This summer, the Lausanne Movement gathered more than 700 Christian leaders from 109 nations in Manila for its Global Workplace Forum. Among the many topics discussed was where creation care should rank among other Christian concerns like evangelism and discipleship.
Should environmental concerns be a major priority for a Christian business owner? Here are the answers of Lausanne leaders:
Ed Brown, executive director of Care of Creation and Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care (United States):
Yes! Without question, for two reasons. The first is uniquely Christian: obedience. Taking care of God’s world by responsibly caring for God’s creatures (Genesis 1) and by “tending the garden” (Genesis 2) was our first assignment from God. Lausanne’s Cape Town Commitment appropriately calls caring for God’s world “a gospel issue under the lordship of Christ.” This first task has never been taken away from us. Christian business owners are to be more than sound financial stewards and Christlike shepherds of our workforce; we’re called to be keepers of God’s garden.
The second is not uniquely Christian, but important nonetheless: survival. Business owners need to be concerned for the survival of the business, but also for the survival of the human race, including their community, customer base, and their own children and grandchildren. Yes, profit is needed for economic survival, but profit can’t be made in a collapsing world. Economic activity is a root cause of the environmental crisis, and wise businesspeople recognize that environmental collapse threatens their own business’ future, as well as the lives of their own grandchildren. Those who can run their businesses in ways that do not damage God’s creation will both survive and prosper.
Las Newman, Lausanne’s Global Associate Director for Regions (Jamaica):
Yes. Good business makes good sense. How can a Christian business operator witness for Christ and at the same time abuse his workers, short-change his customers, ignore environmental standards, contribute to environmental pollution, and affect the ecological balance of nature? Good business depends on three things: profitability that ensures return on investment for growth and development; care for the welfare of the people who help to produce such return on investment (i.e., workers and customers); and good environment for business that enhances the quality of human life and honors the Lord. Business operators in the aviation, food handling, transportation, tourism, earth extractive, manufacturing, and retail industries, among others, now recognize the importance of corporate social responsibility and include a green policy agenda to their business, including support of the arts.
Environmental concerns should be a major priority for a Christian business owner because of these three bottom lines of good business. This is the mandate of Micah 6:8. It means monitoring environmental standards surrounding the business, watching out for air and water quality, energy consumption, avoiding environmental exploitation and degradation of the environment, checking carbon footprint, etc. Green policy is good business. This is creation care. It should be given top priority along with other Christian concerns that promote and advance the gospel.
Graham Hooper, independent infrastructure consultant and author (Australia):
Yes. Let me start at the lowest common denominator. First, businesses (Christian or otherwise) are required to comply with environmental law. There is a basic compliance requirement on business owners and managers. Second, good businesses implement sustainability strategies and practices which go well beyond “box-ticking” compliance. Some become leaders in environmental management and remediation. Third, smart businesses also look for the “sweet spot” between good environmental practice and sustainable, profitable work which grows the business, provides employment, and generates economic growth. For the Christian, there are some overriding biblical truths: This is God’s world and he made it.
We are only on this earth for awhile; stewards entrusted to use and care for God’s creation in all its beauty and diversity. We live in a flawed world where human greed degrades the environment. How can we keep on trashing what God has made? Our relationship with God, with our fellow humans, and with all the creation are inextricably linked. The way we treat the environment is not therefore a mere side issue in Christian faith. By acting in a way which demonstrates these truths, Christian businesses have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to be much more than law abiding, smart, and profitable, but also to honor God the Creator in the way they do business.
Nick Chung, environmental business owner and GWF participant (Singapore):
Environmental concerns must be a priority for a Christian business owner, because environmental stewardship is a mandated responsibility entrusted to man by God. If sin had not “entered” into the Garden of Eden in Genesis, Adam and Eve along with their descendants would still be tending the garden and managing all its inhabitants (both fauna and flora) today. Sadly, with the fall of man, we have abused our responsibility and authority over the environment and its hierarchical structure of biodiversity as established by God, thereby bringing about degradation and destruction of His creation.
I understand some [believers] have argued based on Revelation that a new heaven and earth might be restored during Christ’s second coming, hence holding on to the assumption that environmental concerns might not be at all necessary. I would however like to counter that view by suggesting that environmental responsibility needs to be carried out by God’s people right now, as it is both a holistic discipleship and sanctification process in our faith journey to become more Christlike—an act of redemption to reveal his beauty and glory.
