Being responsible is something we try to teach our children. We want our children to grow up and contribute positively to society, and generally speaking, all of us want to leave this world a better place when we go on to the next life. These are personal desires that should also be corporate desires. Our understanding of what sustainability means has evolved from being economically focused to a more holistic framework that includes social and environmental considerations.
The corporate world seems to be a bit confused when is comes to the social and environmental pillars of sustainability. The ability to self police, again generally speaking, is suspect. Some think that if commerce would have been more responsible and exercised self control in its relationship with the environment we would not have the tough pollution laws that we have today. Is that a fact?
History gives us many examples of how extremist business practices have negatively impacted scarce resources. One example is called the tragedy of commons. This was a phrase used to describe how the medieval practice of allowing as many cattle as desired to graze in a public area was destructive leading to overgrazing.
Another example is in the area of fishing. If one company does not catch all the fish in the common areas, international waters, then it is leaving it for someone else to catch. However, in response to this excess, some countries have instituted a property rights system that gives catch shares to individual companies. The fishing companies then have the right to fish, or buy, sell, or trade those rights. This seems to be similar to the cap and trade pollution rules currently in debate.
Our romantic ideals of a free market are good, but the reality is if business is left to itself it will gravitate toward extremism. We need a balance, or partnership between government and commerce for the good of enterprise.