Posted inMedia Review

No Nature, No Business

Amy?Larkin,?the?author?of?Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy,?was?for?25?years?a?volunteer?activist?and?sometimes?board?member?of?Greenpeace.?With?a?background?as?an?entrepreneur?and?producer?she?brings?a?unique?experience?to?environmental?action?and?shares?it?in?this?book.?Larkin?does?not?view?business?as?an?inherent?obstacle?to?sustainability,?unlike?some?in?the?environmental?community,?but?rather?as?a?potential?partner?in?finding?solutions?to?our?most?pressing?problems.?“My?worldview?connects?an?inherent?love?of?nature?with?an?abiding?respect?and?admiration?for?the?power?and?dynamism?of?business,”?she?explains.?“I?have?always?believed?that?robust?commerce?is?a?central?ingredient?to?a?stable?and?healthy?world?–?and?conversely,?that?commerce?is?inseparable?from?its?impact?on?the?world?around?it.” Larkin’s?activism?took?a?new?turn?in?2005?when?she?became?the?director?of?Greenpeace?Solutions?(GS),?which?consists?of?the?organization’s?business?and?financial?initiatives.?GS?was?conceived?and?launched?in?the?immediate?aftermath?of?Hurricane?Katrina?and,?according?to?her?account?in?Environmental Debt,?was?the?result?of?an?Aha!?moment.?While?watching?an?episode?of?CNN?Money?featuring?several?meteorologists,?the?host,?Lou?Dobbs,?responded?to?the?scientists’ consensus that?the?frequency?of?intense?storms?was?likely?to?increase?by?saying,?“I?don’t?want?to?pay?for?that.”?It?then?hit Larkin:?“new?equations?were?being?born?as?climate?change?risks?to?business?were?becoming?more?easily?quantifiable.” From?the?self-obvious?premise that?“[a]ll?business,?all?economies,?all?living?and?man-made?systems?depend?on?nature”?she?concludes?that?“[g]rowing?an?economy?that?destabilizes?nature?is?just?plain?fool- hardy.”?She summarizes?this?neatly?with?three?pithy?and?memorable?slogans: No?Nature,?No?Business No?Healthy?Ecosystem,?No?Healthy?Economic?System No?Environmental?Security,?No?National?Security Heretofore,?business?has?operated?as?if?there?were?no?limits?to?resources?that?could?be?extracted?from?the?ground?and?atmosphere?and?no?limit?to?the?capacity?of?the?earth?to?absorb?industrial?wastes.?As?a?consequence,?business?has?benefited?substantially,?with?positive?financial?spreadsheets?and?well-compensated?corporate?executives.?But?it?has?not?recorded?the?cost?of?environmental?debts—the?overdrawing?and?fouling?of?water?resources,?the?overconsumption?of?fossil?fuels,?and?the?buildup?of?carbon?in?the?atmosphere,?to?name?just?a?few. At?its?root?is?a?business-as-usual?framework?that?has?three?central?features: Pollution?is?largely?free?to?the?polluter. Earnings?statements?do?not?include?long-term?financial,?economic,?and?social?impacts. Governments?subsidize?business?with?no?concern?for?environmental?impact. Displaying?familiarity?with both marketing?and?branding,?Larkin?calls?her?approach?the?Nature?Means?Business?(NMB)?framework.?It?is?essentially?the?negation?of?the?business-as-usual?framework?and?consists?of?the?following?three?pillars: Pollution?can?no?longer?be?free?and?can?no?longer?be?subsidized. The?long?view?must?guide?all?decision?making?and?accounting. Government?plays?a?vital?role?in?catalyzing?clean?technology?and?growth?while?preventing?environmental?destruction. Larkin?is?upfront?about?the?possible?consequences?of?such?a?transformation,?which?is?refreshing,?but?this?only?underscores?the?significant?challenges?to?such?change.?She?makes?this?concrete?by?using?Apple?Computer?as?an?illustration.?In?2009,?Apple?resigned?its?membership?in?the?U.S.?Chamber?of?Commerce?because?of?the?Chamber’s?resistance?to?climate?change?legislation.?At?the?very?same?time?that?Apple?was?taking?this?high?road?on?climate?change,?the?press?was?exposing?the?appalling?work?conditions?at?the?company’s?manufacturing?facilities?in?China,?from?abusive?treatment?of?laborers?(including?children)?to?exceedingly?long?work?hours?that?involved?exposure?to?toxic?chemical?exposure.?The?reasonable?price?(relative?to?their?quality)?of?Apple?products,?which?we?as?consumers?benefit?from,?depends?on?these?conditions.?As?Larkin?says,?