Environmental Assumptions

Big busi­ness is envir­on­ment­ally destruct­ive: a wide­spread and almost unques­tioned assump­tion. A false assump­tion, accord­ing to Jared Dia­mond, not­ing that profits often arise from green ini­ti­at­ives and envir­on­ment­al con­cern is of inher­ent import­ance to many large cor­por­a­tions.

The story is told through the lens of Wal-Mart’s trans­port and pack­aging ini­ti­at­ives, Coca-Col­a’s con­cern “with prob­lems of water scarcity, energy, cli­mate change and agri­cul­ture” and Chev­ron’s policy of rigour­ous envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion (of which any­one who has read Dia­mond’s Col­lapse, will be acutely aware):

The embrace of envir­on­ment­al con­cerns by chief exec­ut­ives has accel­er­ated recently for sev­er­al reas­ons. Lower con­sump­tion of envir­on­ment­al resources saves money in the short run. Main­tain­ing sus­tain­able resource levels and not pol­lut­ing saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoid­ing oil spills and oth­er envir­on­ment­al dis­asters — reduces cri­ti­cism from employ­ees, con­sumers and gov­ern­ment.

It’s not just big busi­ness we make assump­tions about: as Tim Har­ford points out after read­ing Prashant Vaze’s The Eco­nom­ic­al Envir­on­ment­al­ist, some typ­ic­al envir­on­ment­al decisions are some­times based on incor­rect assump­tions:

Envir­on­ment­al­ists have been slow to real­ise that the fash­ion­able eco-life­style is riddled with con­tra­dic­tions. The one that par­tic­u­larly exas­per­ates me is the “food miles” obses­sion, whereby we eschew toma­toes from Spain and roses flown in from Kenya, in favour of loc­al products grown in a heated green­house with a far great­er car­bon foot­print. Oth­er less-than-obvi­ous truths are: that pork and chick­en have sub­stan­tially lower car­bon foot­prints than beef and lamb (yes, even organ­ic beef and lamb); that milk and cheese also have a sub­stan­tial foot­print; that dish­wash­ers are typ­ic­ally more effi­cient than wash­ing dishes by hand; and that eco-friendly wash­ing powders may be dis­tinctly eco-unfriendly because they tend to tempt people to use hot­ter washes.

Jared Dia­mond piece via Mar­gin­al Revolu­tion