Businesses have an ethical responsibility to lead in cutting air pollution, an ethicist said Monday.
Robert Solomon, a professor at the University of Texas, told an audience and panel at Utah Valley Community College that businesses, such as Geneva Steel, have an obligation to do good things because they have the power to.He was keynote speaker on a panel that included Robert Grow, executive vice president of Geneva Steel; Wil-ford Clyde, president of Geneva Rock; Sam Rushforth, a Brigham Young University botany professor and co-chairman of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition; and Dr. Steven Minton, a physician.
Solomon based part of his thesis on a medieval, aristocratic tradition called noblesse oblige. The idea was that because rich people had money and power, they needed to lead out in doing good things, such as supporting the arts. In the modern world, he said, groups with power need to do the same things. Accordingly, no one is surprised when large companies make donations to the arts and similar things today.
Grow said Geneva Steel wants to show Utah County residents that "we want to be good citizens; that we want to live here; that we want to bring to this community the best of what we can do."
He said businesses that work to live within laws on clean air are owed things in return. A business might move to Mexico, for example, treat its workers poorly, ignore the environment and save tremendous amounts of money. He said companies such as Geneva need protection from outside competition for those reasons.
Solomon said that sometimes people focus on compliance with laws. However, "compliance is not enough," he said. "To say that something is legal is not yet to say that it's ethical."
Solomon used a children's game of penny pitching as a metaphor to show how laws are made only when unspoken understandings break down.
Two children, without teaching, may naturally begin to try to throw a penny to see who gets it closest to a wall. The game progresses until one child walks up and places his penny near the wall without throwing. The other child then responds with cries of outrage.
So, the pair draws a line - creates a law - to dictate where to throw pennies from. The debate then centers on how far over a person can reach as he throws a penny.
Grow countered that laws are not used when the system breaks down but are a reflection of the morals of people.
Rushforth said his study of science indicates that cooperation is the underlying theme, not competition.
Clyde said many small businesses are struggling and government needs to be careful in its regulations.
Minton said we need to make our environmental decisions based on the effect they will have on children generations down the road. He said all things have benefits and risks. For example, chlorofluorocarbons, which have been linked to the destruction of the ozone layer, were considered a wise choice in refrigeration because other chemicals were poisonous when they leaked.