Leading article: Invest in the planet and clean up

Share
Related Topics

Reading, as we know, is not George Bush's strongest suit, but he should at least glance at the graphs of a new report before his latest initiative on global warming opens in Hawaii this week. They show that his whole approach to tackling global warming – by relying on voluntary initiatives from industry to come up with technological breakthroughs – is doomed to failure. That may be just what he intends – so Gordon Brown and the other leaders of the major developed and developing economies represented at the mid-Pacific meeting should read the report, too.

The rest of the world almost boycotted the get-together in the face of United States's intransigence at the crucial international negotiations in Bali last month, suspecting, quite rightly, that it is a diversionary tactic intended to impede progress towards agreement on worldwide mandatory targets for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide. Now they should dismiss it as a palpable waste of time.

For the survey of 500 top companies by the consultancy, Accenture, makes it clear that they have no intention of taking the lead. Only 5 per cent describe climate change as their top priority, with not a single business in China doing so. Only 11 per cent even put it second or third. It ranks far below such concerns as increasing sales and competing for talented staff. More than two-thirds see measures to tackle global warming as a burden, imposing costs on operations – around twice as many as understand that it presents opportunities for increasing business.

Their attitude is understandable, though short-sighted. It is hard to criticise top executives for being preoccupied with increasing sales and recruiting the best people. But it is sad that more have not realised that being seen to tackle climate change helps them to achieve both aims, and boosts the bottom line. As the report itself makes clear, consumers are increasingly attracted to greener companies: "Environmental responsibility is quickly becoming an important factor in a buyer's decision to purchase a particular product or service," it concludes, "and this trend will only accelerate."

Most strikingly it found that 97 per cent of consumers in China are concerned about climate change, well above the already high global average of 85 per cent. And a survey by the US National Marketing Institute has shown that half of Americans say they would be more likely to buy shares in relatively environmentally friendly companies, and that investment in green and ethical funds has mushroomed.

Another study found that three-quarters of MBA students at top business schools said they would be willing to accept a pay cut of 10 to 20 per cent to work for a socially responsible company. Whether or not they would actually do so, when it came to it, there is no doubt that pioneering green companies such as Google and BSkyB find their environmental stances and practices invaluable when it comes to recruiting young staffs – particularly so for the most talented top few per cent, on whom the future of any business depends.

Even more important, climate change – and the measures brought in to address it – is going to fundamentally change the world economy, create a need for new products, and open up new markets. The companies that see, and seize, the opportunities first stand to clean up. Prophets will make the big profits.

The main thing stopping most companies from taking the plunge is uncertainty about what governments will do. While two-thirds of those surveyed accept that they have a role to play in tackling climate change, only 42 per cent worldwide – and 14 per cent in China – feel well-placed to do so. As the heads of blue-chip firms from Tesco to Dupont, BP to General Electric have repeatedly told the Bush administration and other governments, they need a clear framework of targets for increasing reductions in carbon dioxide to be able to plan for the future and commit the necessary investment. In this, they have been as vocal as any environmental group.

This is where President Bush's recalcitrant attitude has been so devastating. By taking every opportunity to impede progress, he has allowed the uncertainty to continue, thus putting in peril the economic objectives he claims to serve. The time has come for this to stop. The Hawaii meeting is as good an opportunity as any to make a stand. Whenever the rest of the world has united against him on global warming he has shifted ground, one reason why Tony Blair's repeated efforts to cuddle close to him were so damaging.

The negotiations in Bali were rescued because the other participants told the US to change its stance or "get out of the way". They should start in Hawaii, where they left off on the "island of the gods".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering