Corporate Environmental Responsibility

Corporate Environmental Responsibility
Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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Corporate Environmental Responsibility

            Environmental concerns have a significant impact on the success of companies today. For a business organization to sustain its competitive advantage, the company’s corporate manager has to stay ahead of the curve, positioning the company as environmentally responsible and focusing on environmental strategy. In this essay, a book report on the 2000 film Erin Brockovich and the 1996 book A Civil Action is provided.

Book Report: A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

            The non-fiction book A Civil Action was written in the year 1996 by Jonathan Harr. This text is purely against pollution. In essence, this book is basically about a case of water pollution in the Massachusetts town of Woburn in the year 1980. After Anne Anderson discovered that her child is diagnosed with a horrible blood cancer known as leukaemia which is a rare condition, she sees a high occurrence of this disease in her city.

Anne then gathered other families and decided to seek an attorney to consider their options. They found Jan Schlichtmann as their lawyer (Harr, 1996). At first, this lawyer did not want to take this case because there was no clear defendant and evidence was also lacking. However, he picked up the case later on and found evidence that indicated the water supply of the town had trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination.

Apparently, the organizations responsible for this contamination included Riley Tannery which was Beatrice Foods’ subsidiary; a company called Unifirst; and W. R. Grace, a chemical firm (Harr, 1996).

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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At some point in the court case, Schlichtmann got other lawyers to help him. Unifirst was the first company to pay fines and its management paid slightly more than one million dollars. However, this money was invested right away in the litigation against Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace companies. The case which the plaintiff has against W. R. Grace is very strong primarily because first, the lawyer has personal testimony of W. R. Grace’s previous worker who had actually witnessed dumping.

Secondly, a river between the tannery operated by Beatrice Foods and the polluted water wells make their contribution to the pollution less believable. The court found Beatrice Foods not guilty (Harr, 1996). Although Schlichtmann’s law firm looks forward to a much higher settlement, the horrible state of its financial position compels the firm to agree to a settlement for eight million dollars from W. R. Grace. The lawyer then disbursed the settlement to the affected families, excluding expenditures and payment for the lawyer – every affected family was given about $375,000.

When some of the affected families believed that Schlichtmann had inflated the expenditures for his own benefit, the lawyer agreed and surrendered more of his charges. Later on, this lawyer filed for bankruptcy after losing his automobile and mansion, and actually lived inside his office for some time. In the end, he decided to practice personal injury, civil and environmental law (Harr, 1996).

After examining sludge extracted from the wells, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report determined that W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had both polluted the water wells. EPA afterwards filed its own court case against Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace basing on the new evidence. In the year 1988, Schlichtmann tried to bring up the litigation against Beatrice Foods once more, but the case was dismissed by the jury, which cited testimony from Beatrice Foods’ soil chemist.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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Even so, because of the court cases filed by the EPA, these two firms were in the end compelled to pay for a very large cleanup in the North-eastern part of the country, which cost an estimated sixty eight million dollars (Harr, 1996). Events such as the one illustrated in this book happen largely because big corporations are driven purely by profit with total disregard for the environment. They want to make profits in their business operations without caring about the negative environmental effects they cause to the environment.

Movie Report: Erin Brockovich

            The film Erin Brockovich was released in the year 2000. This movie, which seeks to fight nuclear wastes, is founded on the factual account of a certain woman who helped in winning the biggest settlement that has ever been paid in a direct-action litigation. Julia Roberts acts as Erin Brockovish. The film’s director is Steven Soderbergh. Whilst working at a law firm which had in fact represented her in a previous case – a personal injury lawsuit – Erin Brockovich discovered a very strange thing: medical records inside a real-estate folder.

Erin then decided to make a follow-up on this issue and discovered what associated medical information with real estate transactions. Pacific Gas & Electric, a multi-billion public utility company, was purchasing homes that were believed to be impacted adversely by contamination of groundwater. After buying those homes, it destroyed them (Soderbergh, 2000). In fact, the contamination was as a result of the waste disposal practices of Pacific Gas & Electric.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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            At issue was hexavalent chromium, a chemical which is carcinogenic and causes cancer. The firm had discovered this toxic chemical inside a monitoring well not far from its compressor station in the Californian town of Hinkley. In this region, groundwater flowed towards businesses and homes of Pacific Gas & Electric’s neighbours who utilized groundwater for various purposes including drinking, and some of those neighbours were becoming ill.

A number of people were interviewed by Erin and she found a way of getting copies of records that incriminated Pacific Gas & Electric and discussed this situation with Ed Masry, who was the boss in the law firm where she worked. Ed Masry and Erin then filed a class-action litigation, which eventually ended in an immense settlement of $333 million for the residents of the area (Soderbergh, 2000). Eventually, the industrial poisoning of the water supply of a southern California city which threatened the health of the whole community was stopped and a huge fine paid to the victims by the contaminating company.

            The viewers of the film Erin Brockovich come to know that Pacific Gas & Electric contaminated groundwater and the company is actually to blame for disease and death that has befell the local residents. It was very important that Pacific Gas & Electric, a company which cut corners and contaminated the ground waters on which the local residents and communities were dependent upon for drinking purposes, was eventually held answerable.

In the past few years, manufacturing factories, chemical plants, in addition to other workplaces have breached water pollution laws on very many occasions. Such infringements include failure to report emissions to dumping toxins at high concentrations that may bring about various conditions and illnesses like birth defects and cancer.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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Discussion

            Such events get covered up because clear evidence may sometimes be lacking and the affected people might in fact not be aware that they are being impacted by the contamination – in A Civil Action for instance, Anne Anderson was initially not aware that her son’s leukaemia was as a result of the water contaminated by TCE from a few factories in the vicinity.

Furthermore, such events get covered up because the culpable companies do not want the truth to be known since they fear litigation, fines, reputation damage and losing customers if they are discovered to be committing the crime of environmental pollution. For instance, Pacific Gas & Electric was purchasing homes and destroying them so that its crime is not discovered.

            What needs to happen is that  polluters such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace who harm the environment have to be held accountable for their actions. They are in violation of the Clean Water Act because they polluted the water on which many people in the region relied on. Big corporations such as these three are not in any way above the law.

Such companies should pay huge fines and the money for paying the fines must come not from the company’s clients, but rather from their shareholders. Furthermore, the companies should also be ordered by the court to run full-page adverts on state and national newspapers giving their apology.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

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            On the whole, business organizations should be fully committed to sustainable environmental practices and they should truly hold themselves to effective and proper sustainable practices. Equally important, companies should not say in their websites that they employ sustainable practices and yet still pollute the environment – such an organization would not be a sustainable company. Most pollution is linked directly to corporate enterprise. Companies should take initiatives to decreasing pollution and government regulations should continue restricting pollution.  

References

Harr, J. (1996). A civil action. New York City, NY: Random House Inc.

Soderbergh, S. (2000). Erin Brockovich. Film.

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