Corporate Environmental Responsibility in the Era of Climate Change

15 Oct

The recent flurry of withdrawals from the United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC) by the likes of big-name corporations such as APPLE and NIKE suggests that business may not go on “as usual” in the US.  The USCC, an influential business lobby, disputes the reality of anthropogenic warming and stridently opposes any government-mandated emissions reductions.

The USCC position is exacting a toll. It’s not just corporate behemoths that have withdrawn from the Chamber of Commerce, energy and utility giants such as PNM Resources, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and Exelon have also stepped down.  These corporations made it clear that they strongly disapprove of the Chamber of Commerce’s position and may be bellwethers’ for a changing corporate environment in the US: an Apple vice president said she “strongly objects” to efforts to hinder the EPA.

Nike was even more forthright: – “As we’ve stated, we fundamentally disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action.”

smokestack3At the core of this debate, are questions as to the role of industry and the private sector in climate change mitigation and adaptation and the extent to which government should regulate industry. Too frequently the debate is reduced to caricatures: vulnerable citizens helplessly suffering because of the greed of polluting companies. As with citizens or governments, industry falls along a continuum. Some indeed spew carbon into the atmosphere and attempt to distort the facts behind climate change. But others have shown they have a key advantage over their counterparts in government: they are efficient.  Swiss Re, the reinsurance giant, has been calculating the risks and hazards posed by climate change for a decade. Deutsche Bank has positioned itself as a leader in the field and has committed to going carbon neutral by 2013.  If business and industry function on the basis of enlightened self-interest, it is clear that the once fuzzy line between “greening” industry and profit has become a clear, well-defined path.

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