Green is good

by agwelch

Editorial leader from the latest issue of Energy Engineering magazine:

In the 1987 film Wall Street the financier Gordon Gekko’s famous motto was “greed is good”. Now, as far as business is concerned, the message is that green is good.

A recent report, The Colour of Growth: Maximising the potential of green business, compiled and published by the CBI, the voice of British business, has reiterated the case for pursuing a low carbon economy. Turbulent economic conditions have prompted some to question the priority of the green agenda, but the report reasserts that commitment to low carbon policy is fundamentally good for growth and is more important now than ever before.

Introducing the report, CBI director-general John Cridland argued that ‘green’ and ‘growth’ went hand in hand. “In finding a new growth path for the British economy, I am convinced that green is a central part of it,” he said. “Everybody needs to look at decarbonizing their products and services.”

Concluding that adopting a “smarter green policy approach” could boost the UK’s economy by nearly £20 billion by 2015, the report argued that whilst the low carbon economy could be a “real engine of growth” in the UK, there is a danger that the potential might not be realized. Amongst ten recommendations for government were a call to reassert the country’s ambition in pursuing low carbon policy and, more specifically, a proposal that the Green Investment Bank should be given the power to raise funds from capital markets as soon as possible.

“The Government aims to be the greenest government ever and it has certainly got the passion. I think that the challenge for the Government is that is has many different departments and many different initiatives. From a business point-of-view, not all these initiatives add up,” said Cridland.

So far, so laudable, if somewhat predictable. However, it is clear that the outlook of the CBI is not shared by the whole of the business and political communities. Days after the report was published, a letter to The Daily Telegraph co-signed by the directors of the Centre for Policy Studies and the Institute for Economic Affairs called on the Government to adopt an energy policy based on fossil-fuels and to “stop building wind farms”.

Evidence, if it were needed, that we must never take for granted that the case for development of renewable energy and low carbon practice is universally accepted. Far from it: opponents of our industry argue against us with a vociferous religiosity. It is incumbent on us to continue to show that pursuing a low carbon agenda is not ‘greenwash’ but is beneficial in the long term to both the economy and the environment.

The CBI report is absolutely right to establish that whilst the Government’s green rhetoric is admirable, the policy framework supporting low carbon growth needs to be addressed. John Cridland again: “In this report we end the myth that there is a choice between being green and growing. We can have green growth, but it is not a given that we achieve it. We need a coherent strategy and we need government to have a strategy that recognizes that green growth isn’t always going to be easy.”

Wind turbines and solar PV panels are visible symbols of the development of our green economy. However, the CBI’s message is broader: integrating low carbon practice into a business, wherever it is appropriate, will improve the competitiveness of British industry and help us, as a nation, to meet the energy and carbon targets prescribed by government.