Director, Policy and Strategy
Green Innovations Inc.
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Revised 12th August 1998 - Version 1.f/w:i
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Ecopolitics Conference XI (University of Melbourne) 4th-5th October 1997
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The nature of this paper
The role of the state
Scenarios for consensus
The sustainability-promoting firm
Guiding principles for a sustainability-promoting firm
Motivations for firms to become sustainability-promoting
Getting it started - the campaign
The role of political parties
This is not an academic paper. It is a strategic discussion by a participant.
The paper begins with a challenge that the author believes will need to be met through the process of ecopolitics if ecological sustainability is to be achieved. The challenge itself is not defended by highly detailed argument since its validity is assumed to be intuitively obvious. The paper instead focuses on what can be done to meet the challenge.
markets cannot deliver ecological sustainability because of (a) the way that institutional structures generate an
inappropriate price structure (Sutton, 1995a) and (b) the way that the prevailing culture and dynamics of
entrepreneurialism leads firms to actively ignore the social costs of the side-effects of their activities
(externalisation of internalities). Democratic market management (Sutton, 1995b, 1996) cannot be carried out without
However the process of the globalisation of the economy and the
concentration of economic power in the hands of 100 or so of the currently 37,000 multinationals has so strengthened
the collective power of private corporations and so weakened civic governance (technically and ideologically) that
radical market management to foster the public good is politically impossible and the situation is virtually
irretrievable unless strategic sections of the private sector take action to reverse the trend.
So, if ecological
sustainability is to be achieved, a strategically significant number of firms will have to become active partners in
seeking the institutional reform to make effective market management possible. This sort of self-limiting behaviour
by firms is at present rare but is not impossible nor necessarily disadvantageous to the firms (Lloyd, 1990; Collins
Because both ecological problems and the economy have very strong global elements, the
institution building for a managed market and the political pressure to create it will need to have a global
dimension. This means that ecological sustainability will not be achievable unless at least some multinational
corporations become genuinely sustainability-promoting. Greenwash is not what is needed here (Greer & Bruno,
1996).It is commonly believed by social and environmental
activists that major system changes will normally only occur if governments take the lead after some initial
prompting from citizens movements. The state is considered to be the only force strong enough to significantly
redirect private capital and it is the only force that can represent the public as opposed to the private good. But
will government action lead to anything more than modest changes?
The pressures that the economic system are
placing on the environment are massive, and they are rapidly increasing. To solve these problems will require
nothing less than a radical transformation to achieve an ecologically sustainable economy. For example, oil has been
depleted so far that global production is expected to peak well within the next 15 years (Campbell & Laherrere,
1995; Fleay 1995) and to stabilise the atmospheric CO2 levels at or less than 350 parts per million by volume(2) will require industrial emissions of CO2 to be reduced (on a net basis) to zero and for CO2 to be
actually taken out of the atmosphere (Enting et al., 1994).
Changes of this dimension will not occur unless
governments, acting both singly and where necessary collectively, play a very active role using legal, taxation and
credit creation powers and their coordination/planning, investment and service provision capabilities. But if major
corporations are not prepared to acquiesce, governments can find themselves faced with very effective pressure of all
sorts (eg. public relations barrages, legal challenges and compensation claims, support for political opponents,
threats of or actual capital strikes, etc.) The upshot is that governments, almost universally, do not use their
legal or fiscal powers to take decisive action to force corporations to contribute significantly to the achievement
of ecological sustainability if business is united in its opposition.
Broadly the role of the state can be summed
up in this way, in the absence of democratic and effective global governance, governments will not provide very
radical initiating leadership but once sufficiently powerful business blocs have decided that radical action
is needed, governments can and indeed are expected to facilitate change through supportive leadership and the use of
their powers and capabilities.
