Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Planet-Saving Good For Bottom Line

‘Greens’ (aka the “Save The Planet” movement) and big business are usually portrayed as being in implacable mutual opposition.  People imagine them occupying the two sides of an unbridgeable ideological divide.

Really?  Actually, business itself is shifting its ground, and beginning to develop its own version of environmentalism.  When Big Capital meets Mother Nature, they sometimes discover that they like each other...

Business being business, the motivation behind this is not really altruistic.  Corporations approach ‘green’ projects by looking for something that nature does rather well, and putting a carefully-calculated value on it before deciding to invest.

A case in point is Mother Nature’s useful way of protecting clean water supplies and preventing floods by filtering water through forested terrain.  This can make for a nifty business spreadsheet.  Urban planners faced with a need to clean up New York City’s increasingly contaminated water supply can either spend around $8 billion building an enormous (and environmentally invasive) water treatment plant;  or they can save 80% of the required investment, and spend less than $2 billion on planting trees and upgrading the Catskills watershed through “natural” interventions.  This is not tree-hugging, you understand, but fiscal prudence.

There are other examples.  The Coca-Cola corporation went through a period of public vilification for messing with the environment and endangering local livelihoods.  The company was supplying water to its factories in places like India by digging deeper and deeper wells, thereby lowering the water table and causing drought and destitution for local farmers who couldn’t dig as deep.  Now the company has vowed that their water use policies are so benign and efficient that within less than a decade they will be a net supplier of water to the communities near their plants, passing on as much as they consume themselves to the locals and the environment. 

Altruistic?  Not really.  If they hadn’t adopted these policies, Coca-Cola would have faced lawsuits, fines and water shortages, deeply damaging to both their business and their reputation.  They simply decided to “go with the flow” and make a virtue of necessity.

Of course ‘green’ policies are not always the most direct pathway to profit, and less benign schemes may seduce corporate managements at the expense of more environmentally friendly practices.  But at least doing the right thing is increasingly being recognized as one of a company’s list of options. 

Pi says: if greenbacks flow from ‘greening’ the business... greenery will still be the winner.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Business / Professional