Businesses have all faced a similar situation: should they pursue profit exclusively or should they risk reducing it by spending money to minimize or eliminate their products’ and services’ harmful effects?
It’s a scenario that has played out for decades. Union Carbide’s gas leak, which was blamed on lax maintenance, killed thousands in Bhopal, India. Love Canal affected the health of hundreds of families decades after Hooker Chemical stopped using it as a dumping site. And, in this century, ten thousand homes were affected by airborne lead related to battery recycling at an Exide plant in Los Angeles.
Ignorance is Not BlissIt could be argued, of course, that industry managers at Bhopal and Love Canal weren’t aware of the consequences (or the remedies to prevent them). But the same can’t be said about the far more recent events in Los Angeles. The film Erin Brockovichmade sure of that.
Yet even in the 1940s (Love Canal) and certainly by the 1960s (Bhopal), industrial scientists and engineers understood the potential for harm, and their corporate bosses were surely informed. Yet the costs of mitigation would have eaten into profits, and the executives were so far away from the affected areas that the situation was – probably – out of sight, out of mind.
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