Corporate Greenhouse | The Nation


Corporate Greenhouse

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This book is aimed at business executives, but political reporters may have to read it too, now that Republican front-runner George W. Bush has decided that global warming is real after all. After years of endorsing the oil industry's view that mankind's greenhouse-gas emissions have no effect on the world's climate, the Texas governor and former oil executive told a press conference on May 13, "I believe there is global warming."

About the Author

Mark Hertsgaard
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, is an independent journalist and the author of six books...

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The leaders of Britain’s three main parties have committed to it. We can do the same.

Bush's statement amounts to an about-face on Al Gore's signature issue, and it shows that his advisers recognize how much the environmental vote matters in presidential politics. When a majority of even Republican voters tell pollsters they oppose their party's attempts to gut environmental laws, the environment has clearly become a Mom-and-apple-pie issue. A presidential candidate simply cannot be credible unless he or she leaves behind the Flat Earth Society nonsense about global warming being a mere theory. At a time when almost all climate scientists of stature agree that global warming has already begun and even corporate giants like British Petroleum and Royal Dutch/Shell have stopped denying the truth, a candidate cannot continue asserting that "the science is still out" on global warming, as Bush did just a few weeks before his mid-May press conference, without sounding anti-environmental.

But a gloom-and-doom environmentalism isn't the answer either. The fact is, the environment can be a winner for any candidate with the wit to link it to the issue that decides most presidential elections, the economy. Americans tell pollsters they want environmental protection even if it means less economic growth, but the happy truth is that they needn't choose between the two. As companies, workers and governments around the world are proving every day, restoring our planet's ailing ecosystems could become the biggest economic enterprise of the twenty-first century, a bountiful source of jobs, profits and competitiveness.

Global warming is a perfect example of the opportunities available. Corporate propaganda has been remarkably successful over the past decade in convincing people, first, that global warming is merely a distant possibility rather than an observable fact and, second, that any attempt to stop it would sow economic disaster. The first claim is now widely recognized as bogus, and the second--which has done so much to delay progress on meeting the emissions targets the world's nations agreed to in Kyoto in 1997--may soon be as well, especially if books like this one reach a wide enough audience.

In Cool Companies, Joseph Romm documents in convincing detail how such big-name firms as Toyota, Royal Dutch/ Shell, Du Pont, 3M, Xerox and Compaq are fattening their bottom lines while dramatically reducing the amount of carbon dioxide their factories and office buildings are unleashing into the atmosphere. The corporations are not motivated by altruism; they simply recognize that environmentally friendly innovations can make money for their stockholders. Of course, capitalists with a conscience have long contended that they could do good while doing well. Cool Companies, in effect, shows how to apply that self-serving maxim to the urgent task of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

The heroes of this book are the "cool" companies of its title, defined as any firm that "cuts its [greenhouse gas] emissions by 50 percent or more while reducing its energy bill and increasing productivity." The author served as an Assistant Secretary of Energy during the Clinton Administration, directing the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and in that capacity he was able to study and work closely with many of the companies profiled in this book (which may explain why he passes so lightly over certain aspects of global warming policy, including the potential for an increase in US automobile fuel efficiency--the single most powerful step against global warming the federal government could take). In any case, Romm's hands-on experience with innovative firms enables him to provide the specific cost and investment data craved by the business executives who are his target audience, while also anticipating their skepticism toward his recommendations. Some caution about the accuracy of the data is warranted, since much of it was self-reported by the firms profiled. But as success story follows success story in Cool Companies, the accumulation of evidence should be enough to persuade all but the most determined polluter to change his ways, and for his own financial benefit.

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