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Color the marketplace green.

Conservation and recycling programs initiated by companies and support groups have created new common ground for former antagonists -- environmentalists and business.

In an unprecedented display of concurrence, Alaskan businesses and environmental activists agree that green thinking has come to the state's business community. They say the trend signals an era of changes in policies and practices reflecting heightened awareness about environmental problems.

While debates between developers and conservationists continue over major resource-development issues, the two groups have staked out increasingly larger tracts of common ground and are working together through a number of new initiatives. Dave Cline, regional vice president for the National Audubon Society says, "I do feel there's a big trend in businesses, big and small, a greening trend. There are always those that stand out, and those still living in the Dark Ages. There's a great range of response."

According to D.J. Moon, public affairs director for Mapco Alaska Petroleum, the enormous amount of press coverage about environmental issues has played a substantial role in encouraging more earth-friendly approaches to doing business. "There's coming to be real awareness at the individual level that the whole issue of environmentalism has become more personal, more in the fabric of our society," Moon says.

Basically adopting an "agree-to-disagree" philosophy on certain sensitive issues, environmentalists are approaching their counterparts with a new but cautious optimism, while developers and other free-marketers are seeing their protagonists in a new light. This constructive dialogue between Alaskans of different persuasions is the northern tip of a national trend. For the last couple of years, leading up to and since the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day (1970), the media has extensively covered the evolution of new corporate thinking about the environment.

Large companies, some among the highest on environmentalists' hate list, have announced major initiatives to clean up their acts, commence major recycling campaigns, or, in some cases, donate large sums to various conservation causes. Some, such as 3M and DuPont, have committed to new, comprehensive environmental manifestoes or new research programs to reduce their impact.

Another example, Imperial Chemical Inc. (ICI) of London, shows the global scale of the greening trend. A year ago ICI announced a far-reaching campaign to achieve a number of objectives, including:

* All new plants to be built to the best environmental standards;

* Wastes to be reduced by 50 percent by 1995;

* High priority given to energy and resource conservation;

* Formation of comprehensive recycling policies; and

* Full compliance with all environmental regulations.

In Alaska, the following four major environmental programs, either initiated by or substantially dependent on corporate involvement, have emerged in the last few years:

North Slope Environmental Achievement Awards. Initiated and financed by BP Exploration (Alaska), the award program this year presented its second slate of awards to those companies and individuals who have made substantial contributions to reducing the oil industry's Prudhoe Bay footprint. Awards are given in the categories of individual achievement, corporate achievement, and innovation and research. The program is conducted jointly with the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.

Green Star Program. A blossoming partnership among the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Center for the Environment and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has produced this incentive program to encourage earth-friendly practices by local businesses.

Nature Conservancy. The Alaska office of this large national conservation organization opened in 1988 and has become a force for bringing business and environmental interests together to talk, think and act.

Frontier Thinking Conference. With broad corporate support and participation, the second annual conference in early October looked at "green accounting," the concept of totaling the hidden costs -- to business and everybody else -- of bad environmental practices, as well as of identifying the solid economic returns of earth-friendly policies.

Locally and nationally, observers agree that the warm embrace that environmentalism is receiving from the corporate community has been overwhelmingly driven by consumers, who themselves are better and better informed about environmental issues and are willing to speak eloquently with their wallets.

There also is agreement that much of the new environmentalism is sincere, not part of a grand public relations conspiracy. In fact, case histories often are repeated of companies that used poor judgment in developing or putting out word about their greening process.

"It seems to be a long-term area of concern for the public. Companies are responding to what the public is demanding, and is going to be demanding more and more," says Bonnie Bernholz, a public relations expert whose firm, Bernholz and Graham, helped BP Exploration put together its North Slope awards program.

"The public is not going to be fobbed off by PR efforts; they're not going to be appeased that easily," Bernholz adds. "I think that companies that try to get by with superficial efforts are going to get caught."

Oil Industry Awards. Bernholz acknowledges that there was some early skepticism about BP's awards program, but says the corporation's sincerity has laid many fears to rest. "It appears to me that these are genuine efforts. It is not a one-time thing and it's a pretty considerable effort," she explains.

That effort includes $40,000 in prize money, plus the cost of administering the program, such as flying judges to the North Slope and, of course, advertising. But Bernholz says BP has maintained a hands-off policy with respect to how the judging criteria was set up and applied and how the award money is applied.

