Environmental groups are not perfect. We have flaws, as does business. By candidly examining the flaws on both sides, we may be able to defuse the destructive animosity and mutual misunderstanding, and even find areas where we can make common cause. Let me first focus on the weaknesses, both real and perceived, of environmentalists.
One of our problems is that we tend to assume a tone of arrogance when talking to business. When we environmentalists act as though we talk to God and as though we have all the answers, then industry, even those business people who are inclined to be sympathetic, will be irritated. We call ourselves "public interest" groups--the implication being that we look after the "public interest" while everyone else is pursuing his own selfish goals.
This tendency is matched by a tendency to be rigid, unwilling to compromise or negotiate. Environmentalists sometimes are afraid to bend and be flexible. We think the arguments made by industry are totally self-interested and exaggerated.
Too often environmentalists think of profits as dirty. We don't always appreciate the effectiveness of the free market. Too few of us have ever worked as entrepreneurs and, consequently, lack an appreciation of just how hard it is to succeed in business. We are much more expert at grantsmanship.
Some environmentalists are--like business people--probably not concerned enough about the harsh impact of high prices on poor people. Few of us know anything about the degradation and pain of poverty. While the image of us--in Michael Kinsley's words--as a "clique of rich people attempting to protect their backyard" is an exaggeration, nevertheless we are probably oversensitive to the desires of the upper and middle class and insufficiently sensitive to the desires of those less well-off.
Environmental goals should not be pursued without regard to their consequences elsewhere. Preserving wilderness is important, but it is only one of a number of important national goals. For example, energy policy should not be based on environmental values alone. A clean environment is just one of many results we want in a energy policy, not the central driving force. Environmentalists have to accept the fact that occasionally--ideally, rarely--they may have to compromise some environmental goals for more important ones, such as jobs.
This brings me to economic growth and productivity. Too often environmentalists give the impression of wishing economic growth would somehow go away. But economic growth and increased productivity are needed to create new jobs, to increase our investments in energy efficient housing and our investments in new less- polluting industrial processes.
And finally, environmentalists, like other human beings, can suffer from parochialism. A recent issue of a major environmental magazine contained a long and detailed editorial on how domestic cats are not a threat to birds. We voraciously consume each other's newsletters but tend to neglect Business Week, Forbes and Fortune.
Let me now turn to steps that business could take to gain a better understanding of us and to help win our confidence and trust.
There should be a greater realization on the part of business of the extent to which future growth and profits depend on efforts to preserve land, air and water. Erosion control aims at maintaining the productivity of soils, essential to sustaining U.S. agricultural output. Forest conservation and reforestation are essential to the protection of soils and watersheds. Reduced pollution means fewer work days lost to environment-related illnesses. Thus, conservation and environmental protection make direct contributions to economic productivity.
Another step that business could take would be to show greater appreciation of the tremendous market opportunities in energy conservation, solar energy and pollution control. Business Week reported in its April 6, 1981, issue that the market for energy conservation investments was growing phenomenally fast and could reach $30 billion by 1985. An article in the November/December 1980 Harvard Business Review concluded that alert companies can turn pollution prevention into profit and make economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand. There are now over 600 companies in the business of manufacturing air- and water-pollution-control equipment, including cooling towers, scrubbers, precipitators and catalytic converters. These firms constitute a multi- billion-dollar industry employing hundreds of thousand of people around the country.
There are three broad areas where we could form alliances with business. First is the area of lobbying. Recently, United Technologies and the Audubon Society formed a lobbying team to promote increased federal funding for fuel cells. Why can't we do this on other issues, such as adoption of user fees, establishment of rational natural gas pricing or elimination of unnecessary government bureaucracies like the Synthetic Fuels Corporation?
The second area is in defining public policy. The National Coal Policy Project, led by Larry Moss, a well-known environmentalist and former chairman of the Sierra Club, and Jerry Decker, of the Dow Chemical Company, is a good example of an attempt by both environmentalists and industry to explore common ground in their conflict over coal policy.
The third way environmentalists could form alliances with business is to enter into business partnerships. Is there any reason why environmental groups have to be limited to testifying, writing and lobbying? Why shouldn't they help to market pro-environmental products? Audubon has recently established an arrangement with an energy management companyyto promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings. We have just helped to sell a $100,000 system.
The opportunities for business partnerships are immense. Why shouldn't we, for example, work with manufacturers of water-heating heat pumps to develop a packet of information that would help our half million members--especially those in the South, who heat their homes with electricity--to become more familiar with this technology? Why shouldn't we produce an investment newsletter that contains information about profitable companies in solar, conservation and pollution-control equipment, which Audubon members could use in purchases and sales in their own portfolios? If we were to sit down with business and industry, we could probably come up with many more projects that could help both of us.
There is much on which we can make common cause, and business people should seek out those in the environmental movement with whom they can work. Environmentalists, in turn, should not treat industry as a monolith.
We should all be seeking the right kind of growth, growth that does not degrade the environment that others must share. Environmentalists are not opposed to business enterprises, nor to those who seek a return on invested capital. We are only opposed to mindless growth that demands a narrow advantage regardless of social costs.