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Externalized costs are negative impacts associated with economic transactions which concern people outside of those transactions, meaning that neither the buyer nor the seller bears the brunt of the costs. One well-known example of an externalized cost is factory pollution, which can have a negative influence on the surrounding community. Many activists have raised concerns about externalized costs, suggesting that some economic systems may need to be reformed in order to address them, and some consumers have joined in the chorus asking for reform of the way people and companies do business.
Anything which has an impact on someone outside of a transaction is known as an externality. Externalities can be good or bad, and they are incredibly varied. As a general rule, people use the term “externalized costs” to describe externalities which are negative, while “externalized benefits” are externalities which are good. Often, externalities are negative and positive simultaneously, which can create quite a tangled web of issues.
Examples of externalized costs beyond pollution include: resource depletion, climate change, and health problems, among many other things. Some externalized costs are a bit difficult to control; resource depletion, for example, can be challenging to combat when a company sees a demand for a product and wants to meet it, and pollution is an unfortunate side-effect of most industrialized production, even in relatively “clean” factories. Others may be deliberate on the part of the parent company, as is the case with companies which do not provide benefits to their employees, relying on society at large to support their employees.
The environment is often a victim of externalized costs. In the case of externalized costs like health problems caused through pollution or use of various products, individuals or groups can choose to pursue justice from the company which sold the product, or people who bought it, and most legal systems provide avenues of redress in these situations. However, the environment is a silent entity, making it challenging to bring suit on behalf of the environment.
Many countries have agencies in place to protect the environment, and many of these agencies work to reduce the impact of externalized costs on the environment, in the interests of protecting living individuals and future residents of the Earth. Growing consumer awareness of externalized costs has also led to increased pressure on many companies to reform their business practices so that they will generate fewer costs and more benefits.