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Big Business: An Unlikely Ally for the Environment, but a Real One

By Anonymous (not verified), December 15, 2009
Jared Diamond praises Chevron's environmental stewardship in Papua New Guinea. Photo: <a href="">Arthur Chapman (flickr)</a>
Jared Diamond praises Chevron's environmental stewardship in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Arthur Chapman (flickr)

From Michael Moore to Jonathan Safran Foer, American liberals love to criticize corporations for violations on everything from the environment to human rights to animal rights.

But in some cases they're dead wrong, writes Jared Diamond โ€” an American liberal himself. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, he argues that big corporations can be a force for good in the fight against climate change, simply because they also stand to benefit by preserving the resources they depend on and reducing their costs through lower consumption.

Diamond draws on examples from three companies: Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Chevron. All three are working to protect the environment in different ways for their own reasons. Coca-Cola depends heavily on water resources and is working to make its plants water-neutral, while Wal-Mart is making its operations more energy-efficient and reducing packaging waste. Chevron, on the other hand, practices a degree of environmental stewardship on the land it owns overseas that Diamond believes is superior to government stewardship of many national parks.

Why would these companies take on such projects? Diamond explains:

Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image โ€” one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters โ€” reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government. [...] [I]n the long run (and often in the short run as well) it is much more expensive and difficult to try to fix problems, environmental or otherwise, than to avoid them at the outset.

Diamond readily admits that not all big businesses are so admirable. But he maintains that when working to stop climate change, activists should focus less on working against corporations, and more on working with them to help them realize how much their own economic interests can be aligned with environmentalists' goals.

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