Don’t worry, I’m not about to change the direction of my blog and become a corporate motivational speaker using only buzzwords (what Matt Berry skit was that from again?), I promise this will tie back in with the business of writing.
But first: corporate social responsibility, to my mind, just sounds like a business trying to feel better about not changing anything about the way they work. A company I worked for talked about community work, while at the same time using whole forests of (largely not recycled!) paper on unnecessary printouts and not allowing their employees to work from home (despite it being cheaper for everyone involved, as all the systems were in place, not to mention better for the environment).
Most people, at least in the Western world, have gotten used to some kind of environmental work by now. Whether it’s separating out the recyclables, choosing public transport or simply taking shorter showers, most of us are trying to do something. And yet, even the companies that aren’t pretending climate change isn’t real or isn’t man-made are still making environmentally unsound decisions and using wasteful processes simply because that’s what they’re used to.
For there to be actual change and for us to stand even the slightest chance of slowing down climate change before it kills a vast number of life forms, including likely us, it’s not enough for each and every one of us to do our little bit. Corporations and governments need to change. Unfortunately, most seem to be too focused on profit to do more than pay lip-service to the environmental researchers and activists begging them to please stop and rethink.
Political social responsibility
The way I see it, in an ideal world we’d be able to think about the short-term only and live our lives because we have politicians and the government to think about the long term and make all the hard decisions that will ensure our survival – and the survival of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Unfortunately, there are too many politicians these days that solely think about the next four or five years, or however long their term is, leaving the rest of us to worry about the future, without having much power to change things.
(I mean, we do actually hold a lot of power, collectively, but that would require enough people to get together and say enough is enough, which is hard to accomplish in any except the tiniest of countries. It works, but it requires effort, and our leaders are very good at influencing the education system and media to make us just afraid enough to vote for them but at the same time apathetic enough not to protest when our rights are compromised to line their pockets).
The writerly bit
Now, you may think that I’m going to wag my finger at those writers who feel it is necessary to print out drafts of their manuscript to edit things, and yes you may want to rethink that strategy if you’re just doing it out of habit or because it’s worked well for someone else, but what I want to talk about is the publishing industry.
As writers, we’re told to not write for free, to not work with Amazon because it’s evil, to make all the right choices when it comes to picking a publisher, while at the same time, companies seem to be largely getting a pass. If Amazon’s publishing arm pays you better than a traditional publishing house and you enjoy working with the team of whatever imprint is offering you a deal, why turn it down just because the big boss is trying to deprive his employees of basic human rights? Surely it should be the task of other publishing houses to innovate enough so they can keep competing with the big scary giant… (also please everyone form unions).
While I would encourage everyone to not shop through Amazon if there’s an alternative available, for whatever you’re looking to buy, it’s understandable that sometimes you don’t have the budget to afford to go buy something somewhere else or even to spend the time to try and find it elsewhere. This does not make you a bad person. It’s still, quite clearly, the big corporations (by no means just Amazon, they’re just an easy and ubiquitous example) that are being bad people (at least in the US, where corporations appear to be treated as people, but with more rights than actual human beings).
So, as a beginning writer, don’t make your career impossibly harder by dismissing legitimate paths to publication out of hand; if someone wants to pay you (never pay a publisher!!) and you’re allowed to tell your story without compromising its heart (e.g. as long as a publisher doesn’t tell you to remove anything that’s not white, straight, etc.) and you work well with the team responsible for publication, why not say yes? Once you’ve got success and some more power, then you can start making the uncompromising choices and demand change from other people.
Don’t get me wrong, I highly applaud someone like Roxanne Gay stepping away from her publisher because they were planning to publish a Nazi. But if you’re not at her level yet, that kind of decision won’t make the news and therefore won’t make a difference (again, unless you get every other writer to agree to do the same thing). Wait until the right time to make your stand, or simply demand better from the people you work with. While it often seems like the writer is the one with the least power in the entire publishing industry, if you have a high enough profile or enough other writers to side with you, change can happen – eventually. Until it does, don’t blame yourself for the problems of the industry.
That said, if you have the choice between bicycling to work or taking your car, either metaphorically or literally, do consider going by bike. While it’s important to put pressure on corporations to change for the better, every little helps.