What is an appropriate vision of a radical transformation of an economy like Australia's? Two images come to mind. One is formed by taking the current economy, dominated by resource exports, and imagining a very green version of it (the green resource exports economy). Another is formed by imagining a dematerialised, closed-cycle economy that has gone a long way toward achieving its stretch goal of zero extinctions and that is contributing actively toward the emergence of a similar economic orientation elsewhere around the globe and then identifying the aspects of the current economy that could be grown up to match this future economy (the sustainable service economy).
The first scenario, being based on the current stereotypic characterisation of the economy, run the risk of failing to be sufficiently green and falling back into the status quo. But its advantage is it is based on current perceived economic strengths. The second scenario builds on strengths in the domestic economy in the services and manufacturing areas. Transforming these domestic strengths into export strengths is a major challenge for this scenario.
Under the first scenario the greening of exports is the defining change. Forest production might shift to the truly sustainable management of native forests or better still environmentally sound production from plantations and agroforestry operations. Fishing might shift to environmentally-sound open-seas aquaculture and agriculture might adopt truly sustainable land management practices. Mining might adopt very environmentally sensitive techniques for exploration mining and rehabilitation. Services and manufacturing exports might be built up on the basis of green resource production skills. The trap with this scenario is that unless the resource firms can tap large, high-value-added, non-commodity markets they are locked into expanding resource production which inevitably places increasing stress on biodiversity and the planet's life support systems.
In scenario two, the changes are driven partly by tapping the immediate green export potential of the services sector (education, R&D, multimedia, ecotourism, etc.) and partly by radically greening the domestic economy, with the later possibility that new export opportunities will open up based on the new capabilities developed in the services sector and the complex-products manufacturing sector.
The two scenarios have major implications for the change strategies outlined below, especially in terms of choosing which firms to target first. Under the first scenario, resource extraction and processing firms and their allies would be the target, and under the second scenario a rather different mix of services and manufacturing firms and their allies would be the early target. Firms likely to be targeted in the second scenario tend, at the moment, to be less engaged with environmental issues, although their responses (when they have them) tend to be less defensive.
The final outcome in the real world is likely to be a mix of changes from both scenarios.
The key to
unleashing the power of government is the sustainability-promoting firm. If such firms proliferated and they joined
with other elements in society they might create a coalition strong enough to counter the businesses that are
currently blocking adequate environmental responses.Sustainability-seeking firms can exhibit a number of different orientations towards environmental
issues. The three stances of most interest to a sustainability-seeking firm are:
The ethical opportunist firm encourages a general improvement in
the environmental performance of all its products and all its processes. Ethical opportunist firms need to have well
developed search skills for finding the best available methods and product ideas and they need to be adept at taking
on new methods and technologies.
- ethical opportunist:
the organisation generally tries to ´do the right thing´ on environmental issues as long as action is clearly
economically viable and does not involve significant risk.
- catalyst: the organisation identifies
environmental problems or opportunities that need action and it triggers other organisations to pioneer the solution
or to take the necessary action
- pioneer: the organisation works to make desirable environmental outcomes
technically, organisationally and economically feasible. Pioneering can be directed at incremental or leapfrog
movements towards inspirational goals.
Many firms that eventually adopt an ethical opportunist stance, may start out as
´cynical opportunists´(3). For example, successful experience with ´green´ niche
marketing or with the application of an EMS may create a positive climate in which the shift can occur.
catalyst stance is reflected in the cultural or policy influence that the organisation attempts to achieve in
order to promote sustainability. Advertising, customer and employee education programs, sponsorships and policy
advocacy are some of the channels for achieving influence. They are often used at present to promote the
self-interest of firms rather than the public good. However this need not be the case if firms are actively
repositioning themselves to make a living by pursuing the public good. This stance is relevant for all organisations
but sometimes it might be the only one that can be pursued actively if it is not possible, at a particular point in
time, to make rapid progress developing or improving products or production processes.
The pioneering stance
is likely to be most successful where complete management units are involved. This allows all the management
structures and processes to be aligned with the stance. Such an alignment is necessary if the organisation is to
have the sticking power to make the necessary breakthroughs. Pioneering management units can exist within an
organisation that is opportunistic overall.