Audubon's Cline says he agreed to be one of the judges for the BP awards program because he was convinced the program's backers meant business. "I took BP at its word. They admitted we have some real problems up there. My involvement has convinced me the awards program is legitimate, not just a public relations gimmick," notes Cline.

For Cline, a red flag would go up if he saw any linkage on BP's part between the community relations benefits of the awards program and political efforts to develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Cline hasn't seen such a move, and doesn't expect to. "I'll drop out of it immediately, and I've told them so," he adds.

Like Bernholz, Cline feels initiatives like those at BP are emerging in response to pressure in the marketplace brought by sharp shoppers. "It's still too limited in America, but business and industry are reacting in America because they're getting information from the consumer," Cline notes. "And in some cases, it gets down to the personal level, (business people) may be environmentalists themselves."

When they are, Cline suggests, it is often because they have thoughtfully confronted an environmental issue with the same pragmatism and open-mindedness with which they deal with other challenges in marketing, accounting, personnel management or new technology.

Precisely because addressing an environmental problem in a so-called earth-friendly way can often lead to greater efficiencies and other bottomline benefits, Cline feels those who don't get on the environmental bandwagon will be big losers. "I have to believe we're dealing with educated people here and that when presented with the facts, they'll respond sincerely," he says.

"What I'm hearing in industry is that unless there is a greening, they will not be able to compete in tomorrow's markets. I'm absolutely convinced of that."

Cline acknowledges it is harder dealing with large corporations that don't have a substantial face-to-face relationship with consumers. Exxon is one that comes to his mind. "It's a very arrogant, bully type of company. But I believe it will catch up with them in time as well," Cline says.

In the meantime, Audubon will continue to keep consumers informed and to develop corporate partnerships when it makes sense to do so. "The thing of greatest importance is reaching every single consumer with the best scientific facts available. That's going to drive business and industry decision making. Our people want the environment protected, and if we do it right, it will be good for business. None of our environmental problems is going to be solved by polarization," Cline concludes.

Green Star Program. Like Cline, Mapco's Moon has been building bridges to people previously considered the enemy in the process of helping develop the Anchorage Chamber's Green Star program. The ironic backdrop to his efforts is that some in the environmental community are highly critical of Mapco's handling of emissions and hazardous wastes at its North Pole refinery.

Moon says notwithstanding these problems, Green Star is not about public relations. "I don't think it even necessarily came about as a result of PR. Green is the color of money. Certain kinds of things that have a very bottom-line application also have an environmental application," he explains.

Moon cites an environmentally friendly device Mapco uses in bulk fuel storage tanks, a "floating tank top." As the tank is filled from the bottom, it raises a large disk that sits directly on the liquid column, preventing the fuel from vaporizing in the air space. It's similar to a floating cap used to retain flavor in a newly brewed pot of coffee. "The company pays for it through retention of product. It's a win-win situation," he points out.

Green Star, which has enrolled more than 50 companies in its first few months of activity, has established standards that must be met for a business to qualify for a Green Star award. Meeting even more specific standards, set for certain types of businesses such as restaurants or dry cleaners, will enable some to earn Earth Star awards.

Participation in Green Star requires a one-time registration fee -- $50 for non-profits and government agencies or $100 to $250, depending on the size of business -- and an annual fee of $25. The Green Star standards are meant to be measurable, attainable and meaningful goals.

"We didn't want the Green Star program to be a panacea for a company that just wants public relations. The intent is to help a company see that it's keen to be green and take it to heart. That's why there are mandatory standards that have to be met; the award has to be earned," Moon says.

Working with the Alaska Center for the Environment in preparing the standards has enabled Moon and others to see environmentalists in a more objective light. And because the Green Star program has a specific focus, controversial issues, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development, don't get in the way.

"I don't think it's inconsistent at all," Moon says. "We share the goal of doing what we can for our little piece of the world here. We all felt it was worth a try."

With callers from around the country inquiring about the Green Star program, Moon is hopeful that more opportunities will develop for environmentalists and industry to collaborate. "Battle lines have been drawn. It's a classic pendulum. In order to have a middle, you have to have a far right and a far left," Moon suggests.

"I think the business community is coming to the point where we don't want to be on the far right anymore. And we want the left to move in a little. It's going to take some time and effort to bridge that gap, but it's a prudent and wise way to go."

