What Is Environmental Responsibility?

It might seem like a daunting task to take responsibility for the environment – one that often doesn’t feel like a priority when it comes to the many other things we are focused on in our day to day lives. But, as many environmental ethical philosophies teach us, humans must be held responsible to protecting the environment, especially if we wish to continue benefitting from its resources.

Here, you will learn how to become environmentally responsible, who should be held accountable, and why keeping the Earth in good condition is so vital.

What is environmental responsibility - man holding globe

What Is Environmental Responsibility? 

Environmental responsibility is the duty that individuals (and businesses or organizations) have to protect the environment. This often means taking action either to reduce our impacts on the environment (known as conservation or preservation) or even reverse previous harm (known as restoration). This ideology of environmental responsibility includes preventing pollution, using resources sustainably, protecting the environment, restoring natural habitats, and ensuring a planet for future generations. 

In other words, as human beings, it is our responsibility to look after nature and all creatures that live in our environment. After all, if we do not preserve and conserve all ecosystems, we will not be able to survive. 

Environmental responsibility is most frequently used to describe the imperative on businesses to reduce environmental damages (and is sometimes referred to as corporate environmental responsibility). While this may be true, environmental responsibility does extend to individuals, as we’ll discuss below. Taking on environmental responsibility may mean making changes in our personal lives to safeguard the environment. However, each of us may interpret our responsibility to the environment differently, depending on how we interpret our role in the ecosystem, and what motivates us.

Read more about different philosophies for determining our responsibility to nature: What Are Environmental Ethics?

The Four Levels Of Environmental Responsibility

There are four different levels of environmental responsibility. Each level plays a role in conserving the environment and ensuring human health and safety. They are: 

Individual responsibility

As an individual, you make daily choices that can affect the environment positively or negatively. It is essential that you try your best to preserve our natural resources as much as possible. No action is too big or too small. Every little thing we do, like recycling paper, can help the greater picture in the end. 

You can recycle, reduce water use, lower your carbon footprint, among plenty of other ways to preserve the natural world and its resources.

Community responsibility

Communities as a whole can implement environmental actions that often have a bigger impact than individual action.

Community leaders can help reduce waste by implementing recycling programs for the area, promote water conservation and create green community projects.

Industry responsibility

It is the responsibility of a company to ensure that its business operates with environmental protection in mind. Industry environmental responsibility is a mentality whereby a business manages their resources responsibility, ensuring that they meet environmental standards as well as internal goals to function as ‘greenly’ as possible. 

Government responsibility 

The government can create laws and legislation that ensure the environment is preserved for generations to come. Governmental interventions like laws are often necessary to get businesses and individuals to actually take major action to support the environment. In this way, government environmental responsibility helps define other branches of environmental responsibility (for example, by creating environmental laws that businesses must follow).

Working together, individuals, communities, businesses and government can have major impacts on environmental protection — so long as each is focused on fulfilling their own environmental responsibilities.

Why Is Environmental Responsibility Important?

The more practical argument for why protecting our environment is essential is that natural resources are crucial for our survival. We depend on trees for oxygen, we depend on soil for food, and on rivers and other hydrological sources for water. From this perspective, environmental responsibility is important because it allows for human life to thrive.

A more philosophical argument is that we have a moral obligation to ensure we protect the planet we live on. Environmental responsibility protects other forms of life on Earth, and even protects non-living ecosystems. If we do not adhere to environmental responsibilities, our species and hundreds of others will not be able to survive.

Who Is Responsible For The Environment? 

There are many different arguments for who is responsible for the environment. Some believe we as a human race are responsible, while others may believe we have no responsibility at all. Still others may believe that select groups are responsible for protecting the environment such as those who pollute the most, government agencies, or environmental activists.

When it really comes down to it, it may not matter who should be responsible, but rather, that we take on the responsibility at all; We will not survive without extending protection and restoration to nature. As Evo Morales, former President of Bolivia argued, “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

What Is Our Moral Responsibility To Protect The Environment?

According to some environmental philosophers, is our moral responsibility to protect the environment and ensure the continuation of life on earth. For example, some may argue that because humans have the knowledge and moral values to know right from wrong, we must act as stewards of the Earth.

Even if you don’t believe that we have a moral imperative to protect nature, holding ourselves responsible for how we treat the environment is crucial to ensuring our societies continue to exist in the future.

Final Thoughts 

No matter who you believe truly holds the responsibility for protecting the environment, there’s no doubt that environmental responsibility is crucial to ensuring a livable world for future generations. We must all do our part.

“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.” ― Theodore Roosevelt.