The catalyst stance would almost always be found in combination ie.
with ethical opportunism or pioneering. Because of the risk and cost associated with pioneering, it would be rare
for an organisation to pioneer in everything it did, even where pioneering is a core strategy.
There are five essential actions that sustainability-promoting firm needs to take. Such a firm needs to:
- Declare the goal:
publicly declare that it aims to be a sustainability-promoting firm
- Foster society's sustainability through products
strive to ensure that its entire product range helps society to achieve sustainability (instead of just aiming to reduce the negative impact of the existing products)
- Promote society's 'sustainability take-off'
take action to help the economy (locally and globally) to reach a condition of
- Urge governments to be proactive
press governments to take action to favour the achievement of sustainability
- Promote large scale, urgent action
make sure its actions match the scale and pace of change needed if society is to achieve sustainability in a desirable timeframe.
There are six additional actions that a sustainability-promoting firm should take if it wants to magnify its effectiveness. The firms should:
- Customer service:
ensure that when products (including services) and production processes are developed or modified
to meet the needs of the active users that they are also designed to serve the needs of the local
community, people globally, future generations and nature.
implement an environmental management system that enables the organisation to help society
achieve sustainability in a timely fashion, for example, through the use of leapfrog pioneering strategies
take action to maximise the market for products that contribute to sustainability and as far as possible
favour the servicing of other firms and final users that are making a positive contribution to the
achievement of sustainability (Sutton, 1997a).
change the way activities are carried out or the way production is undertaken - to foster
promote the spread of the sustainability-seeking approach generally: through the private, public and
community sectors and up and down the supply chain.
cooperate with other sustainability-seeking organisations.
If sustainability-seeking organisations proliferate, then the chance of achieving sustainability will switch
from vanishingly small to virtually certain.
The probability that firms will become sustainability-promoting will be substantially improved if:
Each of these points is discussed in turn.
- scientific information on the
seriousness, scale and urgency of key environmental issues spreads
- R&D to create robust win-win economic
strategies for an ecologically sustainable society at macro, industry sector/infrastructure and micro levels is
- visions of an ecologically sustainable economy and of key product and infrastructure innovations
- management tools for the sustainability-promoting organisation are created and
- transformative technologies are developed, promoted and adopted
- action is taken to facilitate
the adoption of key products, infrastructure developments, etc.
- micro-market reform to foster the uptake of
transformative technologies is undertaken
- community-based lifestyle program to help people develop and live
lifestyles that are sustainability promoting are initiated
- media interest is boosted
institutions of government are established
- macro-economic reform to introduce a new dynamic pattern
of factor prices (physical resource and environmental impact costs to rise continually relative to labour costs) and
to significantly increase the savings and investments rates (to boost productivity and economic output(4)) is undertaken
- structural adjustment programs for communities and industries are put in
Scientific informationPeople are unlikely to
want to make difficult adjustments unless they know the stakes are high. Information such as the recent scientific
consensus conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that "the balance of evidence suggests a
discernible human influence on global climate" (IPCC, 1996) is an important motivator. The information about the
required degree of CO2 reduction and the imminent peaking of world oil supply referred to above is relevant here
Win-win economic strategiesThere will not be much corporate or community enthusiasm for the
pursuit of ecological sustainability as long as most people think the economy will contract as a result. But there
is increasing awareness that win-win economic strategies based on ecotaxes and responsiveness boosting investment and
reform of market institutions can be developed to deliver superior environmental and employment results without a
growth penalty. This awareness springs from the practical experience of the countries of northern Europe and from the
results of econometric modelling studies (DRI, 1994). The European Union is leading these developments, but interest
is being generated elsewhere in the world (Roodman, 1997). Win-win macroeconomic outcomes mean that resource use no
longer grows in step with growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that contractions in the sections of the economy
responsible for high environmental impacts are offset by growth in other sections of the economy. In fact with GDP
continuing to grow, winners would outnumber losers. The new growth sectors would become very exciting targets for
entrepreneurial companies and major focuses for the deployment of transformative technologies.