Jo Plummer, Lausanne Catalyst for Business as Mission (United Kingdom/Thailand):
Yes. God gave us the task of “tending the garden”—stewarding the world’s resources using our creativity and hard work to multiply resources—to provide for our families and for the good of humankind. Business is an important mechanism through which we do that. In Deuteronomy 8, we read that in giving Israel the promised land, God was giving them the ability to produce wealth. In this passage, the message is “start businesses, create wealth, and remember me as you do it.” Business creation and care of creation are connected.
Today, Christian business people have the opportunity to start companies that address some of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns, using market forces to create sustainable solutions to environmental degradation. Ideally, a metric of success for any company would include positive environmental impact, alongside financial, social, and spiritual impact. However, no company can sustain positive environmental impact without financial sustainability. Environmental concerns will be held in healthy tension with other concerns for the business, and business owners will need great support and clear planning to keep them a priority in the long-term.
Mats Tunehag, chairman of BAM Global and chairman of the Freedom Business Alliance (Sweden/Singapore):
Should Christians care for creation? Yes! Historically the evangelical community has grappled with the question of which is the most important: evangelism or social concern? The Lausanne Covenant affirmed in 1974 that both are important, and that was good and right. However, while acknowledging both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, we must also embrace the equally important Cultural Mandate, which includes being good stewards of creation. There are three integrated mandates, similar to the three-in-one Trinity. Most heresies throughout history have tried to diminish one or to disconnect the three. Yes, they are three, but never disconnected. Similarly, the three mandates are part of a greater seamless whole, intimately related to our mission. Thus, we affirm our responsibility to care for creation in and through business, and to find creative business solutions to environmental challenges.
Paul Miller, business owner, researcher, and Lausanne Global Consultation on Wealth Creation participant (United States/Austria):
The immediate answer: Yes, environmental concerns should be a major priority for a Christian business owner. At the most obvious level, a business owner discovering their product was literally poisoning their customers must be supremely concerned (e.g. “thou shalt not kill”). But the question has more difficult layers within it. What about a business creating a degree of environmental degradation (dirty rivers, smoky air, etc.) while also reducing poverty and enabling longer life, better general health, and improved housing conditions (e.g. arguably England’s 19th-century Industrial Revolution)? Now we are faced with the need to balance other priorities. In other words, it is insufficient to ask “whether environmental concerns should be a major priority?” One needs also ask, “What other major concerns also need prioritizing?”
Asking that next question opens up the door to other conversation partners; no small advantage, given that “in a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.” It is a question which should help us to hear both “perspectives” on the environmental equation: the green “save the earth” lobby and the “pro-growth” business types. This is precisely where interesting organizations like Holland’s Wageningen University & Research and California’s Breakthrough Institute have landed: vigorously pursuing business initiatives for environmental solutions. They are intimately linked. As England’s Lord Sterns said, on the occasion of the influential New Climate Economy report, “for me the two defining challenges of this century are overcoming poverty and managing climate change. We fail on one, we fail on the other.”
João Mordomo, cofounder and senior vice president of Crossover Global, and Lausanne Catalyst for Business as Mission (Brazil):
It depends. When I look at the convergence of scriptural issues of stewardship related to the broad mandate of creation care for all of God’s people, and the specific issues of business ownership for some of God’s people, I see specific answers for specific owners: a concern for all owners (“do no harm”); a priority for many owners; and a mission for some owners. With respect to ranking, my understanding is: All of God’s people have one primary calling and vocation: we are worshipers (Eph. 1:12). The Bible places a premium on “worship activities” that directly engage people from all nations to draw them conscientiously into a saving relationship with God through Christ, i.e. evangelism and discipleship (Mt. 28:18-20, the “Great Commission”). These are things that all Christ-worshipers should be engaged in. All of us are to participate with God in his special revelation and to prioritize “concerns like evangelism and discipleship.”
But Scripture is also clear that, as worshipers, we are called to be faithful stewards of creation—for God’s glory and the common good. We thus participate in his general revelation. The fulfillment of the “Cultural Mandate” is mandatory—it’s a mandate!—but subordinate to, and a means by which to fulfill, the Great Commission.