ECO:nomics round-up


GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt

I’m not at the ECO:nomics conference, the gathering organized by the Wall Street Journal to provide “a CEO-level view of the rapidly developing relationship between the environment and the bottom line.” But several other bloggers are, so you should check out some of their commentary.

Most of David Roberts’ reporting has focused on the fascinating spectacle of watching GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt spar with ideologues over climate change legislation. Bear in mind that GE is so large that it practically is the economy in microcosm. The company has its hands in every corner of the energy sector, from coal to nuclear to wind to transportation to lighting. For a long time now, GE has been part of a coalition of companies advocating for a cap on U.S. carbon emissions. Immelt understands the science and very badly wants the government to impose some order on the current regulatory chaos.

Also bear in mind that Immelt, in his own words, has “never voted for a Democrat” and is avowedly “not an environmentalist.” If you’re still clinging to the notion that there are two neatly opposed sides in the climate debate, you’ll have a hard time categorizing Immelt.

Now watch as he fends off attacks from the think tankers and editorialists who are still having a hard time letting go:

After Fred Smith from CEI did his rambling rant on how business leaders are “engineering their own demise,” Immelt said: “For some weird, crazy, terrible, horrible reason, I’m going to sell $10b in wind turbines in 2008.”

Or this:

About the [production tax credit for renewable energy], Strassel asked, “how many wind turbines would you have sold this year without government subsidies?” Immelt: “The same number. Just outside the U.S.”

Good stuff. The Wall Street Journal has also been turning in some interesting reports from the conference. This caught my eye:

The conventional wisdom among the boys on the bus — including us — has been that there’s essentially no difference among the three presidential contenders on climate-change policy.

Really? I know I live in a bubble, but…really? This sort of explains a lot, I think.

I also note with some delight that legendary tech investor John Doerr has now turned his attention to hog poop. The new new economy is looking a lot different than anyone would have predicted a few years ago. On a related note, I’ll have a review of Fred Krupp’s new book Earth: The Sequel up in a few days.

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  1. Aaron A. - March 14, 2008

    If you’re still clinging to the notion that there are two neatly opposed sides in the climate debate, you?ll have a hard time categorizing Immelt.
    That’s pretty much what I thought when I saw his picture on your blog: who better to break the “environmentalists = unwashed Communist hippies / Republicans = greedy heartless scum” sterotype? As much as businessfolk try to emulate GE’s management style, as much as they worship the Welch-Immelt dynasty, Jeff Immelt’s influence might just convince a few talking heads (on both sides) to rethink their talking points.
    — A.
    Did you also see that the Pope issued an updated list of cardinal sins, and pollution is among them?
    “[I]f you work for a company that pollutes the environment, you have something more important to consider for Lent than whether or not to give up chocolate.” — HH Pope Benedict XVI

  2. flashdaddy - March 19, 2008

    Thank you for this post. Environmentalists take many forms, and it’s nice to highlight someone that is pro-business, and pro-environment.

  3. Phillip - March 20, 2008

    Google the quote Aaron attributed to Pope Benedict XVI. You’ll find the Pope never wrote it.

  4. Chad - March 20, 2008

    Aaron’s quote is quite revealing in two ways:
    First, he clearly is willing to cite obviously fraudent quotes when they serve his purpose
    Second, like far too many environmentalists, he blames “companies” for problems rather than people. “Companies” are legal fictions composed of and serving real people who are the ones really responsible for the pollution. When Burger King makes you a burger and pollutes the planet in doing so, it is YOUR responsibility to clean up the mess, not some abstract legal fiction’s responsibility. Aaron, like many others, refuses to blame himself.
    Just imagine a politician asking a crowd “How many people here think polluters should be forced to pay?”. Virtually every hand would be raised. Then imagine the same politician asking the same crowd “Who here supports a gasoline tax?”. Few hands get raised.
    The amazing ability of most people to blame everyone but themselves is sickening.

  5. Adam Stein - March 20, 2008

    Er…I’m not sure what dark purpose you suppose the quote was meant to serve, but Aaron’s comment is pretty clearly not anti-corporate. Let’s tone this down.

  6. Aaron A. - March 20, 2008

    Two things about the Papal reference in my earlier post:
    1) That was meant as a separate topic; that’s why I wrote it as a postscript. It’s related to the Immelt story insofar as constituencies that have often been perceived as hostile to conservation, such as big business or organized religion, are showing that they aren’t the one-dimensional figures we may have thought them to be.
    2) I do seem to have misattributed that quote to the Pope, when in fact it came from Father James Martin of the Jesuit magazine America. He meant it as meta-discussion of whether the new list of cardinal sins is an addition or an interpretation of the original list. The point of that article, though, is that the Vatican has now officially stated that Man has a duty to act as a good steward of the planet. That sounds to me like a big step toward mainstream acceptance.
    I find misquotes and misattributions particularly irritating, so I assure you that that was an honest mistake. But Chad, I hardly think that it shows a “don’t blame me” bias; just as buying from a polluter makes you partly liable for the mess, so too does accepting a paycheck from that polluter. That’s what Father Martin says, that we need to reassess our roles in the grand scheme of things, and see what we can change for the better.
    — A.

  7. Anonymous - March 20, 2008

    Aaron, I am sorry if I came off wrong. You just touched a nerve that had been bugging me lately (people who repeat lies against their political opponents without putting forth effort to verify their veracity). I accept that it was an honest mistake, but it is telling that we (myself included) tend to believe bad things about those whom with we disagree by default. Combined with the anti-corporate quote, which is another pet peeve of mine, I got annoyed.
    I work for a major chemical company. We are the biggest electricity consumers in our state, and I don’t want to know how much coal and natural gas goes into making the raw materials we purchase. Yet blaming the abstract company for the pollution is wrong-headed. If our customers came to us and said they were willing to pay a fair premium for us to make the products we sell them in a carbon-neutral manner, we would happily oblige. We WANT to do it a better way. We can’t, though, because our customers would leave us for some cheap Chinese producer who is far far dirtier than we ever have been.
    Major companies like the one I work for have always been perceived as boogeymen by the left and the environmentalist core, even though we have reduced our own energy consumption (per unit) far more than 99% of them have reduced their own energy use. Every major chemical company has invested hundreds of millions or billions in energy efficiency, clean tech, etc and the materials we make lie at the foundation of all of the technology that will solve these problems. You want solar panels? We make the silicon and the sealants. You want high voltage wires to move wind electricity from the Dakotas? We make the coatings to protect and insulate them. You want off-shore wind? We make corrosion-resistant coatings. You want your toilet not to leak, your hair to feel silky after you wash it and for beer to foam in your mug but not in the brewery? We do all that too.

  8. Aaron A. - March 21, 2008

    Anonymous (#7, who I presume to also be Chad):
    I don’t see the quote as anti-corporate. The way I read it, the speaker understands that corporations aren’t faceless machines, but groups of owners and employees. If you are one of those owners or employees, it’s partly your responsibility to think of ways in which your company can perform better. A smart CEO knows that the best inventions don’t always come from a laboratory, so they openly solicit suggestions from across the company. These ideas can be new inventions, streamlined policies, safety improvements, suggestions for improving morale, or ways for the company to be better environmental stewards. Immelt understands this, and he sounds like he’s been very well rewarded financially for getting involved with green energy.
    — A.