Andrew Chirichella & Peter Golish, 2017

In 2013, PNC opened a branch in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was designed with 211 solar panels and other green technologies that allow the building to produce as much energy as it consumes. In 2015, PNC opened its new global headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. It is considered the greenest office tower in the world. This is an incredible achievement, an example of how much progress has been made in the last few years on environmental issues. also shows the commitment that companies have made to be more environmentally conscious. Many companies boast such green activities as great sustainability efforts on their part. However, the green activities that these companies brag about are not truly sustainability efforts that are needed to create a positive impact on today’s economy.

Green Activities vs. Sustainability

Most people in the world are familiar with green activities, which are environmentally-friendly alternatives to conventional company operations. Green activities can be as simple as using LED lightbulbs instead of fluorescent, or attaching solar panels to a building to reduce energy consumption. The important part of green activities is that funds are being allocated into areas that promote environmentally-friendly activities instead of activities that can create a lasting negative effect on society and the earth. A commitment to sustainability encompasses green activities and goes even further in its efforts to lead to a better world and improve the social values and lives of everyone. Sustainability, more broadly, may include actions such as paying a higher minimum wage for entry level workers or even the creation of “sustainable communities” and “smart growth.” Sustainable development focuses on’ impact on life in the communities in which they operate, including the availability of scarce resources, clean water and clean air. This allows communities to become more economically competitive and can even increase the local tax base.

Why Is This Distinction Important?

Mistaking green activities for a commitment to sustainability is a problem because too many people and corporations believe that simply implementing green activities will be enough to bring about a better world. If we consider green activities as great sustainable efforts, then we ignore a huge issue. It can be said that corporations, especially financial institutions, do not care about the health of the financial system or even the quality of life of many people. When some institutions put just a little bit more focus on the social values of sustainability, public may unwittingly accept green activities as the only activities that make up sustainability efforts. The issue with this is that the public lacks the understanding that there is much more that needs to be done, like addressing social issues, people working on a livable wage, or making sure they have health insurance that covers the medical issues that they face.

Many times, institutions start green activities of regulations set up by the government and regulating agencies. We can look at one of the worst environmental regulations that has not worked as well as people suggest, carbon trading. In basic terms, a company either bids or pays for the right to pollute a certain amount of carbon dioxide. This has led to many financial institutions purchasing the carbon trading rights and then selling them to other firms that would then be able to pollute to enhance their profits. This may not seem so bad, but it then allows polluting institutions to spend more money on the rights to pollute instead of spending it on R&D for greener technologies or on increased workers’ wages that will lead to spending on necessities, which would be much more beneficial to society. These green efforts may seem positive to the public, but they do not solve the underlying problem and fail to lead to sustainability. By creating an environmentally-friendly image for themselves, institutions are let off of the hook by the public because they believe that the institution is already pursuing a sustainable financial and economic system.

Possible Solutions to End This Mistake

Clearly a big issue with green activities being mistaken for sustainability efforts is that the majority of the public does not realize that being environmentally friendly is only part of what creates a sustainable organization. A possible solution to this problem is to educate the public on what sustainability really is, what concepts actually make up sustainability efforts, and how an institution can be sustainable. Another solution would be to change the way that regulations are created and monitored. Instead of just focusing on environmental efforts, governments and other agencies should focus on sustainable efforts like having a minimum wage that people can live on or encouraging companies to create sustainable communities. This approach to work, new measures of performance may have to be created and tracked. Focusing on activities such as these can create a better community for people and lead to actual results when it comes to sustainable development. If the proper solutions were to be implemented, the issue of mistaking green activities for commitments to sustainability would be reduced and more institutions would contribute to tangible progress towards sustainability.

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