Environmental Ethics

Attorney Lee DeHihns, pictured left, is recognized for his achievements at the Net Impact NEPA Form on Ethics, Leadership and Social Responsibility. Pictured with Attorney DeHihns are Melissa Wicksnes and Melissa Saddlemire. Photo Credit: Chuck Fisher

By Chuck Fisher
Staff Writer

You gotta give credit to a guy who’ll drive 13 hours in a car (especially if that car is en-route to Scranton) and that is just what Attorney Lee A. DeHihns did on April 2, when he drove to Marywood from Atlanta, Georgia. Attorney DeHihns is a well known, influential environmental lawyer and Partner for the firm Alston & Bird LLP based out of Atlanta.  Attorney DeHihns was invited by Marywood’s student organization Net Impact NEPA to be the featured speaker for the 9th Forum on Ethics, Leadership, and Social Responsibility. Since Atty. DeHihns’ focus is environmental law, he spoke about how corporations are making contributions to the green movement in America. Corporate environmental responsibility is an important issue and as a member of the generation that will be inheriting this planet, barring an asteroid impact next Tuesday, I paid very close attention.

Corporations are some of, if not the, biggest contributors to environmental and ecological harm on this planet. Face it, unless you enjoy dumping trichloroethylene into the Lackawanna River just for kicks, private citizens can’t do as much harm as these large multination corporations can do and have done. Nonetheless, with the emerging realization in the last few years that as a species we are moving towards destroying our chunk of rock careening through space, many corporations have taken steps to mitigate their effects on the earth and this was the primary focus of Atty. DeHihns’ speech.

Atty. DeHihns cited numerous examples of how corporate America is internalizing the environmental message. He cited improved green practices of the chemical company BASF, the computer company IBM, and the eternal question mark of corporate responsibility / the only place Darth Vader insists on purchasing underwear from, Wal-Mart. Despite the latter company’s natural appeal to Sith Lords, it was pointed out that Wal-Mart has pushed in recent years to have its products use smaller and more efficient boxes while at the same time keeping the same amount of product; in the case of Raisin Bran: less box, same amount of colon cleaning fiber goodness!

In addition to individual corporate examples, Atty. DeHihns also pointed out several organizations that measure, judge, and address corporate environmental responsibility. He cited the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) as organizations that promote business and industry while at the same time pushing for businesses and industries to adopt eco sound practices. Although some big businesses would gladly bludgeon baby seals to death if that’s what it took to turn a profit, from a public relations and simple energy/money saving point of view groups like the DJSI, WBSCD, and CERES are showing the seal clubbers that they can be profitable and remain competitive without having the blood of small cute mammals on their hands.

The conference did convey a feel good and optimistic sense, but I wouldn’t be a good heir of the global ecosystem if I didn’t have some healthy skepticism. As an aspiring science researcher, I understand that the intricacies and complexities of our environment and climate are only rivaled by the intricacies and complexities of our global economy and our human psychology. Are enough companies “making like a tree” and …..going green? Will this be enough to mitigate the effects of global warming? Is corporate America, rather, corporate WORLD serious about eco-sustainability or are they merely “greenwashing” this issue to make themselves look like tree huggers to sell more baby seal clubs (now with a non-slip grip!)?

I don’t know how to answer the above questions. One conference on a Thursday night following a mad dash by me to get from class to conference hasn’t answered my questions but it has whetted my curiosity on this issue. I challenge myself and I challenge you to go out and seek our own answers. DJSI, WBCSD, and CERES all have their own websites and just googling “corporate environmental responsibility” gave me over 16 million hits.

Atty. DeHihns painted a very hopeful and rosy picture for a future of planet earth that includes…well…planet earth. He emanated hope and as someone who’s practiced environmental law since 1974, he’s seen a progression from the “dark side” towards the “green side.” At heart, I think that the collective human consciousness is waking up, yawning, stretching and then coughing and hacking its lungs out from the fine mess we’ve made of the planet. I’d like to believe that these big evil corporations also contain human beings hidden somewhere within their smog and that these humans are doing their part. I’ll always remain a healthy skeptic and I hope you will too, but even skeptics need to hope that the truth really is greener than they think.