New York (April 22, 2007)- No, it’s not just greenwash. Business in the U.S. really has become cleaner and greener. Environmentalists actually have embraced market-based solutions. And the politics are about to get very interesting. Big business and environmentalists used to be sworn enemies – and for good reason. General Electric dumped toxins into the Hudson River. Wal-Mart bulldozed its way across America. DuPont was named the nation’s worst polluter. The response from the environmental movement: mandate, regulate and litigate. Those days are mostly over.
Today big companies and activists are at least as apt to hammer out a partnership over a cup of sustainably grown coffee as to confront one another in court. No, they do not always see eye to eye, but the areas of common ground are getting broader. Why? For one thing, because there is money to be made. “The opportunity to provide environmental solutions is going to be one of the big four or five themes of our generation of business leadership,” Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of GE, told the 25th anniversary dinner of the World Resources Institute.
In major shift, some big companies are even asking that they be regulated on greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it is the only way for them to plan for how to deal with the rising threat of global warming. A coalition of businesses and environmental groups earlier this year formed a partnership called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership aimed at doing just that.
Are corporations experiencing a sudden rash of social consciousness? Not exactly. Instead, companies are increasingly realizing that going green could be a new way for companies to save – or even make – more green, as in money.
When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pledges to significantly reduce energy use at its stores, that translates into lower costs for running the same business. It’s not the only money-saving environmental effort under way at the famously stingy retailer. DuPont, the giant chemical maker that once was considered among America’s worst polluters, estimates that it has saved $3 billion from a nearly two-decade effort to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, the company is pushing for even more cuts.
Still to be determined is whether carbon offsets are the new commodity that will truly help the environment — or merely salve the consciences of people who don’t want to give up the luxury of big cars, jet travel, overheated homes, blazing lights and gluttonous appliances.
More than four dozen companies worldwide sell carbon offsets, the credits for cutting emissions through green energy projects. And although many seek independent experts who verify that the money is used to cut greenhouse gases, the businesses are unregulated by the government and lack even voluntary standards. That opens the door to fraud and mismanagement, critics say.
Much of that responsibility falls to U.S. residents, who on average put out 21 tons a year of greenhouse gas emissions per person. By comparison, the global average is 4.5 tons per person, according to a 2006 report prepared by environmental consultant Trexler Climate and Energy Services.
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