When I used to rail against corporations ruling the world, my entrepreneur friend, the late Jim Kirsner, used to argue that the business community had to be part of the solution to the problem of climate change. I’m sure he’s right in the ‘we need everyone’ sense, but where I live, business as usual looks like complete folly. After a punishing few years, real estate is said to be recovering in South Florida. On the high end new construction, this appears to be true. En route to my yoga classes, I cross a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway where mansions arise on one side facing a dazzling new high-end community called Azure on the other. Phase I of its $900K-2.8M condos with marina and optional boat slips is almost sold out; building has commenced on Phase II. Aging, wealthy Boomers are still thinking of Florida as an ideal ‘luxury lifestyle’ destination, and climate change deniers in state government couldn’t be happier. It’s mini-Miami, and only marginally less at risk for sea level rise.
But shift is happening, and though Elon Musk and the Tesla are have achieved rock star status, it is far more likely that if/when a tipping point toward sanity is reached, it may well be because, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, a small group of thoughtful, committed business people become vocal critics of the status quo and, more importantly, transform themselves.
One recent example: Robert Politzer, CEO of Greenstreet Inc., a New York City-based construction firm whose mission is to “prove the business advantage of triple bottom line: profit, people, planet,” writes about how frequent, intense rain is already affecting his business practices and increasing his costs. Who should pay, Politzer asks: his clients, the government, or those responsible for emissions accelerating climate change? He argues, as does New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, frequently, for a price on carbon. Carbon fees “potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars” — could conceivably generate economic stimulus and “a major push toward a more sustainable sector and … economy.” Link to the original article here. It’s hard to imagine entrenched power ceding any of it, given the current political climate. But there are those who are banking on it.
Scratch the surface and you’ll learn a lot about that triple bottom line and the idea of “tackling climate change through market-based solutions” from think tanks like The Rocky Mountain Institute, founded in 1982 “to create a clean, prosperous and secure low-carbon future” to the more recently formed B Team, a group of star power entrepreneurs (think Ariana Huffington) and civil servants, on the principle that “business needs a Plan B.” In December 2014, RMI formed a strategic alliance with Carbon War Room, an initiative of Sir Richard Branson, so that they could go ‘further, faster together.’
The B Team (Branson is also co-founder) has been busy, too. In July, it released Seizing the Global Opportunity: 2015 New Climate Economy Report which includes 10 points, e.g. invest at least US$1 trillion a year in clean energy, and implementing effective carbon pricing, and insists that “we don’t have to choose between economic growth and taking action on climate change.”
If you click on the links above and spend even a few minutes scrolling around these beautifully designed websites, you might think with all these smart entrepreneurial people involved, mission accomplished. A win-win. You might even be tempted to jump on their bandwagon. Just last week, I could have attended the Aruba Sustainable Week for $550 plus airfare and hotel. Paris in December sounds appealing.
Well, I don’t mean to rain on this parade (or maybe I do). It’s just that I am suspicious of the have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too ideology that is enriching the already well-heeled. The notion that growth could be a problem, even the problem, isn’t a popular view in our culture. I won’t wait for Throwback Thursday to retrieve my copy of Small is Beautiful for alternate solutions that are neither ‘further’ nor ‘faster.’
An economy founded on the growth paradigm and the pursuit of wealth is not sustainable, by definition.