphere: Facts and Values
  • Chapter Three: Economic Growth, Free Markets, and Business Responsibility
  • Chapter Four: The failure of market-based policies
  • Chapter Five: Ecological Economics and Sustainable Business Ethics
  • Chapter Six: The “Business Case” for Sustainability and Sustainable Business Models
  • Chapter Seven: Sustainable Production and Sustainable Products
  • Chapter Eight: Sustainable Consumption
  • Chapter Nine: Creating Sustainable Professions and Sustainable Communities