Nature Conservancy. Working around polarization has always been part of the mission of Nature Conservancy since its founding nearly 40 years ago. Known as "conservation capitalists," the organization has long provided the corporate community with attractive ways to support environmental values, long before the middle ground became politically correct for anybody.

In fact, the conservation group's close ties to American business and industry have sometimes aroused the suspicions of others in the environmental movement. It's a sign of the shifting political landscape that the backlash to extreme environmentalism that has given rise to the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use Movement currently targets Nature Conservancy for having the largest budget of any national conservation group. Nature Conservancy's budget chiefly is financed by corporations, some of which are very sympathetic to the politics of pro-development.

But it's hard to argue with success, and the organization has become very good at what it does. Starting with what is essentially a one-point program -- to protect the rarest and most threatened species of plants and animals by preserving the places they need to survive -- Nature Conservancy has protected 5.5 million acres, using a variety of methods.

Sometimes the organization buys threatened habitat and establishes a natural preserve, staffed by its own stewards and volunteers. Sometimes Nature Conservancy buys land and turns it over to public agencies to manage. Often, corporations are persuaded to part with land under a variety of tax-saving mechanisms, with little or no cost to the conservation agency.

Nature Conservancy places a high value on scientific data in evaluating parcels for protection. The organization maintains extensive environmental databases in many states -- including Alaska -- to guide protection strategies and to create an objective frame of reference for bringing landowners and other interested parties together.

The head of Nature Conservancy's Alaska office, which opened in 1988, is Susan Ruddy. "When we first opened, I had the distinct impression there was no middle ground in Alaska. I think it's really changed over the last couple of years," she says.

Ruddy attributes much of that change to enlightenment of some in the business community about environmental problems. "As good business people, they tend to look for solutions, rather than put their heads in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. And the problems are real, they're not ginned up," she explains.

Ruddy feels that many Alaskans are concerned about increasing degradation of natural areas, especially those near growing communities and areas that receive a lot of recreational pressure. She says the foot-draggers are beginning to get the message from the marketplace. "The consumer is forcing those who wouldn't be doing it otherwise," Ruddy notes.

Nature Conservancy's director advises the reluctant to think of environmental problems the way one might think about addressing a cholesterol problem: "I'd rather worry about my cholesterol problem ahead of time than wait for a heart attack. If they don't deal with environmental problems up front, they're going to run into a buzz saw legally down the line."

Using Nature Conservancy's proven strategy for forming partnerships to address protection priorities, the Alaska office has chalked up a number of successes during its brief tenure, including:

* Acquiring and protecting a 560-acre critical waterfowl nesting and feeding site in the Palmer Hay Flats area;

* Helping the Business Park Wetlands Coalition purchase 5.3 acres of critical waterfowl habitat in Midtown Anchorage;

* Initiating a Kenai River project to prevent degradation of the unique 1.5 million acre Kenai River watershed through voluntary action by private and public landowners;

* Launching "Conservation Joint Venture," a statewide program to assist private landowners in managing their property for both economic gain and environmental conservation. The first project under this program has been initiated on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs with the city, village corporation and traditional council;

* Arranging to provide important technical assistance to agencies charged with developing restoration plans in areas hit by the Exxon Valdez oil spill; and

* Offering innovative land-use planning and management assistance to state and federal agencies and Native corporations.

As it has done elsewhere, Nature Conservancy has been fairly successful in attracting business support for its activities. Hilary Hilscher, program development director for the Alaska office, says memberships are up 100 percent in the last year, largely because of business community participation.

Ruddy says Nature Conservancy's networking efforts in Alaska have convinced her that one of the best-kept secrets in the business community is the inherently earth-friendly attitude of many of its members. She says the caring attitude tends to get bruised in the acrimony of political debate. The key, Ruddy says, is to meet people where they are in their thinking, and to listen.

"People on the development side of the ledger have been, in effect, in pretty serious denial about their own conservation leanings. They really care, and that's there in everybody. I have yet to find a person who doesn't care at some level," she explains.

Frontier Thinking Conference. That caring, along with the consumer attitudes and legal imperatives, has created an atmosphere in the Alaskan business community for talking with diverse individuals about environmental issues in the quest for answers. One result has been the Frontier Thinking Conference.

