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Earth Day 2015: Corporations + the environment

Background information

How do corporations affect the environment?

Some food for thought

  • an overview article from the popular media in Newsweek magazine;
  • an article on corporate social responsibilities and the environment from an academic journal, Business Ethics (click on file at the bottom of this box);
  • a huge challenge in getting corporations to pay for the damages they cause to the environment: huge profit loss, as described in this Guardian newspaper article about a report for the United Nations.

Database search tip: if you're searching for academic articles about corporations and the environment, try such search terms as "corporate responsibility", Environmentalism--Economic aspects, Business--Environmental aspects, or "social responsibility of business".

When you find an article that seems relevant to what you want to learn about, check its "subject headings" to see the labels that have been assigned to each article that interests you, and click on them to find all the other articles given that label.  Come ask a librarian if you're not sure where to find the subject headings.

The corporate perspective

To see how corporations present what they do from their own perspective, and how they report their earnings and upcoming projects to stockholders, you can visit their websites.  Annual reports are often found under sections labelled "investor relations" or something similar.

Some companies who have been publicly criticized for pollution, for promoting harmful practices, and/or for damaging the environment while extracting resources, may also devote part of their websites to defending their actions and promoting what they have done for the environment.

Just a few examples of corporations that may be of interest to research regarding environmental issues:

Monsanto and Syngenta are very powerful corporations in agricultural business that are especially important to research if you are interested in GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and other agricultural issues.

Dupont is a major chemical, agriculture, and biotechnology corporation.

ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and other oil and gas companies are important to know about if you want to research how we are using natural resources.

TysonCargill, Smithfield Foods, and other corporations involved in the mass production of meat, and Heinz and Kraft (which are about to merge) and other corporations that make and sell processed food may all be of interest if you want to research issues related to treatment of animals, use of resources for livestock and agriculture, and food consumption.

Some news organizations that are more likely to report from a point of view sympathetic to corporations include:

The Wall Street Journal


Major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post may be seen by many to be more "neutral", and their reporting is widely respected.  However, as you're reading, do keep in mind these ideas from linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky:

U.S. environmental laws + international treaties

What are our laws about protecting the environment?

Here is an overview of environmental protection rules and regulations, from the Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society.

Learn more at the Environmental Protection Agency's website, and find out which other government agencies share responsibility for addressing environmental concerns..

Links to the actual texts of U.S. environmental laws (through 2006) --taken from the reference book Environmental Issues: Essential Primary Sources.


This page from the United Nations helps put international treaties and conventions on climate change into context.

Some key international agreements:

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The 2012 Doha Amendment to the 2007 Kyoto Protocol.  When countries sign on to the Protocol, they agree to limit their "greenhouse gas" pollution.

Read a short reference article on the Kyoto Protocol from the reference book Climate Change: In Context.

Critical perspectives on corporations

The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, issues a list of the top 100 toxic air polluters, using guidelines from the EPA that evaluate how particular types of pollution cause risks to people's health.


The Greenwashing Index takes a crtical look at environmental claims made by companies in their advertising.


Some news organizations that are more likely to report from a point of view that is critical of corporations include:

Mother Jones, a non-profit news organization.

The Nation, a monthly magazine that focuses on political, social, and economic issues.

WBAI, New York's radio station that is part of the Pacifica network.  (You can search for past programs on the environment using their search box).

CorpWatch, independent journalists with a special focus on critically investigating corporations.