Is it the responsibility of the individual or conglomerates to mitigate against climate change? 
Amy Roberts
Amy Roberts • Jul 21

Is it the responsibility of the individual or conglomerates to mitigate against climate change? 

by Amy Roberts

It is undeniable that climate change is one of the most pressing issues our society faces today. Desperate changes are required to mitigate climate change, begging the question as to whether this responsibility should fall to individuals or corporations. For years, there has been a push for individuals to take matters into their own hands, such as taking shorter showers, turning off lights when not in use, and using public transport. However, are these switches actually doing anything to help, or are they merely a way for big companies to shift the blame of climate change onto the individual and continue ‘business as usual'?

The strikes emphasised the frustration that school children and young adults have with a broken system where governments and corporations are not doing anything to combat climate change. 

Individual responsibility 

As individuals, we are all consumers. Since large companies respond to consumer demand, our actions and purchases influence their decisions. Consumers, therefore, have a voice that can be used to encourage change. Lots of people taking small actions for the sake of the environment can have a significant impact. This can be observed in the zero waste movement, for example. Bea Johnson decided to see how little she could send to landfill and the extent to which she could live more sustainably and began a global movement that encouraged people to rethink their purchasing decisions. From refusing plastic to buying second-hand to reducing air travel, this movement has, no doubt, had a positive impact on the environment. 

Large companies such as Google, Starbucks, and L’Oreal have also observed this movement, while Johnson has delivered talks and consultancy services to these companies, offering suggestions for how they can reduce their waste and, in turn, adopt more sustainable practices. Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future school strikes have also been popular. The strikes emphasised the frustration that school children and young adults have with a broken system where governments and corporations are not doing anything to combat climate change. The strikes undoubtedly conveyed a message that something needed to be done and led to several governments addressing climate change, such as the Scottish government’s declaration of a climate emergency. However, whilst these actions encourage consumer change and individuals to think more carefully about how their habits can either support or harm the environment, it could be argued that this is merely a drop in the ocean compared to the ability of a company to influence climate change outcomes.

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Corporate responsibility

In 2017, the Carbon Disclosure Project published a report suggesting that 100 companies are responsible for a staggering 71% (approximately one trillion tonnes) of greenhouse gas emissions.  This is equally shocking and frustrating; for years, individuals have been taking shorter showers, walking to work, or doing their best to recycle whilst these companies seemingly continue ‘business as usual'. The blame of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions has been shifted onto the consumer and individual, making them feel guilty when, in reality, it is the large corporations that have the greatest impact. It is likely that even a small change within these companies in the pursuit of sustainability might be more effective than the actions of individuals. 

Companies respond to consumer demand. Therefore, it is possible that as movements, such as the aforementioned Zero Waste movement and the Fridays for Future campaign, grow in popularity and consumers become more educated on the environmental footprint of large corporations and businesses, companies will respond. Indeed, it is in the best interest of companies to now have sustainability at the forefront of their concerns since an ever-growing number of consumers are actively supporting companies they believe prioritise the environment and sustainability. This will have a two-fold benefit of allowing consumers to be more sustainable whilst the companies are working to reduce their emissions and make advancements to tackle climate change.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of large corporations to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Their actions can be more significant in reducing emissions. However, individuals also are responsible for educating themselves, supporting the companies that are actively working to become more sustainable, and avoiding those that are not. Therefore, the combined effort of individuals and conglomerates, with the individual acting as the catalyst for corporate change, will be the most effective way of mitigating the impacts of climate change.

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