Individual responsibility. In our world of product stewardship, these words have one meaning – a company having responsibility for safely managing its products from manufacture to post-consumer recycling or disposal. The Supreme Court decision on the health care law highlighted another individual responsibility – that citizens have the obligation to buy health insurance to cover their own medical care. Both relate to the principle that we are all responsible for our own actions and the negative impact they have on others.
What is so puzzling to me is why those who adhere strictly to the individual responsibility principle when it applies to people whose homes were foreclosed, those with excess credit card debt, and those who do not “pull their weight” in society, do not extend their views to product manufacture and health care. Manufacturers in the U.S. know that this All-American principle of individual responsibility is coming to meet them, even as many of them try to delay the greeting.
Individual responsibility is the bedrock of being an American. We are a people of individual rights…and responsibilities. We want our freedom…but we know that we have a responsibility to our neighbors, our community, and the wider society. We don’t like free riders, and we know that we have to do our part. That is what it means to be an American. No one needs to look over our shoulder because we are driven by an inner responsibility, whether moral, religious, or communal. But it is deep, and it makes us who we are as a country.
So why do those who profess individual liberties walk away from their own responsibility to manage the products their companies make in a way that does not harm their fellow citizens? Why do they want to allow free riders and put an undue burden on others…on me, and on you?
Regarding the health care law, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “It’s about dealing with the freeloaders – the folks who now get their care without insurance in [a] high-cost emergency room setting. And all the rest of us pay for it today.”
All the rest of us are also paying for the recycling or disposal of every product put in the marketplace. If a company like Preserve is innovating its way to create products with recycled content and is committed to recycle its own products, why aren’t its competitors doing the same thing? Why should one company take responsibility for its environmental impacts while others don’t?
I hate being told what to do. In that way, I might have some friends out there. But I sure as heck don’t like freeloaders who cause impacts that affect me, or make me pay for those impacts. Product manufacturers and retailers have a societal responsibility, and we know the negative impacts that used consumer products, such as electronics, mercury thermostats, and pesticides, can have on our health, our environment, and our economy, even as they have many positive impacts on our quality of life. Those who want freedom should take responsibility for the freedom this country gives them in their pursuit of a profitable business. Otherwise, they will force the big bad government to make them responsible citizens….united with the Supreme Court and the people of this country.