I can’t decide if the corporate scramble to go green is good, bad, or neutral.
If you don’t think too hard about it, it’s got to be good. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the environment was completely ignored by virtually the entire market. Even after the Exxon Valdez belched its goopy contents into Prince William Sound, the effects of a consumptive, consumer economy on the planet didn’t get a lot of traction in the media, and as long as there was no outcry from the public, corporations weren’t going to bother marketing their solutions to a problem that no one cared about.
Well, that sure has changed. The corporate world is tripping all over itself to convince consumers they’re eco-friendly. That’s good, right? It’s almost like environmental responsibility is getting baked into the market – and this push for fuel efficiency, clean burning biofuels, energy-efficient electrical appliances, wind and solar power, while not a panacea, at least represent a concerted effort to turn the ship around, don’t they? I mean, before, we had companies dumping their refuse in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night. Now, we’ve got waste management companies turning landfills into wildlife refuges.
Nothing but good can come of this, you could argue. It represents a new age for the First World economy – our vaunted economies of scale working in reverse. Hundreds of millions of people burning less gas, using less electricity, recycling more and producing less waste, and the cumulative effect is a far less onerous burden on the planet and its resources. I would like to point out one thing – this is happening because of market pressure. Market pressure is not an indefinitely sustainable force…we often start paying attention to other things after a while. Remember that story about the Gap and child labor this week? Barely a blip. But a few years ago, a story like that nipped at the heels of Kathy Lee Gifford and Nike, and followed them around for weeks. If the public stops caring so much about the environment, it doesn’t mean that companies will completely stop pledging environmentally conscious activities, but it does mean that pledging is about all that will be happening once global warming slides off the front page and nobody is bothering to really audit fuel efficiency, energy efficiency, and waste management practices any more.
The beautiful thing about a free market economy is that the priorities are directed by the consumer. And where the environment is concerned, that’s also a free market economy’s greatest liability.