‘Green Capitalism’: Is This Really the Answer?

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Climate change and sustainable development | 0 comments

Article by Ruby Fowler

Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash

With so many businesses acting as driving forces for environmental change, making huge technological advancements to the way society functions, and making ‘going green’ a trendy alternative for consumers. Surely this trend is a force for good, churning the change to renewable ways of living? But do green capitalist movements conceal the true change that needs to occur to combat the ever-pressing need to address global warming? Is this just another way to keep capitalist agendas rolling?

Scott Prudham (2009) draws focus to the nature of ‘Green Capitalism’, seeing entrepreneurs as performers for the green capitalist cause. He argues that the ‘entrepreneurial subject (acts) as an environmental crusader’, trail-blazing the way towards positive change for the planet. Consumers take note and the media give the floor to enterprises promising big change through their efforts and expenditure, providing answers to this pressing issue of how we can adjust our lives to fit with our planetary crisis. This may seem so positive, yet Green Capitalism just seems to be a way for entrepreneurs to fit environmentalism into their profit-seeking agenda, with profit over planet. With these morals in mind, can we really expect genuine movement away from our current destructive lifestyles?

Due to the structure of business operations, we cannot expect CEOs to be acting out of the goodness of their hearts. Bakan in his book, The Corporation (2004), spoke with Friedman, a renowned Economist, and summarised how he felt that ‘The executive who treats social and environmental values as means to maximise shareholders’ wealth commits no wrong.’ Many would agree, as why does it matter for the reasoning behind doing good, if it’s genuinely helping our society become greener? Yet is it truly believed that market competition could pull us out of this mess? Many sociologists argue not. I will assist in explaining why this simply is not the answer.

Capitalism, to prosper, relies on consumers and their willingness to accumulate the goods businesses offer, driving profit and further investment into businesses’ growth. John Urry (2009) raises how our lifestyles in the present day now depend on ‘pleasure seeking, novelty acquiring’ experiences. Consumption and the temptation of marketing fuel our desires to acquire more and more to fulfil our status. Just because a product has been labelled as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’, does this change anything about the root of the product and why it’s been produced? Just because businesses start to use recycled packaging or change from plastic to cardboard doesn’t mean that any issues are being solved. The need to keep producing only to create meaningless products is causing greater harm to our likelihood of reaching any genuine progress towards saving our planet. By businesses making products that seem to have ‘green’ roots attached to them only allow us to continue our trend of over-consumption.

Alan Schnaiberg points to ‘The treadmill of production’, whereby there is a ‘relentless scaling up (and) intensification of production’ (Orr, 1980). If capitalism, in the way we now know it, continues to feed this never-ending cycle, it can only be detrimental to our climate crisis. Continuous sourcing of raw materials through mining, all the energy used to create the product, for it all to end in landfill. The green glow of profit fuelling this non-stop spiral of damage. This is why we’re in the crisis we’re in. It’s time for us to admit that this soft approach to our climate crisis simply isn’t good enough. Green Capitalist messages, as progressive as they are towards us loosening our grip on the methods we traditionally rely on, from petrol ran cars, to electricity sourced from non-renewables, their motives provide a weak standpoint for truly resolving our planet’s issues. PLCs will only pursue green values if there is money attached to it. Is this really the solution that can pull us out of this mess? For real, inclusive changes to occur, we need incentives other than profit to fuel our emergence out of our climate crisis. Money-generating motives can only get us so far.



  • Bakan, J. (2004) The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. New York: Free Press.
  • Orr, D. W. (1980). Review of The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity by A. Schnaiberg. Human Ecology, 8(4), pp. 412–414.
  • Prudham, S. (2009) “Pimping climate change: Richard Branson, global warming, and the performance of green capitalism”, Environment and Planning A, 41 (7): 1594-1613
  • Urry, J. (2009) “Sociology and climate change”, The Sociological Review, 57(s2): 84-100.



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