Jan 30 2012

Green Business and the Cost of Pollution

Published by at 8:00 am under Miscellaneous and tagged: , , , ,

Protest about the Love Canal contamination by a resident, ca. 1978 or so, via wikimedia

Last weekend William and Mary’s Environmental Law and Policy Review held a symposium on green businesses.  It featured many fascinating and intelligent speakers, all discussing the ways in which businesses have taken measures to lessen their negative impacts on the environment.  For the most part, it seemed like the focus of each talk was on voluntary, private measures that businesses were taking in this arena.  When government regulation was discussed, it was generally in reference to how the government could encourage such actions or make them more convenient or effective.  One speaker in particular, Dr. Rick Levin, emphasized that businesses were acting without government regulations and in ways that were outside government’s ability to force action.

I found myself agreeing with many of the sentiments expressed in the Symposium; generally applicable regulations can only require so much before they risk causing significant disadvantages to the smaller businesses who must abide by them.  However, I also heard a second theme running throughout the speakers’ lectures: that of the businessman who “went green” because it was cheaper for him not to pollute.  Even Dr. Levin mentioned the fact that pollution is expensive and it was in some business’s best interest to increase their sustainability and therefore avoid the monetary cost of their pollution.

But what makes pollution expensive?  It certainly wasn’t expensive for Hooker Chemical to bury toxic waste beneath Love Canal or for companies to dump flammable chemicals into the Cuyahoga River.  The difference today is that we have government regulations that make such actions illegal and require polluters to account for the toxic substances they produce.  While these regulations are certainly not perfect, they at least force businesses to internalize and account for their effects on the environment.  Without such regulations, it is doubtful that any business would find monetary benefit in reducing pollution.

Making a sustainable business is a wonderful goal that should be encouraged by consumers and governments, but in a political season rife with attacks on environmental regulations we must remember how and why we got to a place where businesses are looking to go above and beyond.  Without the regulations that protect our environment, it wouldn’t be cost effective not to pollute.  Without those regulations, the price of pollution would be paid for with the health of communities rather than the profits of companies.  So, while considering how to move forward with green businesses, and based on this Symposium there are a wealth of amazing ideas on this score, let’s make sure that we don’t lose sight of what got us here.

Comments Off on Green Business and the Cost of Pollution

Comments are closed at this time.