A Publication of WTVP

The "green economy" is receiving a lot of attention surrounding political leaders, talented innovators, businesspeople and environmentalists. In reading Thomas Friedman’s book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, a reader will reflect on best practices at the personal, business and legislative levels about the wisest use of resources. We are focused particularly on energy use. Most people agree that we should reduce our great dependence on foreign oil and other natural resources because of pricing, long-term supply and pollution of the environment. Recent congressional action supports energy efficiency initiatives and programs, and it is a major focus of the president’s legislative agenda.

But the larger question around the policy, planning and debate on green issues is that of stewardship of resources, and the ethics of such stewardship.

Most people, if they think about stewardship at all, think of the term in a religious way. Major world religions understand that God (or a divine force) is the Creator, and that the Creator has entrusted the created order to human beings so that we, in the words of one prayer, may "make the right use of the riches of creation."

World history teaches us, however, that human beings have used the riches of creation for personal enrichment rather than for the social good. In some cases, personal ego drives rulers to take over natural resources, hard financial assets and people. In other cases, political expansion drives explorers, crusaders and warriors to monopolize and waste the resources of others. European colonialism sought to capture the natural resources of others-such as gold and other minerals, food products, animal meats and hides, and verdant forests-to take all they could find, and leave poverty and environmental disaster behind.

Even today, here in the United States and, to some extent, in other places, people have had to be retrained not to leave litter behind, and to recycle items whenever possible so that additional uses may be derived from natural resources. But when I am out for a walk or a drive, I see that we have a long way to go. I am picking up fast food bags, soft-drink cups, candy wrappers and empty bottles once filled with beer. But waste is more than litter on the ground. Waste comes from gas-guzzling vehicles, delaying home improvements for greater energy efficiency, and refusing to recycle aluminum, plastic, glass and other materials.

Classical ethics understands that two driving forces are at the core of poor stewardship of resources. One is that people have an ethic of hedonism. The world rises and falls on what makes them happy or brings them personal benefit. Hedonism is at the core of selfishness. Such a person does not think at all about the future-only about now. The other force is amoralism, also called expediency. A person cares about what matters for those to whom he reports and the short-term result. 

A green conscience, however, causes us to think about future generations, and the deferred costs of repairing the damage we do in our own time to the world we inherited. We also have global accountability for even the most personal choices we make about the conservation and reuse of natural resources, as well as the sustainable lifestyle. The ethic of the stewardship of creation is a wise course of action for business owners. When we work diligently and deliberately to leave this world cleaner, better and more renewable than when we came into it, we demonstrate that we have added value to the world in which we have lived. Not only is green good-it involves good ethics as well. iBi