Is business ready to act to mitigate climate change? That wasn’t clear — at least in the Midwest — from a panel I moderated at a conference hosted by the national American Sustainable Business Council with the local Business Alliance for a Sustainable Economy. Coincidentally, the panel convened on Sept. 27, the day the latest (and scariest) assessment of human contributions to climate change by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released.
Amy Hargroves made an impassioned case for the efforts of the telecom company Sprint, especially in managing the impacts of networks and e-waste. She’s leads the Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability efforts for the company, based in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb.
Michael Collins the president and CEO of the Port Authority of Kansas City deplored the state of navigation on the Missouri River, ravaged by both drought and floods and awash in pollution from combined sewer and storm-runoff systems. Yet he sees no systematic approach to fixing the Missouri’s problems, nor those of the Mississippi River, source and destination of its shipping traffic.
I was impressed by Judi Cooper of the Iowa Utilities Board. She said the board’s new building, by Kansas City architect BNIM (which helped put together the conference) achieved an energy intensity of just 16 BTUs per square foot per year, an extraordinarily low number that sets a new energy-conservation bar. The building was the best advertisement for the advantages of energy-efficiency, she said, whatever anyone’s views on greenhouse-gas emissions.
I thought all the panelists were terrific, and they inspired spirited discussion at the Bloch School of Management at the Kansas City campus of the University of Missouri. But it was clear that participants and audience members felt a civil exchange with people skeptical of climate change was almost impossible.
I asked why the businesses that know better and are already affected by climate change too rarely speak out — since business voices can be very compelling for citizens who feel whipsawed by obfuscating claims. The responses were ambiguous. It’s clear people feel bullied by the deniers.
That’s a tragedy. Individual voices are not enough to counter the propaganda expensively delivered by those who derive power and cash from distorting facts. Though it is understandable why responsible businesses would want to stay out of the way of fanatics, the stakes for the planet are too high. They can’t portray themselves as sustainability leaders if they stay on the sidelines.