Environmental Ethics

Chapter Summary

This chapter introduces some ethical perspectives that have emerged within the field of environmental ethics. It begins by describing various ways of attributing value to the natural environment, highlighting how these might relate to corporate activity. Western environmentalists’ preoccupation with wilderness and wildlife conservation is then considered, and some ways in which this may deflect attention from issues that are important to people in other parts of the world are discussed. The notion of environmental justice is also considered with specific reference to the benefits and burdens of corporate activity. The chapter then discusses the possibility that contemporary ways of doing business may be intrinsically detrimental to environmental preservation, as well as outlining some suggestions for a more sustainable approach. 

Self-test Questions

Some Contrasting Ways of Valuing the Natural World

1.      Describe the difference between anthropocentrism and biocentrism as approaches to valuing the natural world.  

2.      List an implication that each of the following perspectives might hold for business: resource anthropocentrism; enlightened anthropocentrism; aesthetic anthropocentrism; and emotional anthropocentrism.

3.      Explain how the last-person argument could be used to challenge anthropocentrism.

4.      Outline some ways in which redefining the moral community to include non-human entities might relate to business.

5.      How might the notion of a biotic-pyramid alert companies to the need to take account of the environmental impact of their activities?

Wilderness and Wildlife Preservation: Rich Person’s Crusade; Poor Person’s Burden?

6.      List some ways in which the wilderness and wildlife conservation agenda that figures prominently in northern environmental thinking might cause problems for communities in the South.

7.      List some measures that might be put in place by businesses pursuing wilderness and wildlife conservation agendas to avoid such problems. 

Environmental Justice and Environmental Injustice

8.      Give some examples of how industrial activity, which benefits affluent people in the North, may have negative environmental consequences for less-affluent people in the South.

9.      What measures could large, North-based corporations take to avoid unfair distribution of the benefits and burdens of industrial activity?

Some Comprehensive Approaches to Environmental Sustainability

10.  How, according to Arne Nӕss, does deep ecology differ from shallow ecology?

11.  In what ways has consumer culture been accused of contributing to environmental degradation?

12.  It has been suggested that if humans are to stop trying to dominate nature they must first stop trying to dominate one another. Give some examples of how a logic of domination in human relationships, which is unhelpful to our relationship with the environment, might be encouraged by attitudes and procedures that prevail in some business contexts.

13.  How might the geographically dispersed, global scale of contemporary business corporations be unsupportive of environmental responsiveness?

Web Links


Greenpeace is the world’s most influential environmental campaigning organization. Its website contains a vast range of resources concerning environmentalism, much of which relates to the activities of corporations.


The Environmental Justice Foundation focuses on environmentalism and human rights. Its website provides a great deal of information, discussion, and media resources concerning the relationship between these two topics.


The Foundation for Deep Ecology is committed to furthering biocentric principles such as those proposed by Arne Nӕss. Its website provides information about its agenda and the work it undertakes.