Business leaders, government officials, and academics are focusing considerable attention on the concept of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR), particularly in the realm of environmental protection. Beyond complete compliance with environmental regulations, do firms have additional moral or social responsibilities to commit resources to environmental protection? How should we think about the notion of firms sacrificing profits in the social interest? May they do so within the scope of their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders? Can they do so on a sustainable basis, or will the forces of a competitive marketplace render such efforts and their impacts transient at best? Do firms, in fact, frequently or at least sometimes behave this way, reducing their earnings by voluntarily engaging in environmental stewardship? And finally, should firms carry out such profit-sacrificing activities (i.e., is this an efficient use of social resources)? We address these questions through the lens of economics, including insights from legal analysis and business scholarship.
Everyone agrees that firms should obey the law. But beyond what the law requires-beyond bare compliance with regulations-do firms have additional social responsibilities to commit resources voluntarily to environmental protection? How should we think about firms sacrificing profits in the social interest? Are they permitted to do so, given their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders? Even if permissible, is the practice sustainable, or will the competitive marketplace render such efforts and their impacts transient at best? Furthermore, is the practice, however well intended, an efficient use of social and economic resources? And, as an empirical matter, to what extent do firms already behave this way? Until now, public discussion has generated more heat than light on both the normative and positive questions surrounding corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the environmental realm. In Environmental Protection and the Social Responsibility of Firms, some of the nation s leading scholars in law, economics, and business examine commonly accepted assumptions at the heart of current debates on corporate social responsibility and provide a foundation for future research and policymaking.