buildingThe scale of many environmental problems and the urgency with which they need to be tackled are so
great that a very rapid movement to a desired future is essential. So change processes based entirely on small
incremental improvements will not be enough. Leapfrog change is impossible however if potential innovators have no
idea what viable futures might look like. So visions need to be constructed, of ecologically sustainable economies
and key product and infrastructure innovations, that give a concrete sense of what is necessary and possible. Useful
ideas for immediate action can then be derived from this process.
But longer term futures cannot be
predicted. They can only be speculated about with what turns out with hind sight to be more or less accuracy. So
what´s the use of vision building?
Futures are created by what each actor does and the interactions between the
actors and their actions. Vision building can enable actions to be conceptualised that have a higher than normal
probability of being key drivers in the evolution of the future. Vision building can help identify, for example,
transformative technologies, key infrastructure projects and institutional reforms. These initiatives can then form
a framework around which other actions fit. Social forces with incompatible visions compete with each other through
their ability to activate key drivers. It should be remembered that in a complex world, brute power is not
necessarily the final determinant of the outcome, as any practitioner of aikido knows.
Vision building also has a
rather prosaic application too. Having a clear picture of where you want to be in the future allows backwards
planning (back casting) to determine what actions must be initiated if the final goal is have a reasonable chance of
being achieved. This is outcome-driven project planning writ large.
Management toolsBusinesses and
other organisations will not be able to become proactive in their pursuit of sustainability until tools are readily
available to help them manage themselves viably as sustainability-promoting organisations. Although they are not yet
widely used, many of these tools already exist, for example, the use of inspirational stretch goals (eg. zero waste,
zero extinctions) to drive R&D and other innovations processes, organisational structures and processes that
allow organisations to simultaneously operate in the present and plan for highly divergent futures (tools for
"living in multiple realities"), whole systems design and industrial ecology principles, problem solving and
opportunity creation techniques that aim for no major trade offs between society´s top environmental, social and
economic goals, and scenario development and backcasting methods(5) (Sutton, 1997a,
Transformative technologiesTransformative technologies(6) are valuable
because they can trigger very large economic changes, in terms of product and corporate growth rates and money flows.
These technologies can change the relative influence of firms and indeed whole industry sectors. Ultimately the huge
changes they trigger can change public perceptions of what is possible, making some commercial and public policy
initiatives feasible where previously they would have been successfully resisted by the defenders of the status
The hypercar is a dramatic example of a transformative technology. Cars are causing massive releases of CO2
with serious greenhouse implications and they are the major factor leading to the massive depletion of oil(7). Motivated by concern about this, an environmental policy and technology institute in the US, the
Rocky Mountain Institute, developed the vision of a super efficient car to help overcome these problems. The concept
was for a car with a carbon fibre body, electric motors driving the wheels and a small liquid fuel engine or fuel
cell to generate electricity. Prototypes showed that these features plus other refinements result in car that is
75-90% more fuel efficient than the conventional car for the same level of service. Production cost estimates
indicated that, when in mass production, the car would cost no more than conventional cars. If all cars on the road
were of this type it would save as much oil as the OPEC countries produce and would reduce world steel demand by one
eighth (Lovins et al., 1996).
Another example of a transformative technology is plantation grown softwood. In New
Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s plantation softwood completely changed the economics of wood production and the supply
picture. So dramatic was the shift that the conservation movement and the wood products industry were able to reach
a formal accord, supported by government, that led to an almost complete cessation of native forests logging in New
Zealand. The same potential exists in Australia (Clark, 1992).
Facilitated actionGreat visions do
not guarantee implementation. The inertia of habit and vested interest is enormous. So there is a need to actively
facilitate action in desired directions.
