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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Strategic CSR - Environmentalism

In celebration of Earth Day this past Sunday, the article in the url below summarizes the history of the environmental movement's evolving relationship with business:
"Now widely known as Third Wave environmentalism, the idea first became a reality in 1990, when McDonald's teamed up with my organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, to reduce more than 300 million pounds of solid waste by doing away with its foam-clamshell packaging. The Third Wave built on the progress of the first two: Teddy Roosevelt-era land conservation, followed by mid-20th-century antipollution laws like the Clean Air Act."
The article then goes beyond that to argue that this relationship has entered a new phase of much closer co-operation/co-ordination:
"Market-based approaches and corporate partnerships are standard practice today. Yet too many environmentalists still regard business as the enemy, and vice versa. That may finally be changing, because an emerging wave of environmental innovation is making these partnerships more productive, and their results more precisely measurable. Call it the Fourth Wave of environmental progress: Innovation that gives people new ways to solve environmental problems."
For example:
"Last year, … Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, joined with EDF and other groups to reduce fertilizer waste on the vast network of farms from which it purchases roughly two million tons of corn each year. The move is part of Smithfield's goal of cutting supply-chain greenhouse-gas emissions 25% by 2025. The company is the first in its industry to set such a target, and its progress is enabled by corn growers' increasing investment in tools that help determine the most efficient ways to apply fertilizer."
This line of argument is perhaps all the more surprising (and welcome) because it is written by the current president of the Environmental Defense Fund. He argues that the fourth wave of environmentalism is substantively different to each of the three preceding waves, principally in terms of the complexity of the co-operation between business and environmental activists:
"Where Third Wave partnerships tended to be one-on-one, the Fourth Wave boasts many multilateral partnerships. EDF's work to measure methane emissions from the oil-and-gas supply chain involved scores of academic institutions and energy companies, and now we're working with the Netherlands Institute for Space Research to derive emissions data from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-5P satellite, sent into orbit last year. More than 400 companies have joined Walmart in its effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in its global supply chain by one billion tons—more than the total annual emissions of Germany."
The key seems to be to leverage evolving technology:
"In any era, those doing the hard work of solving environmental problems take advantage of the best available tools, and in this era those tools include innovations that can help drive transparency, responsibility and low-cost solutions. Technology can obviously be used for good or ill. But when sensors, machine learning and data analytics are used to shape smart policy, rein in free riders, and reward corporate responsibility, they will enable changes that help people and nature prosper."
Perhaps, but I would think the more difficult transition is mental. The shift from seeing business as the 'enemy' to seeing it as an essential part of the solution is transformational. It is hard for activists committed to an ideologically pure vision of the environment to shift to accepting that some pollution is an inevitable cost to economic and social progress.

Take care
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Fourth Wave Environmentalism Fully Embraces Business
By Fred Krupp
March 21, 2018
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final