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The Ruffin Series of the Society for Business Ethics

Volume 2, 2000

Environmental Challenges to Business

Edward Stead, Jean Garner
Pages 231-244

A Spiritual Stakeholder

Assigning the moniker stakeholder to the planet has stirred a rather interesting debate in recent years. Proponents have insisted that the Earth is both the ultimate source of economic resources and the ultimate sink for economic wastes, meaning that it “affects or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives” (Freeman, 1984, p. 46). They have said that giving the Earth stakeholder status can effectively tie the ecological health of the planet to the economic survival of the firm, and they have demonstrated this by focusing primarily on the economic benefits which can accrue to firms that effectively respond to the ecological concerns of regulators, consumers, investors, lenders, insurers, and so forth. However, others have questioned assigning the Earth stakeholder status. They have said that doing so convolutes the definition of stakeholder too much by expanding it to something other than “person[s] and groups” (Freeman, 1984, p. 46), and they have said that referring to the planet as a stakeholder is an idealistic view which defies the realities of the relationship between economic activity and the Entropy Law. Regardless of the side, the arguments in this debate have focused primarily at the economic level. Does the Earth’s central place in humanity’s economic survival suffice to give it stakeholder status? Does the Earth have voices on boards of directors? Is the underlying assumption made by those who advocate giving the Earth stakeholder status—that economic activity is ecologically sustainable—truly reflective of the relationship between economics and entropy? However, for us this debate took an interesting turn away from the economic level at the 1997 Ruffin Lectures in Business Ethics when Ian Mitroff said, “The Earth is a stakeholder, but it is a spiritual stakeholder.”