17 October 2009

Green Consumerism Can Avert Climate Disaster, Say Top Firms

Interesting that they felt the need to say this - the postgrowth/steady state message must be starting to get out there and cause concern...

Excerpt from The Guardian, 16 October 2009

'Climate change catastrophe can be averted by "greening" consumer behaviour rather than by curbing economic growth and mass consumerism, leaders of some of the world's biggest businesses including Tesco, Coca-Cola and Reckitt Benckiser argued today.

They urged politicians to be braver at the Copenhagen talks on climate change in December, saying voters could be persuaded of the need to act. They were speaking, along with David Cameron and Professor Robert Puttnam, the sociologist and advocate of the importance of social capital, at a conference in London on the role of the consumer and business in combating climate change.

The degree of focus on climate change by the businesspeople would have been impossible five years ago. But some in the audience angrily insisted that they underestimated the need to slow consumerism.

Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, told the conference that combating climate change was now the number one priority of his company, and announced that his multibillion-pound business would be zero-carbon by 2050. "Survival is the issue, not just for our business, but the entire planet," he said.

The president of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, warned politicians: "Act now or you will fail, and so will the world. Politicians need to think like businesses and think about the long term." He claimed that consumers now put the environment at the top of their priorities in all of its customer surveys, including in developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico.

Bart Becht, the chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, expressed his fear that a deal would not be made in Copenhagen. "Are we there yet? We are nowhere near. Government is not set up to handle global issues effectively. They have short time horizons, and elections, but we are institutions built to last."

Paul Polman, of Unilever, said: "We need a whole new business model, but it takes time."

The businessmen repeatedly argued that neither regulation nor government would be sufficient to bring emissions down, pointing out that 70% of emissions came from consumers...

[Kent] said: "I think it is a fallacy to think growth and a sustainable world are mutually exclusive."

Kent pointed out in the next decade there would be many millions more middle class people living in cities. "How can businesses continue to serve the needs of these new middle classes and yet embed sustainability into business plans? That is the goal."

Leahy praised the carbon reduction targets being set by governments, but said: "It is only by realising our potential as people, citizens, consumers, as users that we can turn targets into reality. It will be a transition achieved not by some great invention or some great act of parliament, but through the billions of choices made by consumers every day all over the world."'

In the words of George Monbiot, who also writes for The Guardian:

‘Green consumerism is a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.'

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