Three environmental experts said in a symposium yesterday that the corporate world should play a critical role in solving the ecological crisis.
The panelists told an audience of 15 to 20 in the Lamont Forum room that the corporate sector needs to become an equal partner with government and private interest groups in the fight to save the enviroment.
The panelists stressed the importance of making the public see the practical side of environmental awareness. Robert Singer, executive director of the Coolidge Center for Environmental Leadership in Cambridge, proposed putting a fourcent tax on disposable diapers, thereby making reusable diapers relatively more affordable.
"If you can make environmentally-safe products more advantageous to people, then you will win them over more easily than if you bombard them with guilt," Singer said.
Singer also said that corporate America should play a prominent role in averting global warming.
"It is a serious threat. The potential for destruction is definitely there, but the question is, how big is the threat?" asked Singer. "It is as if you were holding a gun to my head, and I had to figure out what the probabality was that you would shoot."
The discussion also centered on questions of responsible marketing and executives' culbability for the criminal actions of their companies.
James J. Ahearn, senior manager of environmental affairs at the Polaroid Corporation, cited the practice of "green marketing." Using this technique, firms tout products as environmentally safe that are of questionable help in preventing pollution.
Ahearn pointed to the example of corporations that market biodegradable products as being more environmentally safe, even through the current system of dumping trash in sanitary landfills does not allow trash to biodegrade anyway.
In these landfills where bacteria is unable to grow, not even food or paper can decompose, Ahearn said.
"Biodegradability is a popular catchword, but you must look at the real effect on the system," Ahearn said. "After all, in the long run the weight of a plastic bag is less than a paper bag."
The forum, which was sponsored by the Harvard Republican Club, also featured James N. Butler, McKay professor of applied chemistry.