Going “green” Is No Longer an Option for Big Business – It Is an Investment Must

Going ‘green’ is no longer an option for big business – it is an investment must, writes Peter Sullivan, one of our contributors.

The environment jumped this year from the fringes of economic theory, plonk, into the centre of the real economy.  Like any pebble thrown into placid waters, environmental matters are making waves, and waves hitting the banks create new counter-ripples.  Bank is the right word.  Because the environment, and our new concern with it, has resulted in billions or even trillions of dollars being invested or diverted to meet those concerns.  Bunny huggers and talkers to trees had little effect on our lives in past decades.  Many of us chose to ignore, deliberately or forgetfully, soft issues like climate change, global warming, conservationists bemoaning species loss or environmentalists crying about habitat loss.  Now these very issues occupy the minds of retailers’ top executives, appear on mining companies’ agendas, influence prices of everything from shampoo to fuel, food to platinum.

Chief Executives’ best thinking is now spent on recycling, re-using, conserving, making their products environmentally friendly. Universities across the globe now offer degrees in Environmental Science, and degrees in any science with “Conservation” in it are highly marketable.

I’m an inveterate Indaba attendee.  This year started with Cape Town’s Mining Indaba, when I moderated at the Energy Indaba, was MC for the Nuclear Indaba and also the Manufacturing Indaba.  The big Indaba in the first half of this year was the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, with nearly 150 countries sending high-level delegations – over 100 Ministers and 1200 delegates – plus Ban Ki-moon and Kenya’s President.

Topping the agenda was climate change (we all know the solutions) and then illegal logging, illegal wildlife trade, horn and ivory poaching – things we don’t really have solutions to yet.  But UNEP’s working hard at it.

Ocean pollution, air pollution, water pollution remain intractable, but some exciting technology is coming to the rescue.  That’s also where great investment opportunities abound.  Food security and food wastage have moved higher up the agenda — studies show we throw away about half the food we produce on the planet, while billions starve.  Surprisingly, most food is thrown away on farms that dispose of food that does not meet those strict supermarket chain requirements to be “free of spots or deformities.”  Of course the food is perfectly good to eat, just not so good to display.

Although the extinction of species on our planet continues apace (over 100 a day is the current estimate), fortunately so do efforts to save species, describe them, find new species, learn about them and how they can benefit us.  All of which needs cash, and a lot of the green stuff is thrown at people who come up with good green solutions.  Only a decade ago few governments worried about burning fossil fuels for energy, now it tops world’s energy ministers’ priority lists.

Thousands of scientists for instance work on improving solar panels efficiency, getting wind power without monstrous bird-breaking and bat-destroying blades, harnessing wave power, biofuels, sand oils, and yes, even the much-maligned fracking.

The CEO of IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture maker, has spent USD2-billion making every one of his factories energy independent; the CEO of Lever Brothers has virtually bet his company and his reputation on making Lever green.  Both men think it makes business sense; they’re not doing it because they hug bunnies.  Investment opportunities pop up daily, from anti-logging security to carbon credit trading, ocean washing to plastic recycling, e-bikes to green cellphones, computer recycling to agri-apps.  Capital is there waiting to be accessed from the UN to the World Bank, from the USA to local governments.  Entrepreneurs, start your engines!