Different Approaches

Responses among businesses took diverse forms. The 'Sunrise' industries energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables - already had a lot to gain from action. They had been working with some environmental groups to make the case for tough targets to stimulate markets for their products (for example groups like E7 and the European Wind Energy Association). In that sense they had always had different interests from the fossil fuel lobby.

For others, the growing attention to the issue also presented them with new opportunities. This included the nuclear industry, able to present itself as having a key role to play in meeting future energy demand in a carbon-constrained future. But it also provided momentum for innovations to existing products and technologies. Biotechnology companies, wounded by bruising encounters with activists opposing genetic modification which damaged their green credentials, raised the prospect of drought-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops as a part of efforts to adapt to climate change or GM trees that increase the absorption of CO2 serving as carbon sinks. Biofuels were also promoted heavily by governments such as Brazil where ethanol-based combustion has been hailed as an 'agro-fix' for the depleting supplies of oil with which the world is now confronted.

For some sectors of industry, however, the primary motivation was to gain a first mover advantage by innovating in profoundly new ways. Some car companies for example saw tighter fuel efficiency standards on the horizon and spotted a new market niche to be met. Toyota developed its Prius hybrid car with the slogan 'Mean but green' and tellingly 'The power of a good idea'.9

For others still, being active on climate change was about reputation management and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Those that had embraced the rhetoric about being a socially and environmentally responsible company in general had to have something to say about climate change, especially in response to questions and pressure from NGOs, consumers and, increasingly, investors. We will see below that this was the case for Shell and British Petroleum (BP) that had both been the target of NGO campaigns about controversial investments in Nigeria and Colombia, respectively.

Meanwhile, it was the fear of regulation that prompted sectors such as the aviation and car industries to become more proactive. As we will see below, in Europe they began to press for emissions trading over taxation in the case of aviation, or voluntary agreements over regulation in the case of the car industry. For others, in the financial sector for example, a strategy on climate change was simply sensible risk management to reduce liabilities and exposure to risk.

Many companies of course are prompted to act by combinations of these motivations. What is interesting is that faced with a similar political challenge, companies have reacted in diverse ways and are motivated to act for a wide range of reasons that combine to produce change in corporate behaviour. The overall tendency, however, was towards seeing failure to anticipate likely policies as a business risk..

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