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Bridging the gap between business and the environment.

I doubt there are many challenges more complex or pervasive than that of reconciling human economic activity with the natural environment. As a first step, though, we need to acknowledge that the two poles can and indeed must be reconciled for the good of both. Sustaining economic well being over future generations requires the same care and stewardship as maintaining our biological well being.

To many, the idea of re-examining our use of natural resources poses a crisis because it calls into question basic assumptions about the relationship between humans and their world. Overturning the accepted way of doing things can be a daunting, even paralyzing, prospect. But no group is better equipped to accomplish that than the international business community, which has the resources to explore and develop the paths leading to a more sustainable future.

There are a number of specific actions business leaders can take to ensure the wise use of our planer's resources, including:

* Environmental risk management

Industry has a duty to ensure that its products are safely manufactured, handled, transported, used and disposed of without unacceptable risks for the environment.

* "True-cost" accounting

There is a growing sense that today's methods of economic analysis are incomplete. What are now called "external costs" - the costs imposed by environmental damage, for example - need to be internalized. Nature, of course, does not have a price, but we can develop fiscal incentives to encourage more efficient use of scarce resources and increase long-term economic performance around the globe.

* "Life cycle" assessment

Manufacturers should account for the environmental impacts of their products over the entire life cycles of those products - from extraction of resources and manufacture to use and disposal.

* Environmental auditing

To be accountable to the public and to the government, industries should have accurate and available information on the environmental performance of their construction contractors, plants, technologies, waste contractors, products, distribution systems, wholly owned and partly owned businesses and overseas agencies.

* Source reduction

Ideally, products manufactured by industry should either require no disposal at all or be completely recyclabIe. Barring that, industry should find ways to reduce both the quantity and toxicity of environmentally hazardous products and the waste generated by manufacturing.

* Disclosure of information

Successful companies in the 21st century will be those best able to secure public confidence. That means in part a progressive policy on the public release and scrutiny of environmental informa* tion. All too often, "commercial confidentiality" is used as a blanket excuse to arbitrarily limit release of information which belongs in the public domain. Open access to information should be the rule, with restrictions justified - not vice versa.

* Training

Companies must train their employees to become the environmental auditors, risk managers, source reducers who convert policy into ongoing daily action.

It is important to keep in mind that many of these actions are necessarily long-term efforts which involve issues that are currently unresolved-But perhaps more important than any single one of these actions is a change in the very philosophy of business. Traditionally, industrialists, in their pursuit of human capital, have regarded the consumption of natural capital as a onetime, one-way proposition. Owners and managers must remember that they, too, are citizens of the world, as dependent on renewable natural resources as the rest of us.

So far I have concentrated almost exclusively on what the business sector can do. But it is equally clear that environmental groups have an important role to play in building bridges of understanding with the corporate world - a role that environmental activists have not been comfortable playing. ln the past, more often than not, they have devoted their energies to impeding corporate projects. While still not abandoning their vital role as environmental advocates, groups like World Wildlife Fund are exploring ways to work with corporations to make sure that business ventures respond to environmental concern.

In part, we realize that halting economic growth is not only impractical, but also is a disservice to the millions of poor people who desperately need stronger financial underpinnings to their daily lives. But more importantly, environmental management of the planet will require a variety of solutions that are far beyond the capacity of either governments or environmental organizations to devise.

This shift in focus brings new dilemmas. How do we go about engaging a corporate community which has come to regard environmentalisis as naive at best and anti-capitalist at worst?

One of the most important ways is to give them the practical tools that allow them to become environmental managers. World Wildlife Fund is currently developing model guidelines to help corporations integrate conservation of biological diversity into their land management decisions. These new guidelines may soon be adopted by the President's Commission on Environmental Quality, on which I serve along with leaders from business, academia, and the environmental community. (See page 20.)

World Wildlife Fund is working to engage the business community through the National Commission on the Environment (thaired by WWF Chairman of the Board Russell Train) whose deliberations seek to chart a new national environmental policy. We recognize that any such strategy must incorporate all affected segments of society, so among the members of the Commission are executives with Alcoa, Southern California Edison, BrowningFerris, and BankAmerica.

Environmental purists, alarmed by these kinds of alliances, charge groups like World Wildlife Fund with being inappropriately co-opted by corporate interests. But I would argue that we are all necessarily co-opted in a much greater struggle: the struggle to preserve and renew our precious natural resource base. The business and conservation movements each have a unique, irreplaceable and increasingly interconnected role in that struggle.

Kathryn Fuller is president, World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C. World Wildlife Fund has one million members, and sponsors projects in more than 110 countries. It is affiliated with World Wide Fund for Nature, Geneva.
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Title Annotation:How Green is Green? International Environmental Groups Debate the Wisdom of Partnerships with Business
Author:Fuller, Kathryn
Publication:Communication World
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Conscience, corporations and the 'green' thing.
Next Article:Building green corporate partnerships.

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