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Climate change panel addresses business responsibility

by Nancy P. Johnson

September 10, 2008


Not all the answers are in regarding climate change, but the threat is real, and businesses increasingly are expected to preserve resources for future generations.

Three University of Notre Dame faculty members presented these opinions on Sept. 9 in a panel discussion titled, “Climate Change: Technical, Business and Ethical Implications,” part of the Berges Lecture Series in Business Ethics hosted by the Mendoza College of Business. 
Moderated by Georges Enderle, John T. Ryan Chair of International Business Ethics, the panel included Mark McCready, professor and chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Gerard Pannekoek, a management professional specialist and former president and chief operating officer of the Chicago Climate Exchange, and Patrick E. Murphy, co-director of the Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide and professor of marketing.

McCready said that while there is much that is not known about climate change, there is scientific evidence of a steady increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958, and that the increase is due to burning fossil fuel. Increased carbon dioxide is associated with warming of the atmosphere. Critical issues for decision makers, he said, are that current use of fossil fuels is unsustainable, pure market forces may not be enough to reduce fossil fuel use, the time frame for making change is probably measured only in decades, “and we have to be considerate of future societies in our decisions.”

The Chicago Climate Exchange was created as a way for businesses address those issues, Pannekoek explained. Participating companies that reduce greenhouse gases below their targeted levels may sell or bank credits, and those that emit over their target may purchase credits. The underlying idea is a strong belief that capital markets can solve any problem when it can be commoditized. “If you trade it, put a price on it, it becomes a boardroom issue,” he said.

Murphy noted that “green is still a hard sell.” Other than efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars, most U.S. consumers aren’t aware of the carbon footprint of most of the products they buy. At the same time, the biggest companies are seen to have the most responsibility to conserve resources, and if they fail to shoulder it, legal and public opinion may move against them. “Stewardship is something that companies need to consider,” Murphy said.

The annual fall Berges Lecture Series features senior executives speaking about their experiences with the ethical dimensions of business. The series is sponsored by the John A. Berges Endowment and is presented by the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business and Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide.

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