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