An ambitious group of business and academic interests came together a couple of years ago and started planning the first conference, with a view to discussing whether economic development and environmental protection can be compatible. The October 1991, conference focused on a related issue called "green accounting," a still-emerging concept that tries to measure objectively the economic benefits of environmental-protection strategies.

Frontier Thinking was locally co-sponsored by the likes of National Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy, as well as Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., BP Exploration, Conoco, Arco Alaska and the University of Alaska. With international sponsorship provided by Imperial Chemical Inc. and the assistance of World Times (Boston-based publisher of the World Paper), the conference drew a diverse crowd of local and international participants to sessions with titles such as:

* Regulating or Selling Pollution: Can Markets Succeed Where Regulations Fail?;

* Are Prices Necessary for Environmental Accounting?: The Real Value of Resources and the Costs of Irreversible Resource Uses;

* Fiduciary Duty vs. Native Cultural and Environmental Values;

* Greening the Profit Motive;

* Environmental Accounting at Work.

This year's conference gave some an opportunity to chart the progress of the growing environmental ethic in American and Alaskan industry. One of the speakers, Robert Rehak, senior vice president and creative director of the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather in Houston, notes that 1990 was a watershed year for the environmental movement.

Pointing out that press coverage of green issues was up 273 percent, he cites "unprecedented changes in consumer behavior" as resulting in a willingness to pay higher prices for products perceived to be earth-friendly. "There was the sense that they could really change the world with their purchasing power," Rehak says.

Having dealt with the issue of corporate sincerity regarding environmental activities, Rehak cautions businesses to approach their environmental policy-making with thoughtfulness and integrity. He notes that saturation of the marketplace with earth-friendly claims has jaded consumers, and he counsels vigorously against the use of "fuzzy or exaggerated claims."

"It argues for self-restraint on the part of advertisers and people who help them advertise. Consumers are more skeptical than ever, and if they lose interest, we've really done harm to this movement," says Rehak.

His warning is timely, although consumer apathy does not appear to be imminent. In fact, as many in the business community would have predicted, the market is rewarding those who offer quality products and environmental integrity; the others are learning costly lessons.

The lessons, say business leaders who have charted the sometimes murky green waters of adopting earth-friendly policies, are simple. Greening pays, in several ways:

* Conserving energy and reusing and recycling materials saves money.

* Because people like working for earth-friendly companies, greening boosts motivation.

* Customers are seeking out earth-friendly companies with which to do business.

* Adopting earth-friendly policies puts employees more in touch with the attitudes of customers, allowing them to provide better service.

While the participants in the Frontier Thinking Conference considered the implications of concepts such as sustainable development and how to fine-tune their workplaces to improve environmental compatibility, it is apparent that the environmental decade is well-launched with many from the business community happily along for the ride, if not in the cockpit.

Still, it's only 1991, and as Art Kleiner notes in a summer article in the Harvard Business Review: "Today a company does not expect to be considered 'environmentalist' unless it is moving not only beyond the law but ahead of its industry and many of its consumers."


Alaska's Innovation Investments

Since 1989, the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation has invested seed funds in science and engineering projects that can have a major impact on our state's future. Here are three ASTF projects that are completed or near completion.

* Arrowtooth Flounder -- This fish is 60% of the flatfish biomass in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, yet it had no commercial value. Its meat softened when cooked, but a method has been developed to overcome this and make it a viable seafood product in world markets, with a potential harvest of 500,000 metric tons per year.

* Autogenesis -- Now in production, this biomedical technology breakthrough was invented in Russia and enhanced with microchip technology in Alaska. The device regenerates and lengthens bones and tissues after severe trauma, with less pain and better results than previous methods. It's expected production will reach world markets, providing jobs and new capital to Alaska.

* Organic Waste Treatment System -- The U.S. Department of Energy awarded this its Innovations Award as an environmentally sound, economic, water-saving alternative to sewers and septic systems. The low-maintenance system composts human and organic wastes, and the greywater separation produces clean effluent. This project has widespread Alaskan applications and enormous market potential and use worldwide.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Alaskan businesses and environmentalists push for heightened awareness of environmental problems
Author:Richardson, Jeffrey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Mandated health care: debate over proposed legislation.
Next Article:Slow down: Alaska's economy grew slower than expected in 1991.

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