Jan 30 2012

Green Business and the Cost of Pollution

Published by under Miscellaneous

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.

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Jan 30 2012

Environmental Law and Policy Review 2012 Symposium: Managing Green Business

Published by under Miscellaneous

If you missed the ELPR Symposium but want to hear what happened anyway, ELPR has put up some amazing presentation summaries on their website.  Click the link to read the full summaries or read on for a few excerpts.

John Willoner's Eco-House at Findhorn. Turf roof, passive solar, solar panel, via wikimedia

The Myth and Reality of Green BusinessProfessor Judd Sneirson (summary by Vanessa Steltenpohl)

Professor Sneirson spoke at length about a continuum of green business achievement, which ranged from noncompliance with legal obligations to full integration. He explained that most companies are at the profit-driven level on this continuum, where companies will engage in green business practices only when those practices will result in greater financial benefits. An integrated company goes above and beyond what is expected of them by law; however, the integrated company still neglects the social impact sphere of sustainable business. For example, Nike has been commended for developing green business strategies such as replacing toxic glue products with stitching; however, the company still struggles with employing fair wages in other parts of the world where its products are developed.

Professor Sneirson then developed several theories as to why more businesses were not aiming for a fully integrated green business strategy. The business world is currently focused on a shareholder profit, which stems from ambivalent case law, market pressure, and behavioral norms. Professor Sneirson believes that this way of looking at profit margins will slowly pass as consumers and businesses strive for greener products and greener practices. Continue Reading »

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Feb 01 2011

Symposium Day Two: Looking Beyond the Deepwater Horizon: The Future of Offshore Drilling

Published by under Energy

Mobile offshore drilling unit holds position directly over the damaged blowout preventer May 26, 2010, via wikimedia

Environmental Law and Policy Review Symposium – “Looking Beyond the Deepwater Horizon: The Future of Offshore Drilling”

January 29th:

Stacy Linden – Drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf – An Overview

Stacy Linden is the Managing Council for the American Petroleum Institute.

Ms. Linden began the day by speaking on the process that leads to offshore oil drilling commencing.  She first gave an overview of who the American Petroleum Institute (API) was as a standard setting organization.  They consult 6000 people in making standards and have 400 member oil companies.  She stated that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) had adopted a large number of their standards.

She went on to describe the importance of oil and natural gas in the economy and to fulfill our energy needs, such as the fact that even with increasing alternative energy sources, more than half of our energy (including transportation fuel needs) will come from oil and natural gas.  Oil will still dominate transportation energy specifically, estimating that it will still account for over 80% of transportation fuel in 2035.  Ms. Linden painted a rosy picture of how much oil was being brought up, more than estimates in most areas.

Finally, Ms. Linden laid out a timeline of the process used to go from planning a well to leasing the area to getting a well to production.  She emphasized the long time periods that could pass, sometimes as many as 10 years, and that this timeline was increased by protests and litigation.  Below is a list of ongoing litigation Ms. Linden mentioned.  During the open forum questioning she stated that the oil industry had a pretty good safety record but that people liked to hate the oil industry, which is why the public has a stronger reaction to oil disasters than coal disasters.  In regards to the Deepwater Horizon spill she said that we might never know for sure what happened.  ELPR Summary. Continue Reading »

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Jan 31 2011

Symposium Day One: Looking Beyond the Deepwater Horizon: The Future of Offshore Drilling

Published by under Energy,Water/Maritime

Anchor-handling tugboats battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, via wikimedia

Environmental Law and Policy Review Symposium – “Looking Beyond the Deepwater Horizon: The Future of Offshore Drilling”

January 28th:

Calvin M. Lederer – Response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill of National Significance – An Overview

Calvin Lederer is a Deputy Judge Advocate General in the United States Coast Guard.

Mr. Lederer began by giving an overview of the Deepwater Horizon spill time line and response efforts, including keeping the oil offshore with booms and skimming.  The response represented the first time that a “Spill of National Significance” (SONS) had occurred and the first time the prepared response was put into action.  Interestingly enough, approximately 30 days before the spill there had been a drill of the SONS procedure that Thad Allen participated in.  Some of the problems he indicated was the difficulty in hearing technical opinions through the thousands of people responding to the spill.

During the open forum questioning, he suggested a few changes he thought could be made to future responses.  One of these was to include more upper-level decision makers, such as the relevant cabinet members, in the drills.  Mr. Lederer also mentioned a specific preparedness review that would be coming out and detailing areas of improvement.  Also during the open forum, Mr. Lederer defended burning the oil, saying that environmental and wildlife impacts were minimal compared to its effectiveness, though he also recommended that investment should be made to decrease the necessity of such “blunt” techniques.  ELPR Summary Continue Reading »

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