Environment and Business an Emerging Industry
A Report on the 2008, 2nd Annual Environment and Business Conference, Hosted by The University of Waterloo
TakingITGlobal, Editor: Environment and Urbanization Issues
On March 26th, 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the University of Waterloo’s (UW) 2nd annual Environment and Business (EB) Conference. It was not too long ago when ‘environment’ and ‘business’ were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Without generalizing too much, these were separate entities containing disconnected communities of people with very different goals and concerns, often at battle with each other. We are now entering a new age in which being green can bring you green.
For the past several years I have believed that what the planet needs is an Environmental Revolution. I have not been alone in this opinion, although the term Sustainability Revolution is also common. (Green Revolution has also been used, however, this term is often used to refer to boosting agricultural productivity). After attending UW’s EB Conference I am now confident that not only do environmentalists believe that we are entering an Environmental Revolution, but entrepreneurs do as well.
The first keynote speaker truly set the tone for the conference by instilling in the well over 100 attendee’s that although humans have led this planet closer to it’s demise than ever before, we are not totally lost. Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization, provided us with an enthralling lecture. He focused not only on the scientific realities of human induced Climate Change, but the inspiring concept that the coming times of crisis could reinvigorate human society.
In his words, Global Warming is the “most serious challenge human kind has ever faced” and the only way to avoid complete societal collapse is to “embrace change”. Humans, particularly those in developed countries, must be willing to undertake drastic lifestyle transformations. However, one of the biggest purveyors of environmental damage and one of the greatest obstacles to change thus far has been major trans-national corporations, powerful international lobbying organizations that promote corporate interests, and the politicians beholden to them. These groups have vested interests in maintaining the status quo and continuing to promote the idea that a societies economic success is measured by growth. Dr. Homer-Dixon stressed that we “must make capitalism and markets work” by working with these powerful groups and the current globalized capitalist economic system. We must foster a way for these groups to remain successful in a sustainable way.
Over the past two hundred years human kind has experienced two major revolutions, which brought previously unthinkable changes. The industrial and technological transitions fundamentally altered human life and we need to prepare for and help usher in the next great transition to a sustainable, environmentally conscious planet. One underlying theme of the EB Conference was that there is a lot of money to be made in this transition. However, most businesses that are adopting for ‘green’ practices are doing so for more than that reason alone.
Throughout the day we heard from various speakers representing businesses such as Frito Lays Canada and Home Depot as well as a Venture Capital firm, ‘GreenTech’ businesses and environmental consultants. By becoming more energy efficient, Frito Lays factories have significantly reduced operating expenses and now have a goal of becoming carbon neutral. Within three years, they have saved enough energy to power over 500 Canadian homes for three years and have saved 760 million gallons of water, enough to shut off Niagara Falls for close to one minute. This has mostly been accomplished by ingeniously capturing and reusing previously wasted energy and water. Home Depot’s successful ‘environmentally friendly’ marketing campaigns have boosted business while also helping people exchange their older, energy intensive and polluting products with newer, greener ones. Representatives from the environmental consulting firm Jacques Whitford discussed the process of analyzing a company’s carbon footprint and eliminating unnecessary carbon emissions and the options companies have in offsetting their carbon emissions through Carbon Credits. Other advantages and motivations noted for ‘going green’ include attracting the best employees, gaining a greater market share of the ever-growing environmentally conscious consumers, and…oh ya…because it’s the right thing to do!
Tim Jackson, of Tech Capital a Waterloo, Ontario venture capital firm discussed how green entrepreneurs have potential to attract significant investments. Like the recent technology and Dot-com booms, the ‘green’ boom, while still in its relative infancy, has incredible capacity to develop into a multi-billion dollar industry. Now, I know that it may sound shallow or disingenuous to profiteer from Global Warming, but, as Dr. Homer-Dixon stressed, we must engage corporations and work within the current capitalist system to find “win-win solutions”. This will prove to be the most effective way to begin the transition to a sustainable future. If big business and the barons of capitalism buy into the idea that ‘going green’ is profitable, then we will be converting one of the biggest impediments to the Environmental Revolution.
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I am currently a graduate student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Undertaking my masters within the department of Environment and Resource Studies, with a focus in sustainability and particular attention to energy and governance issues.
I have been a staff member at TIG since winter of 2008 as editor for 'Environment and Urbanization Issues'.
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