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Editor’s letter: The greens come in from the cold

Andrew Sawers

It’s early spring and it’s bloody freezing. Last Friday, the team was
enjoying a lunchtime pint in the sunshine, doing our utmost to encourage the
good weather to stick around for a while. Today, as we huddle in another pub –
the nearest one to the office because it’s too bitterly cold to wander far – the
old codgers among us wonder what on earth happened to global warming and what
the hell was wrong with it, anyway, while the earnest young people chide us that
it’s not about global warming, but about climate change and climate volatility.

Well, that’s certainly true. In 2005, the year that Hurricane Katrina ripped
the heart out of New Orleans, natural disasters around the world caused damage
worth $230bn. Last year, that figure fell to just $48bn. But Swiss Re assures us
that insured losses have been on the increase over recent decades, due mainly to
weather-related catastrophes.

Two years ago none of us knew we had a carbon footprint. Now we’ve got
everyone from champions of the environment to Chancellors of the Exchequer
trying to goad, coax, tax and embarrass us all into reducing our tonnage of
something that none of us can see or weigh. The red and the blue political
parties give speeches to prove that they are the most green, while the yellows
tell us they have been green all along. (Suddenly, we can think of a way to
reduce CO2.)

Environmental consultancies are popping up all over the place, while
companies as diverse as BP, Marks & Spencer and Hitachi vie to demonstrate
their green credentials so that we buy their petrol, prawn sandwiches and TVs
with a clean conscience. The Chancellor’s promise to abolish stamp duty on
houses that have insulation four feet thick has a ring of tokenism about it. The
government’s initiative towards sustainable procurement does not. The draft
Climate Change bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, though it’s fair
to wonder if it can make much difference if bigger, stinkier countries don’t
follow suit.

But of this I am certain: the impact of the environmental movement on
business is going to make the Sarbanes-Oxley industry look like a clutch of
amateur, well-intentioned finger-waggers. We surveyed FDs for their views on
climate change earlier this year and found a certain amount of scepticism and
confusion. More recently, we ran an Insider Business Club web seminar in which
Eden Project MD Gaynor Coley and others explained how a positive approach to
environmental issues can have a positive effect on the bottom line.

So now we’ve enlisted our colleague Rachael Singh to take over one of our
Briefing pages every month, in which she will keep readers up to date with
emerging legislation, tax issues, technology and best practice, with the aim of
helping businesses embed environmentally friendly policies into standard
business processes. Her page is easy to find: guess what colour it is.

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