Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Business Friendly can be Environment Friendly – Part I

      “Despite the current global recession, 60% of those
      surveyed said Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is 
      more important to their businesses now than it was a
      year ago, with only 6% saying it was less important.”
             — IBM Corporate Social Responsibility Survey (2009)

The elections last week, and in particular the switch from  Democrat to Republican majorities in a number of state and federal elections, has generated many analyses about what the change signals—whether it was a rejection of the incumbents or a return to favor for the Republican party—or neither, or both, or something else entirely.  But it is widely acknowledged that this shift is a result of concerns about the slow growth in the economy and stagnant job creation.  Not surprisingly this same concern is reflected in surveys of the business community in the U.S. and abroad.  Both the newly elected and returning incumbents are thinking hard about how to address  this issue.

In talking to individuals who work on environmental issues and reading new reports (
) there is also concern that weakening or eliminating  environmental regulations will be pursued as an action that will help strengthen local economies.  However, after taking a look at some recent surveys of the business community, actions to weaken existing environmental programs is likely to fail to address the priorities of many business leaders.   Weakening or “rolling back” environmental regulations was not listed as a top concern in any of the surveys found.  However  increasing consumer spending is the top issue in survey after survey and protecting the environment is becoming an increasingly important way of attracting customers and increasing sales. 

This view is by no means universal, and there are major detractors.  But it can be argued that the trend toward aligning business interests with environmental protection is significant and state governments looking for new ways to attract and support business enterprise, should not overlook it.

In a 2008 survey of small businesses the following concerns were listed:

When asked to comment on their most pressing business concerns this year,  business owners brought up a wide range of economic concerns. Among the more frequently cited concerns: fuel costs, healthcare costs, difficulty in getting credit, high taxes, foreign competition, and fear of recession causing businesses and consumers to put off spending. One survey taker summed up the thoughts of many in five words: “Getting people to spend money.”

Another  survey in spring of  2010  for small and large businesses showed that managers continued to list consumer demand as a top priority along with market stability and healthcare reform as top issues.   


It is not clear whether concerns about environmental regulations are contained as part of “other” in the Future Concerns.  Small businesses remain concerned over the costs of complying with environmental regulations.  However, the cost of complying with regulations (which includes complying with all government regulations) tends to lag behind other issues in surveys of the concerns for the business community.

In fact, in a recent report in McKinsey Quarterly authors found that the environment has become an important topic for most companies on a global scale.

“Companies know that consumers and employees care about the environment, and their interest often presents real business opportunities and risks. But another key environmental concern is emerging: biodiversity. 

“In a survey businesses were asked about what biodiversity means, how important it is to their businesses, and why.  One of the most striking findings is that a majority of executives, 59 percent, see biodiversity as more of an opportunity than a risk for their companies. They identify a variety of potential     opportunities, such as bolstering corporate reputations with environmentally conscious stakeholders by acting to preserve biodiversity and developing new products or ideas from renewable natural resources. The positive outlook on biodiversity is in stark contrast to executives’ views on climate change in late 2007, when only 29 percent saw the issue as more of an opportunity than a      threat.”

“Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) is an approach to business that has been slowly gaining attention  in the national and international business community since the 1970s.  It is a form of self-regulation where a business embraces responsibility for the impact of its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere.  It does not replace government regulations, but rather complements or supplements them.
  Recently IBM found that,

“…survey participants clearly understand that integrating CSR considerations into their business strategies is essential to their growth and performance,” said Eric Riddleberger, IBM’s business strategy consulting global leader, who heads up the company’s corporate social responsibility consulting efforts. “But it’s also         pretty obvious many of them don’t know what they need to know to actually make changes that would improve both business performance and societal impact.” States have a great deal of  expertise about environmental issues and other topics relevant to developing successful CRS strategies.

There is plenty of evidence that being “green” is increasingly important for businesses.  The number of “green” products available in stores jumped 73% between 2009 and 2010, but more than 95% were guilty of some kind of greenwashing—mostly fudging the truth to make the product sound more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

Operating businesses in ways that protect and sustain the environment is important, but companies struggle with understanding how to achieve this goal.  There is an opportunity for state governments, business, conservation and environmental interests to jointly support the efforts of the business community to achieve this goal if they work together.

Next week’s Compleat Wetlander—Business Friendly can be Environment Friendly Part II —will provide some ideas about how to improve wetland programs to support green business strategies.

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