Environment & Business – Review of the Year 2007

Politicians continued to ratchet up the rhetoric on environmental issues this year and businesses continued to highlight their achievements as corporate citizens while several studies pointed to consumer confusion as inhibiting the public to rush to take up the mantle of environmental champions.

Money kept flowing into the clean technology sector, however, with record investment reported and a growing awareness that climate change would bring economic opportunities as well as problems to be overcome.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling – then Trade and Industry Secretary – got the year off to a rousing start by telling professionals that the ‘next Bill Gates’ would likely emerge from the environmental industries.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson also gave clean tech developers something to look forward to, by putting up a prize of $25m for an initiative which would remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere – though some might say he’s demonstrating his shrewd business sense and would be getting a bargain.

Several surveys showed consumers were confused by companies and products touting their green credentials and that there was still a degree of cynicism about corporate motives and greenwashing.

Many Britons said they were ‘too busy to care’ about the environmental consequences of their consumption while at the other end of the spectrum, three quarters of New Zealanders claimed they would ‘walk away’ from products they did not consider ecologically sound.

Most investors said they would consider a company’s environmental performance a key issue before they were prepared to back it and a growing number of corporations backed the aspirations in their CSR report with quantifiable action.

A number of leaders in China suggested that laws were needed to force reticent businesses there to adopt a more environmentally sensitive approach.

In France the election of Nicolas Sarkozy led to promises of a green revolution to put the country at the forefront of environmental innovation.

Meanwhile, the US remained at loggerheads with Europe as it continued to pitch its technology-led revolution as an alternative to emissions trading schemes as a climate change solution post-Kyoto.

Studies showed a shrinking gap between the cost of coal and renewables, with the most positive suggesting electricity from solar power would be as cheap as that from fossil fuels by 2010.

Internet search engine Google pledged to plough a fortune into research and development of renewables to help make them more affordable, and to invest billions more in clean energy companies looking set to turn a profit.

The Carbon Disclosure Project, now a well-established corporate benchmark, released heartening figures in 2007, showing that an ever-increasing number of companies were prepared to be open about their emissions and more and more plan to reduce them – backed by concrete strategies rather than simple aspirations.

Sam Bond

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