The example of the hyper-car should suffice. The existing car companies
were not keen to scrap their existing investments and to abandon well-honed skills. The oil and steel industries and
the makers of conventional components and production machinery were not keen on the change. So the scene was set for
inaction. The Rocky Mountain Institute responded by putting the fundamentals of hypercar design into the public
domain so that the idea could not be suppressed. It then encouraged the aerospace industry to produce hypercars
knowing that the sector already worked with many of the main technologies used in the hypercar. Now that competition
was assured, the Institute redoubled its efforts to get the existing car makers to move into hypercars as well. The
end result was that none of the major car firms could afford to ignore the technology for fear that a traditional or
novel competitor would get there first. At least US $2.5 billion has now been committed to develop hypercars.
Product announcements have now been made by GM, Toyota, Ford, Daimler-Benz and Mercedes. The first cars are expected
to be on sale by 2000 and perhaps as early as 1998.
Making cars super fuel efficient and reducing their air
pollution emissions by 90% does not eliminate all the problems that they cause(8). But this case
study does demonstrate rather dramatically what can be achieved by good strategies to facilitate visionary
Micro-market reformMicro-market reform is needed to ensure that currently profitable
green options are not blocked by inappropriate market structures. For example, transformative technologies might
arise from spectacular scientific discoveries but it is much more likely that they will emerge from the design of new
systems, that is, better ways of putting pre-existing elements together. With system innovations in particular, many
parties will usually need to be involved in bringing the product to market. However, under the influence of
prevailing institutional and commercial arrangements, the potential financial gains available from an innovation will
often not be distributed evenly between the parties. If just one link in the delivery chain gains no benefit or
suffers as a result of the innovation that will be enough to stop the whole change process. For example, office
buildings can easily be designed to use 75% less energy and be cheaper to build than conventional designs. But if
the designers are paid, as is the norm in most countries, a fee based on the cost of the building they specify then
they have a strong incentive to design a more expensive building with inferior performance (von Weizsäcker,
1997). So, more often than not, transformative technologies that are very profitable, on a whole-system basis under
prevailing labour and resource prices, will nevertheless need to be accompanied by market reform to ensure that the
distribution of benefits favours action. Clever alliance building will usually be needed to gain support the reform
Lifestyle programsIf people lead sustainability-promoting lifestyles this will help to
shape the services and goods that are offered. Programs that help householders to review their consumption patterns
and environmental impacts can therefore play an important part in changing the market. An example of such a program
is the Global Action Plan which is spreading through Europe, North America and beyond (Gershon & Gilman, 1992).
This is a household version of an environmental management system with participants assessing and modifying their use
and disposal of resources and other elements of lifestyle impacting the environment. The results from individual
households are aggregated and fed back to participants so they can see the progress they´re making
There are limits to how far householders can go in greening their way of life because the services
and products needed to support lifestyles with even lower impact are not available. Community lifestyle programs
need to go one step further that the approach used for example by the Global Action Plan and, in an open and ethical
way, feed information about these unmet needs back to businesses so that new generations of services and products can
Media interestIt is rare for major shifts in public, corporate or government thinking
to occur until the issues are picked up by the media for intensive treatment. Large-scale media coverage will spread
the ideas and create a sense of reality and momentum, the very conditions that make it highly probable that the
transformation will occur(9).
Institutions of governmentInstitutions of government
need to have sufficient research capability, administrative resources and influence across government to ensure that
ecological sustainability is a central consideration in all policies and programs that bear on the direction of the
economy. Business, educational institutions and community groups, well-resourced where appropriate by government,
should develop similar arrangements. The program will be greatly enhanced if, after some momentum has been
established, a core piece of legislation to enshrine the community´s commitment to create an ecologically sustainable
Macro-economic reformMicro-market reform by itself is however not enough. Over the last
hundred years and almost certainly for a lot longer, the cost of resource intensive products has fallen steadily
relative to the price of labour intensive products (Grilli & Yang, 1988; Barnett & Morse, 1963). This makes
high physical resource consumption and, therefore high environmental impact, an increasingly
economically-advantageous strategy, everything else being equal. In the face of the long-run relative price trends
it is no wonder that society has moved to a throwaway structure and it is no wonder that recycling continues to be
undermined by the low cost of virgin resource production.