“As?Apple?transforms?its?factories,?its?computers?and?phones?will?become?more?expensive?to?produce.” More globally she expects that, “The?era?of?cheap?goods?is?over.?Changing?the?rules?of?an?economy?is?not?for?the?faint?of?heart.?Inflation,?social?unrest,?changed?expectations,?lifestyle?adjustments?and?food?short- ages?are?all?potential?consequences?of?the?re-pricing?of?goods.” Each?chapter?of?Environmental Debt?is?a?mixture?of?warnings—clean water?is?scarce?and?becoming?more?so,?burning?fossil?fuels?are?oversaturating?the?atmosphere?with?carbon,?biodiversity?is?disappearing?because?of?development?in?sensitive?ecosystems—and?of?stories?detailing?collaborations?between?businesses?and?nongovernment?organizations?(NGOs),?including?Greenpeace,?that?respond?to?environmental?problem.?Each?story?also?illustrates?the?sorts?of?things?we?need?to?do?to?get?on?a?more?sustainable?path. What?then?do?we?need?to?do??High?on?Larkin’s?list?of?necessary?reforms?is?changing?the?way?business?accounts?for?costs?and?profits,?specifically?advocating?for?unified?financial?reports?that?quantify?and?include?externalities?on?the?cost?side.?This?has?been?proposed?many?times?and?has?its?origins?in?the?work?of?the?early?twentieth?century?economist?Arthur?Pigou.?Larkin,?however,?includes?stories?of?companies?that?have?undertaken?this,?if?incompletely.?She?also?shares?an?enlightening?anecdote?that?underlies?why?government?policy?is?so?important?in?providing?the?necessary?guidance?for?business:?In?response?to?a?question?posed?by?Larkin,?the?director?of?environmental?sustainability?at Frito?Lay,?a?division?of?PepsiCo,?said,?“If?the?financial?system?offered?the?incentives,?PepsiCo?would?only?build?state-of-the-art?facilities.” Individual?initiative?plays?an?important?role?in?Larkin’s?narrative,?with?a?long?and?informative?chapter,?“Courage:?High?Risk,?High?Reward,”?devoted?to?the?positive?actions?of?executives?from?a?number?of?highly?visible?international?corporations.?For?example,?she?details?how?Bob?Langert,?McDonald’s?vice?president?of?corporate?social?responsibility,?worked?collaboratively?with?Greenpeace?over?allegations?that?Cargill,?a?McDonald’s?supplier,?was?encouraging?clear-cutting?of?the?Amazon?rain?forest?for?planting?of?soybean?farms.?As?a?result?McDonald’s?extended?its?beef?policy (no?purchases?from?suppliers?who?destroy?rain?forest)?to?its?soy?supply?chain.?Subsequently,?faced?with?pressure?from?McDonald’s,?Cargill?and?all?other?major?soy?producers,?including?Archer?Daniels?Midland?and?Bunge,?agreed?to?adhere?to?the?same?policy. A?second?inspiring?story?of?individuals?taking?a?chance?describes?how?Mike?Kowalski,?the?CEO?of?Tiffany’s,?reached?out?to?Steve?D’Esposito,?at?the?time?director?of?NGO?Earthworks,?seeking?his?help?to?change?the?company’s?gold?supply?chain.?Not?content?simply?with?new?sources,?but?interested?as?well?in?reforming?the?industry,?Kowalski?and?D’Esposito?prevailed?on?mining?executives?to?spend?money?on?adopting?best?practices?in?the?industry. Other?case?studies?highlight?Walmart’s?phase-out?of?incandescent?light?bulbs,?General?Electric’s?“green”?refrigerator,?and?McKinsey’s?advocacy?of?“capitalism?for?the?long?term.” Larkin?also?makes?the?more?systemic?case?for?moving?beyond?fossil?fuels.?Her?book?is?filled?with?the?usual?statistics?on?the?growth?of?solar?energy?production?and?other?renewables:?in?2012,?for?instance,?wind?power?supplied?3.25?percent?of?all?electricity?in?the?USA.?Larkin?is?optimistic?about?the?possibility?of?renewables?achieving?sufficiency—that?is,?fulfilling?our?genuine?energy?needs—in?the?foresee- able?future.?Part?of?the?way?to?getting?there,?she?quite?correctly?asserts,?has?to?come?from?reduced?consumption?by?households,?twenty?percent?by?her?estimation.?She?refers?to?the?contributions?that?each?person?or?family?can?make?as?the?individual energy sector. On?the?other?hand,?and?importantly,?Larkin?is?realistic?about?costs.?As?she?puts?it,?“Cheap?energy?sounds?very?appealing,?but?at?the?moment?it?does?not?exist.?Happily,?a?handful?of?pioneers?in?technology,?business?and?policy?have?finally?demonstrated?enough?success?in?bringing?renewable?energy?to?scale?that?a?path?forward?is?emerging.?If?we?can?build?a?strong?infrastructure […]