The intense fear of change revealed in the carbon efficiency discussion has been astounding. In response to the Wall Street Journal’s “Can Countries Cut Carbon Without Hurting Economic Growth?”, the answer is a resounding yes. The reactionary language changes in the short satirical letter “From Alpha to Smart Beta” showed the sheepish response of being too bullish to respond to a changing market and economy. Entire countries have industrialized in mere decades (Japan), and to implement serious legislation that institutes a ‘Cap and Trade’ system or a carbon use tax that pushes slowly toward whole-country system changes is forward progress in the post-industrial era. Of course some companies will be unable to change quickly enough, and they will fail. Other companies will be able to take advantage of new green technology and thrive. This is ok.
What concerns me is the implication that negative reinforcement is what it takes to enact positive change. Heavy fines, taxes, raising the cost work well for individual consumers as a small incentive to make a better choice, against smoking, against drinking and etc as pointed out in The Carbon Efficient City. Many companies have gone green by choice and have reaped the benefits of better employee health, better public reputation, and often, it seems, better products and financial returns.
Nike Inc., for example, was uncovered in the 1990s to practice bad ethics across the board. Started by an athlete and a coach, Nike projected All-American values, a perception that was destroyed when the company was found to employ children in its Asian factories. Financially hit hard by public backlash, the company worked to turn around the impact it was making into a positive one. Nike today is more successful than ever. Levi Strauss recently announced a plan to create jeans using an entirely sustainable process. From factories to retailers, dyes, materials, and farms, Levis plans to do all that they can to ensure a sustainable process in the creation of their process.
If companies like these can go sustainable with such positive media feedback and results, choosing to funnel profits into a systems overhaul for a period of time in a way that will generate public interest, positive returns, and a better overall ‘life’ for their products in, where are the deep losses and negative impacts? Are there any way that regulations and countries could play on these positives to encourage carbon-efficient change and growth?