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Don’t Talk About Green

Don’t talk about green.

And while we’re at it, let’s not talk about climate change, environmentalism or being socially responsible. Instead, let’s talk about efficiency and reflecting the true cost of our lifestyle choices in our product prices. This is the surest way to move our society toward a sustainable future.

We are approaching the eye of the needle when smarter companies realize that we are running out of cheap resources and the cost of raw materials will only go higher. The recent run-up and subsequent decline in gasoline prices is indicative of a worldwide trend in higher raw material costs. Given increased population, increased demand from developing countries and a finite planet, this should come as no surprise to anyone — even climate change deniers.

At the same time, budget-starved governments are increasingly reluctant to subsidize the inefficiencies, waste and toxic byproducts of business, like carbon that will inevitably become a cost of production and will ultimately be reflected in higher consumer prices. In fact, wherever we see huge corporations, we are likely to see huge subsidies and deferred costs.

Why is it that government foots most of the bill to clean up rivers, estuaries and Superfund sites, problems caused by business? Why should government subsidize the oil industry — or the nuclear industry? Why doesn’t the price of a nuclear-generated kilowatt-hour reflect the 100-plus years needed to decommission a plant, or to bury the spent fuel, or to properly insure lives and property in the event of accident? Why don’t we see the health costs of burning coal reflected in that industry’s energy prices? Why isn’t the cost of recycling plastic bottles or pulling them out of the ocean built into the price of a Coke? Why should giant agribusiness receive farm subsidies designed for smaller family farms while evading the medical costs associated with modern eating habits they promote?

Conservatives and some pro-business groups howl when any change to promote green business practices gets floated, but why should elected officials support corporate socialism when they won’t support civic socialism? Why should taxpayers support dinosaur industries when those subsidies could be used to seed new, more efficient and healthier ones? Why should a kilowatt-hour of clean wind energy cost more than one that comes from dirty coal, when the difference is hidden in deferred cost and subsidies?

Environmentalism and climate change is a convenient whipping boy for those intent on protecting vested interests. However, if the subject is changed to address efficiency and the elimination of subsidies to inefficient businesses, we have a new dialog based on price.

In this environment, companies that rapidly move toward more efficient models (call it greening if you like) will survive. Those that don’t won’t.

Richard Seireeni is president of The Brand Architect Group, Los Angeles, a strategic brand consultancy with affiliated offices in Tokyo and Shanghai. Richard Seireeni is the author of The Gort Cloud, a new book that describes the invisible network that is powering today’s most successful green brands, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

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