The principal institutional cause of the relative fall
in prices of virgin resources is the way that society was structured in the transition from feudalism to capitalism
with wage payments by individual firms emerging as the way that most people earned their incomes(10). When employer-paid wages, as the dominant income source, combine with:
historically described long-run reduction in relative resource prices is generated. (Sutton, 1995a)
- a non-declining share of income going to labour compared to the owners of capital
- the greater technical
ease of reducing the labour intensity of the resources sector compared to
- the other economic sectors
So there is
something about the basic structure of the market which, until it is changed, makes it hard to have an
environmentally sustainable economy. If firms want to help bring about ecological sustainability they need to not
only produce the ´greenest´ products that are possible at any particular point in time, but they need to
contribute to the restructuring of the market itself to favour sustainability eg. through ecotaxes, eco-investment
strategies and institutional changes. (Sutton 1996, Sutton 1995b).
programsCompassion and equity, first and foremost, and political pragmatism make it mandatory to assist
communities and industries that could be adversely affected by dramatic shifts to a green economy.The motivating factors described above will not become major forces unless
they are triggered by effective change agents. Seven key change agents appear to be necessary:
Each of the change agents is described in turn.
sustainable economy campaign to catalyse the emergence of an ecologically sustainable economy is
- radical solutions catalysts are needed to develop and broker action
- non-threatening business
sustainability programs and consultants
- a coalition of interests in a sustainable future
(sustainable economy coalition) that is powerful enough to successfully challenge the vested interests in the
- fierce ultra-green competitors that put pressure the rest of the
- governments to mobilise their powers and resources to foster a sustainable
- deliberation councils to mobilise forces for greening across the whole economy and to foster
consensus for action.
A sustainable economy
campaignAround the world different classes of organisation seem to be contributing leadership to the task of
creating an ecologically sustainable economy. Community groups, specialist institutes or programs, professional
associations, local councils, corporations, unions, state and national governments are all represented. But there
seems to be a missing element and that is a grass roots movement aimed at the business community with the charter to
encourage every business to become a sustainability-promoting organisation. Such a movement would operate bottom up,
would have strong links to the environmental movement, would be uncompromised (but reasonable) in its approach and
free ranging in its style.
Specifically its functions would be to:
Natural Step professional and business networks in Sweden do something of this but there is probably an advantage in
not having the movement auspiced by an organisation that has to be acceptable to big, mainstream corporations on a
day-to-day basis. Many other organisations could perform some of the functions of the network in a complementary way
eg. the Global Action Plan. In Australia, stepping stones to such an approach may be initiatives of the Sustainable
Industries Office of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Environment Victoria´s work on energy efficiency
products with a range of manufacturers and distributors, and World Wide Fund for Nature´s programs for improving
office practice, and the ACF/ACTU Green Jobs Unit.
- introduce ideas to business, the
community, government and the media on sustainability-promoting organisations and what such organisations could do to
effectively address the real scale and urgency of environmental problems
- identify existing and prospective
sustainability-promoting organisations and encourage them to become active
- promote an uncompromised standard of
performance for sustainability-promoting organisations and encourage sustainability-promoting organisations to lift
- help spread and exchange ideas on sustainability-promoting between and beyond businesses.
Radical solutions catalystsThe strength of
movements is that they can involve everyone, no matter what their level of skill. But there is a need for a range of
expert organisations that can play the role of radical solution catalyst. Examples of such organisations are the
Rocky Mountain Institute (US), Wuppertal Institute (Germany), ZERI (Japan) and in Australia, the Institute for
Science and Technology Policy (WA), the Institute for Sustainable Futures (NSW), EcoDesign Foundation (NSW), and the
Sustainable Energy Industries Council of Australia (ACT). Environmental organisations can also play an important
role. For example, Greenpeace on the Sydney Olympics, the Australian Conservation Foundation on water sector
adjustments, and Friends of the Earth on East Gippsland structural change.
