US - UN Discussion on Green Business


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            US Mission to the UN?s Green Business Panel

 

            Yesterday, Thursday September 18, 2008, the U.S. Mission to the U.N. held a green business discussion panel during the General Assembly proceedings nearby.  The panelists included representatives from Michael Moran of Goldman Sachs (G.S.), Tod Arbogast of Dell, Andrew Winston, consultant and author, and Glenn Prickett of Conservation International (C.I.).  Brian Dumaine of Fortune Magazine moderated.  As a student in the Master?s program at New York University in Sustainable Development in Global Affairs and founder of WakeUPDemocracy.org, I was able to attend the afternoon session.  I arrived there after passing demonstrators in front of the U.N. office complex in support of Taiwan and an Iraqi issue, not specifically anti-War. 

The Green Business discussion  started off in a positive vain, with Brian Dumaine describing the dire context of the environmental crisis with verve and clarity.  He recounted an encounter he had at an Oil and Gas Consortiums conference in which approximately $800 billion of investment is being planned for the next phase of development.  He posed the IPCC Climate Change perspective to the industry representative, who responded by mentioning the sea walls of Holland.  ?That?s how we?ll protect New York and Washington, DC.? was the implication.  Mr. Dumaine then responded by mentioning Pentagon scenarios of massive numbers of displaced peoples.

The rep?s response?  ?I didn?t say it was going to be pretty.?

 

A stirring prod, that story was, serving to break the ice and set the stage for the discussion.  Admirably, the beginning of the talk included comments by Mr. Winston the consultant about stakeholders and the greening of the supply chain, as with WalMart.  Mr. Arbogast discussed the relevance of population pressures and finite resources.  Mr. Prickett mentioned the original efforts of C.I. to engage with large corporations, especially those in the natural resource extractive industries.  Mr. Moran mentioned, among other things, how G.S. has noted that green companies tend to demonstrate superior performance.    The discussion proceeded and displayed the informed quality of the participants.  A question by someone in the audience on planned obsolescence prompted Mr. Dumaine to rephrase the question to the panelists  referring to the ?throwaway society? and the ?cradle to cradle? objective. 

The conversation continued with discussions of a Dell product manufactured with reduced resources, and the need for sufficient price signals.  The issue of a Cap and Trade market was raised, and comments indicated the desire for presidential leadership, a sense of national purpose, an advocacy group including G.S.  The comment was made, ?Carbon isn?t free, we?ve just been pricing it wrong.?  The reference was also made to the auto industry, the U.S. industries struggles and Toyota?s huge market capitalization of approximately $150 billion, many times the size of U.S. industry manufacturers in the $7 billion range.

I got involved when I asked if they would comment on the role of certifications, citing organic and fair trade systems, as well as a green power label used on various products.  The responses were generally uninspired and cynical, largely emphasizing legitimacy and sufficiency of resources.  G.S. was described as conducting its operations in such a way to verify the claims of its clients.  When Tod Arbogast finished his comments emphasizing the question of legitimacy, I responded, ?I disagree.  The organic and fair trade systems have included inspections successfully.  I think it?s a powerful opportunity.?  Mr. Perkins of C.I. commented that he thought labeling was mostly insufficient, and that pricing strategies were important.

The topic shifted to carbon offsets, and the expression was shared, ?If you?re not at the table, you?re on the menu.?  Standards were mentioned in this footprint context, with examples such as WWF?s ?Gold Standard? and another by Environmental Defense Fund. 

The moderator then referred to an event in which G.S. dealt with a situation involving a distressed bond and property in South America at Tierra del Fuego in which the management decided arrange to preserve and protect it.  The environmental influence of the current Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, then CEO, was mentioned and new CEO Blankfein?s continued commitment were discussed.  G.S.?s Center for Environmental Markets also came up, as did Google?s $500,000 set of solar panels, Germany?s industry?s advanced solar technologies, and conflicts between non-landowner developers and green building.            

This description provides an outline and sample of the content of the event.  My personal reflections involve understanding the context better, that these individuals represented a focus on large corporate and investor involvement, often with a focus on returns on invested capital.  My developing understanding of the problems of capitalist ideology and assumptions involves the whole cost accounting as discussed by Herman Daly, Chris Cobb, Redefining Progress, and the EPA?s environmental accounting division, and stakeholder alternatives to the shareholder wealth model, including the German and Japanese models, cooperative partnership practice, and the labor theory of property by David Ellerman.  In fact, I see that non-governmental agencies, and educational institutions, reflect ?externalized factors,? whose influence on the issues can be significant. 

I would like to have mentioned a project by C.I. in Brazil, in which C.I. coordinated a local NGO, small farmers, and a local Citibank branch to revisit troubled cocoa agriculture, organizing groups of farmers in cooperative partnerships to use organic techniques.  Similar strategies by USAID and the National Cooperative Business Association in Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular, also have been having great success.

Smaller scale alternative efforts like the PIRGs? Green Century Mutual Funds, ShoreBank?s Pacific eco-deposits, Union-owned Amalgamated Bank, and NCB, the National Cooperative Bank also bear relevance, and can help to bridge the conceptual gap needed to identify the problem of absentee and interest rate return on lending, and the related issues of chronic unemployment, the disenfranchising temporary work corporate strategy, and foreign outsourcing and relocating through wage arbitrage.  Mentioning William Greider?s The Soul of Capitalism and Herman Daly?s For the Common Good would be particularly significant accomplishments in the future.       

As someone with a degree in Biological Anthropology who has studied language issues, I recall that Alfred Korzybsky's system of General Semantics and linguistic analysis can help me to generate the perspective to contribute more effectively and address the critical issues more assertively in these kind of fora.  So can material from Ecopsychology, as in the anthology edited by Roszak.  

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