From: GLOBE-Net
Published June 11, 2008 08:36 AM

The New Environmentalism

Private innovation is the wellspring of progress on environmental matters. Where once environmental policy inherently mistrusted markets and punishment was pursued more vigorously than progress, today wealth creation, appropriately harnessed, is the main engine of environmental progress. This is the new environmentalism.


At first glance one might attribute comments such as these to a marketing giant such as Wal-Mart or an innovative technology company such as GE. In fact, these are the views of non-profit organizations such as the GLOBE Foundation of Canada that promotes innovative approaches to addressing serious environmental challenges.

Whereas traditional environmentalism perceived the free market as an adversary, the new environmentalism recognizes the marketplace as an important mechanism for problem solving through incentives. Recognizing that a healthy environment also leads to a healthy economy, consumers and some business leaders are responding accordingly.

The argument is straight forward. Environmental progress over the long term requires self-propelled environmental protection by government, businesses, and individual private citizens. Environmental entrepreneurship is not likely to occur unless people have the incentives and ability to act as private stewards of the environment. While punishment is needed for those who callously flout environmental law, new environmentalism strikes a balance between punishment and incentives that encourage environmental innovation. 

It’s not a new argument but it is an important one. Traditional environmentalism has failed to appreciate the importance of incentives in guiding human action, whereas the New environmentalism focuses on individual decision-making that provides incentives for people to become good environmental stewards.

John Javna, author of the best selling book - 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, makes the same point about the importance of personal values as the core determinants of action - but action that is oriented toward issues.

Such action goes further than simple individual effort.  It harnesses the power of cooperation and community that not only works to change individual personal habits, but also to change society -- laws, business practices, and even values.  This action inspires a sustained, committed effort to solve specific problems, rather than simply encouraging random environmental behaviour.

The new environmentalism requires environmental specialists and individuals to work together to identify practical measures to address key environmental problems. When governments, business, community groups and individuals work together to tackle environmental issues not only are different perspectives and skills brought to the table, greater power can be marshaled to carry out the actions needed to address environmental issues.

The New Environmental Movement

While this may sound Utopian, in fact here is growing evidence that this new environmental paradigm is being widely endorsed and has staying power. A survey conducted for Canada Post by Harris/Decima, a leading research firm, suggests the most notable trend is demographic - that the preoccupation with the environment cuts across generations and gender, region, partisan lines and income groups.

Un­like the past, where environmental movements were largely driven by idealistic young people, the survey found that people of all ages (chief among them women in their 30s and 40s and baby boomers) today are very focused on environmental issues. How people manage their own lives and maintain their own households is the one part of the environmental equation they can control.

High energy prices have also helped defined the ‘new environmentalism’ according to the study.  Consumer interest in reducing energy related expenditures and increased attention to energy costs in general serve as an important catalyst for changing public opinion.

More than 80% of participants in the survey said that they, industry, and government were equally responsible to address environmental concerns.  In fact, consumers want businesses to be equal partners in the effort to reduce waste and be more environmentally conscious. They want businesses to take action on environmental matters and wanted products with better environmental credentials, ideally independently verified.

More information on the Harris/Decima research program on the New Environmentalism is available here.

Originally published in GLOBE-Net – the on-line Guide to the Business of the Environment  -

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