It is these sorts of institution that
can deploy the expertise needed to come up with and facilitate the adoption of transformative technologies or
Related functions that need to be performed also are those of sustainability educator and technical or
business systems consultant.
Non-threatening business sustainability programs and consultantsA
range of organisation are now offering green business management systems and consulting services to business eg.
Natural Step, SustainAbility, WWF, GEMI (Global Environmental Management Initiative, ISO 14000 consultants, Forest
Stewardship Council, etc.) These organisations provide the methods and help develop skills once there in interest
from a firm.
Sustainable economy coalitionOnce sustainability-promoting businesses emerge they need
to band together with other sustainability-promoting organisations such as community groups and government
environment agencies to form a powerful force for sustainability leadership and advocacy. Such a coalition would be
a leading advocate of both macroeconomic and micro market reform that would ensure that all businesses and other
organisations behaved in an environmentally sound fashion. The coalition would also assist member organisations to
implement sustainability-promoting practices.
Ultra-green competitorsNothing concentrates the mind
of businesses quite so much as fear of the competition. A key group of change agents will be companies that decide
to make serious money by actively marketing sustainability-promoting products. Fear of effective green competitors
is likely to be one of the most effective motivators to get poorly performing companies to lift their environmental
Green competitors will vary from conventional companies with one or two very good products in their
range (eg Bosch washing machines, Southcorp dishwashers) to companies that specialise in being ultra-green across
their whole product range. An indicator of progress in this direction will be when one or two larger multinational
companies emerge that have the pursuit of the public good as their principal strategy for gaining competitive
advantage. The laser printer manufacturer Kyocera and Interface which makes carpet tiles are moving towards
GovernmentsThere is intense debate at the moment about the frequent failure of governments to
take the lead on the greening of the economy. Many argue that governments have lost a lot of their capacity to
regulate or guide corporations due to the globalisation of the economy and the absence of any effective global
environmental governance. Others argue that governments can use new strategies and that they do not have to be
powerless, for example many governments in northern Europe are very proactive on the environment.
Regardless of who
is right, there is no doubt that governments have unique powers that must be used and roles that must be fulfilled if
an ecologically sustainable economy is to be created eg. law-making, taxation, and redistributive powers and
investment in for example education, infrastructure and R&D. Governments that lag are unlikely to remain that
way for long if they are faced with an effective sustainable economy movement and sustainable economy coalition, an
array of radical solutions catalysts and ultra-green and competitive businesses.
councilsOnce the leading sectors and organisations are operating effectively and key economic and market
reforms such as ecotaxation have occurred, then mechanisms need to be put in place to engage the rest of industry.
One practical way to do this is to set up representative deliberation councils(10) to identify a
plan of action for their particular focus. The deliberation councils would be made up of business, community, union
and government representatives. The plans would be based on preferred options drawn out of a scenario building
process. Clear attention would be paid to the needs of likely winners and losers with the aim of boosting community
benefit from the success of the winners and reducing community detriment arising from the fate of potential
losers.Promoting the public good in a way
that is clearly independent of their own existing interests is not a traditional role for most private corporations
and it implies a major cultural shift in the private sector. At least initially it requires a risky leap of faith by
the businesses that realign (11). Such a leap by business has to rely on the vision and will-power of
the top management of the corporations - otherwise the leap cannot be made corporately or effectively.
of action described above, once it is operating, can switch the risk from that of being involved in
sustainability-promotion to the risk of not being involved. But the crucial thing is to get the whole process
moving. The sustainable economy campaign is the key to this.
In the past community campaigns have often been aimed
at getting governments to control the private sector or they have been aimed at specific corporations to get them to
reduce their direct negative environmental or social impact. The campaign to create a sustainability coalition needs
to do something quite different. It needs to include a major thrust aimed squarely at the private sector to win over
´significant´ numbers to a new approach to governance. This is a new way of campaigning and environmental
and other community groups will need to develop new strategies and skills to make it effective.
