Business and environment

People have always made use of the world’s natural resources. Long ago, our ancestors chopped down trees for wood to burn to keep them warm and cook food. They hunted and killed animals and collected berries and fruit from plants.

In the developed world, we buy a vast range of products.

However, these activities did not create long-term problems. Because the world population was so small, the resources they used were soon recovered by nature. The waste materials they created were quickly broken down by the natural processes of decay and decomposition.

Nowadays things are very different. For example, the population of Britain has grown tremendously in the last 200 years. In 1801, there were about ten million people living in Britain. By 2015 it had grown to almost six and a half times that figure. The world’s population has grown and continues to do so – we are therefore using up the world’s resources and producing waste at an alarming and ever-increasing rate.

What can be done to reduce the impact on our environment?


Environmental Impact

In the developed world, we buy a vast range of products. Many of these are designed to improve the quality of our lives by helping us to feel better about ourselves or by making some tasks easier. For example, toothpastes counter tooth decay and have led to much better dental health. Products for general hygiene and skin care have improved health and wellbeing. Like all consumer products, whilst improving the quality of our daily lives, their manufacture, use and disposal can make demands on the natural world.


Packaging

Packaging is an important part of a product. It protects the contents, gives us information, allows goods to be stored easily and makes the product look good. Manufacturers today try to minimise packaging, partly because of cost, but also because of the need to conserve resources and reduce the level of waste.


Waste Disposal

Many councils are introducing waste recycling schemes to cut the amount of rubbish we dispose of. Targets have been set to make people think about the waste they produce and to try to make more use of recycling projects.

Manufacturers are also looking at their processes to make them more environmentally friendly. If companies produce too much pollution, they can be fined and punished. Polluters also damage their image with the public and this is something manufacturers want to avoid.


Fair Trade

As communication and transport throughout the world becomes easier, many people have talked about globalisation and a global economy. This means that countries can trade with each other and companies are not bound to the country they are based in.

Because some countries are more developed that others, many people have become concerned about trade being fair. Every time we buy goods or a service, we hope someone will benefit by employment, or profit. However, someone else may be exploited and treated badly. For example, some developed businesses are in a better position to be able to market and export vast quantities of their goods and can keep their prices low. Other smaller companies or individual farmers cannot compete with such cheap prices and are therefore often priced out of the market and are unable to sell their goods. You may have read about some international companies in developing countries who pay their workers low wages, but charge high prices when their products are sold in Britain.

The phrase ‘fair trade’ means that everyone in a global economy should be given a fair deal. (You may have noticed some products in your local supermarket, such as coffee or bananas are labelled with a ‘fair trade’ marker). Some companies have made a definite commitment to taking part in fair trade and helping developing countries escape exploitation.

Many people in Britain, Europe and the western world are used to being able to buy whatever they wish and to have whatever they have seen advertised. Many of us rarely question how and where these products were made. Charity events such as Comic Relief highlight schemes and ways to promote fair trade and to help people understand the way world trade works. This can often have as much effect upon the world environment as more locally based projects.

» Activities