Business vs Nature
Faced with the Anthropocene (used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystem), initiatives are multiplying to influence the course of human development. One of the preferred solutions is to give back a voice to nature. With Business vs Nature and the application of this hypothesis in companies, however, is the subject of little investigation.
In homo-oeconomicus memory, this is unheard of. Nature became majority shareholder of Patagonia. Nature invited to sit on the board of hair products brand Faith in Nature. Nature represented by an eco-union, Printemps Écologique. In just a few months, these bold initiatives have reshuffled the cards of corporate governance. With, on the program, the same underlying hope: that of emancipating nature from its status as a resource, giving it a voice and instituting, at the highest level of companies, a deliberation aimed at reconciling work and nature. .
The problem, as the anthropologist Philippe Descola puts it so well, is that “nature” does not exist. Behind this abstraction, as we know, it is rather the myth of a humanity dissociated from its natural condition that exists. And what about “work”, this unstable notion whose definition oscillates in the imaginary interstice separating man from nature? Undoubtedly, solving the ecological problem with the concepts that are at the very origin of the problem is a high-flying exercise.
- Initiatives like Patagonia and Faith in Nature represent a paradigm shift, granting “Nature” a voice in decision-making.
- Anthropologist Philippe Descola critiques the concept of “Nature” as an abstraction, highlighting the need for nuanced representation.
- Drawing inspiration from animism and totemism, companies consider respecting living beings and ecosystems.
- The article delves into ethical dilemmas raised by representing non-humans, including who/what to represent, their consent, and potential power dynamics.
- Different representation methods such as NGOs, lawyers, and trade unions are explored, each with its advantages and limitations.
- The concept of “Natura Laborata” challenges our relationship with nature, raising questions about consent and forced labor.
- Despite challenges, supporting these pioneering companies is crucial for fostering eco-management.
A source of philosophical speculation, the question of the origin of human social life has today been resolved by evolutionary biology
It is easy to see that human societies are not all the same. They can, for example, include a very variable number of individuals: from a few dozen, in hunter-gatherer societies, to several million, in contemporary industrial societies.
Societies also differ greatly from each other in their mode of political organization: democracies, monarchies, dictatorial regimes, etc.
One thing, however, never varies: everywhere, human beings live in society. This is a fact that seems so obvious to us that we generally do not think to ask ourselves about its origin.
However, this question remained a source of philosophical speculation for a long time before finding a scientific answer with the development of evolutionary biology.
In companies, do we plan to respect living beings like animists, or the ecosystem that emanates from them like totemists?
How, then, to proceed to reconcile human activity with that of non-humans? A brief detour through anthropology invariably leads to inspiration from other cultures. Some peoples, in fact, because they grant non-humans a value equivalent to that of humans, bequeath to us ecosystems in much better health than elsewhere. In this perspective, the initiatives we mentioned open up stimulating perspectives, at the crossroads of animism and totemism, since they invite us to revalue the status of Natura Laborans, of nature that works.
It remains to be determined, beyond the mirage of nature, what exactly we are talking about. Is it the non-humans consumed by the company that should be represented in its governance, in particular with a view to mothering the species beyond the individuals sacrificed? Does this mean that the inorganic world would have no voice in the matter? What about, moreover, the multitude of beings who, if not consumed, are affected by human activity? Come to think of it, should we not rather think in terms of ecosystems? But how to divert the ecosystem for which the company is responsible?
As soon as it is a question of being concrete, representing nature thus raises a delicate metaphysical question: how to cut out the world in order to identify the entities which, like humans, are important enough to sit on the committee of direction ? And how to justify, conversely, the sacrifice of other creatures in the blast furnaces of our economy? We guess it, it is here the eternal debate between immanence and transcendence which knocks at the door of companies: do we plan to respect living beings, like animists, or the ecosystem that emanates from them, like totemists?
Should we consider non-humans as shareholders, directors or employees?
Once you have defined what you intend to represent, you still have to think about the methods of representation. At Patagonia, “nature” has thus become a shareholder through an NGO, to which the majority of the capital has been bequeathed, with the exception of shares with decision-making power. At Faith in Nature, the latter has been assigned an independent director position, devolved to a lawyer who must necessarily be consulted, but whose opinion is not binding.
Through these examples, new questions emerge. Should we consider non-humans as shareholders, directors or employees? Which of an NGO, a lawyer or a trade union is more legitimate to represent them? Where have the scientists, the elected officials and the territories gone? Should these representatives be given more power than they have today? To whom would they then be indebted? Which third-party guarantor to seize in the event, for example, of inaction or conflict of interest? All these questions are important because political science, in particular that which comes to us from the Andes, has shown that it is not enough to give a voice to the Pachamama for it to be listened to.
In our civilization, it is less about Natura Laborans than about Natura Laborata, that is to say of a nature put to forced labor
Finally, and this is probably the thorniest question, what about our desire to take into account the interests of non-humans? It will indeed be conceded that in our civilization, it is less Natura Laborans that should be spoken of than Natura Laborata, that is to say, of a nature put to work and, more precisely, to forced labor. Should consent be obtained? Do non-humans want to “work” with us? Under what conditions? Do they have the right to refuse? Obviously, taking into account the interests of non-humans will lead to arbitrations and renunciations that will not always be to the taste of humans.
For all these reasons, the idea of co-management extended to non-humans bodes well for changes that go beyond the framework of the company. In this regard, the hand that a few enlightened companies extend to non-humans is not unlike the gesture of the paternalistic companies of the 19th century. A precursory gesture which, we remember, found an echo in other institutions (unions, courts, parliaments) without which the workers would not have been able to claim dignified treatment. Today a similar piece seems to be playing again, the call to domesticate the Golem being made in the name of Natura Laborata. No effort should therefore be spared to support companies exploring this path, as the challenges of reconciliation are numerous. In natura (Latin for “in Nature”) is a phrase to describe conditions present in a non-laboratory environment, to differentiate it from in vivo (experiments on live organisms in a lab) and ex vivo (experiments on cultivated cells isolated from multicellular organisms) conditions.
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