But if the campaign
is the key to getting the whole process going, how do we get the campaign started? Let´s work it out!
Political parties might contribute to a business-orientated sustainability campaign by encouraging their members to become personally involved. Or the parties might adopt a more direct role by formally working with businesses to encourage them to become sustainability-promoting. This more direct but general approach might be quite challenging for firms since they generally try to maintain a non-partisan profile. Consultants and community groups could probably carry out this function more easily.
A more appropriate approach might be for political parties to work with green-minded business people and sustainability-promoting firms to develop new policies for the creation of an ecologically -sustainable economy and for the necessary strengthening of the process of governance, right from the international to the local level.
Firms are more likely to support a shift to a truly sustainable economy if they have the security of a degree of political bipartisanship. For this reason it would be very valuable for as many parties as possible to develop some shared policy elements for the transition. This might seem to be an unrealistic suggestion given that political parties need to differentiate themselves in order to attract voters. But it might be possible, if parties work cooperatively, to create a shared paradigm but then each party can actively differentiate themselves in terms of how they would bring about the paradigm shift and where, within the new paradigm, they would position themselves. This model of change is often used by groups of commercial competitors to open up radical new options (the telecommunications/multimedia industries abound with examples). It is also an approach that should come easily to political parties that advocate proportional representation since effective government under this system depends on multi-party cooperation.
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Private financial and standards institutions can, and do, manage the market to a significant degree. But it is rare
for their activities to take into account the public good unless governments provide a motivating framework for their
2. The preindustrial level was 280 ppmv.
cynical opportunist organisation is interested in environmental issues only as a source of commercial
opportunities and for no other reason. Cynical opportunist firms add ´green´ products to their range as market research
shows there is demand. However, products with poor environmental performance are continued without improvement for as
long as demand exists. Cynical opportunist companies are more likely to perform well in the ´green´ market if
their product development and production staff, servicing ´green´ niches, personally have ethical opportunist
or pioneer orientations. A team made up entirely of cynics will find it hard to identify ´green´
opportunities and is unlikely to have the commitment or insights necessary to make ´green´ initiatives work
Only the ethical opportunist, catalyst and pioneer stances match the spirit of ISO 14000. However the ISO
14000 series definition of continual improvement (improvement up to the level set in the EMS policy) and the ability
to apply ISO 14001 to only parts of an organisation suggests that a cynical opportunist organisation could
successfully meet the technical requirements of the standard and be certified if it wrote its policy
4. Economic output needs boosting, not physical output. Indeed physical output
and more particularly throughput (from the earth back to the earth) needs to fall substantially.
5. A number of organisations are developing just such tools. For example European Partners for the
Environment/SustainAbility/Wuppertal Institute in Europe, and the Natural Step Environmental Institute, the
International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Rocky Mountain Institute and ZERI internationally are
developing sustainability-oriented management tools for business. In Australia, work is being done by Green
6. Transformative technologies are technologies that have the power to
dramatically change the environmental impact of business within the current price structure. They may be originated
for environmental reasons or for commercial reasons, but once they take off the profit motive alone is enough to
ensure that they succeed.
7. Recent estimates suggest that global oil production will peak permanently
within in a little over a decade - due to the failure of oil exploration since 1980 to yield any super-large oil fields
(Fleay, 1995 & Chris Mardon, personal communication 1997).
8. e.g. excessive use of
land, accidents, dispersed urban form, erosion of local communities.
9. The globalisation of
the media has gone so far that local media outlets often only treat an issue as newsworthy after the international
news networks have picked it up in what they see as the trend-setting countries.
council could be created for each of (a) the key transformative technologies, (b) the industry sectors, and (c) the
key regions and communities and (d) the macroeconomy as a whole.
11. . . .and by those in
the community sceptical of business and its agendas.
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