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The Challenge for Greens Now

Posted by: Arthur Eves on April 17, 2008

slideshowThe results of BusinessWeek’s advertiser survey and President George W. Bush’s new climate change strategy may both be mixed blessings for greens.

For advertisers responding to the BusinessWeek survey, green is the standout winner of the buzzkill question: “Name the buzzword that we will all be sick of hearing next year.” Does this portend another trend that flames briefly, wears itself out with overexposure, and then expires? I hope not, but as a group we Americans are pretty good at denial.

When politicians from Dennis Kucinich to George Bush are all on the same green bandwagon, we are way beyond a reasonable doubt that they might mean the same thing and we have very good reason to fear that green is today’s black—and next year we’ll all move on to something else.

When politicians and marketers speak with one voice it's clear that they are tapping into broad concerns. They are professionals who identify the desires motivating people to act and then try to capture and transmute those motivations into actions that suit their patrons--or, kindly, our shared vision. This isn't good or bad, its just the way things work. Whether you are cynical about this or pollyannish the results are the same.

Feel-good green is the order of the day, but early advocates of corporate sustainability are backing off their belief that greening the corporation is a win-win scenario even as the establishment is starting to join the chorus. There are inexpensive steps that are being taken to do less harm but repairing what we've broken is going to be a much more daunting and expensive task...and a necessary one.

Focusing on conservation measures and carbon trading are a good start but a truly green economy wouldn't need the modifier--it would factor in total network costs of resource acquisition and reclamation (and the impact on lives effected) as part of the cost of doing business. We've been running massive corporate subsidies for decades and its time to question how they are spent. A growing economy is important but so are a decent life for people and a healthy environment.

Like conservatives, conservationists are stuck between two paths--ideological purity or pragmatic incrementalism. To be effective they need to find a third way that keeps pressure on the vision and critiques (and applauds) the efforts of governments and corporations to make positive steps towards a better world for all of us. After so many years of demonizing on both sides it's going to be difficult to establish the trust needed to work cooperatively to solve problems. Even though you're part of the problem, you're part of the solution.

How to do that? Now that's a good question. I hope to hear some answers.

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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