This is Now

Submitted by ludd on December 21, 2010

Ecotech, a three-day conference recently held in Monterey was intended as a coming out party for "corporate environmentalism." The organizers were somewhat disappointed, as only about 20% of the attendees—including Chevron, PG&E, Apple, Arthur D. Little and Esprit—were corporados, and blamed the low turnout on the "recession." Others weren't so sure. Jay Harris, the publisher of MotherJones, noted that General Dynamics was nowhere to be found.

In the other corner were a flock of the usual suspects-Amory Lovins, nerd and techno-pragmatist par excellence, Stewart Brand, post-political green extraordinaire, Fritjof'I am a philosopher" Capra, Denis "Earth Day" Hayes, Chellis "Technology is the problem" Glendinning and a variety of other green luminaries of local and national fame. The middle ground was held by a mdlange of environmental consultants and wannabes, politicians, green-fund managers, entrepreneurs, middlemanagers, journalists and multi-media artists. It was a strange brew. Knocking around in it, I learned that even though "most of these corporations are green the way an apple is green, on the outside where you can see it," in the silver words ofJoel Hirshhorn, author of ProsPerity Without Pollution, there was something going on here that could not be reduced to the public-relations bullshit recently named greenwashing.

Corporate environmentalism is-just maybe-a real social movement. It's small, and far less important than its adherents believe. The bulk of them are painfully naive, and they spend hours bemoaning their lack of access to the "guys at the top" and the "real decision makers." But for all that, there they are- sincere, pragmatic and more than a little worried. They believe, as a woman from PG&E put it at one of the late-night "break out" sessions, that "the corporations have the talent, the resources, the R&D and the ability to make a difference," and that if they can't be brought "on board" there's no hope of reversing the environmental crisis in time.

On day two a nice lady from Hallmark Cards (a corporate feminist, by the way) took the stage to assure us that even in Hallmark there were a few sincere and determined people working hard to make a difference.

Again and again, the message came down from the stage. Peter Schwartz, bigtime corporate consultant and author of The Art of the Long View, summed it up well when he said that "corporate environmentalism can be a successful partnership between private initiative and social good" and that greens who are fixated on "blocking" corporations and pushing their "kneejerk views" of environmental problems do more harm than good by "delegitimating environmental regulation over time." Corporate environmentalism, on the other hand, "provides multiple payoffs" because "efficient and high-quality products reduce cost and environmental impact" and environmental regulation forces companies to take the long view.

A few hours later I cornered Schwartz by the buffet and asked him why, if environmentalism and efficiency and profitability all go hand in hand, the world was going to hell? He smiled, chewed and pronounced — "incompetence. It scares the hell out of me."

It scares the hell out of me too, but then again, so does competence.