Corporations must take lead in re-energizing green efforts

Despite all of the hype in the past year - and a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore - green is not on the campaign radar at all this year.

Despite all of the hype in the past year - and a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore - green is not on the campaign radar at all this year. Not one candidate has stood out on this issue, and it has not even emerged along party lines. That's pretty surprising, given how recently it was the topic du jour in the corporate world, which has a big stake in all presidential campaigns.

But the green sheen, as we've noted previously, has faded out rather dramatically. Last week, USA Today reported on a Porter Novelli survey of 11,000 Americans, titled "What are Americans Thinking and Doing about Global Warming," which revealed that, in effect, people talk green, but don't act green.

"There has been too much fear-mongering and not enough emphasis on what people can do," said Edward Maibach, the survey's author and head of a center on climate change and communication at George Mason University, to the paper. "Clearly there's a lot left to do in raising awareness."

It's a sound point, and certainly I am always a big fan of the efforts that aim to educate, rather than simply expose. Still, it is hard to remember an issue in recent years that has had more high-profile treatment - from the boardroom to Hollywood to the classroom.

Last year, we had the green Academy Awards ceremony, a new line at The Home Depot, a green Vanity Fair, and the explosion in popularity of the Prius. Leonardo DiCaprio showed us how much he cares. Ed Begley, Jr. exposed the extent of his wackiness on the topic. Was there really an important demographic that missed all this?

In fact, it's just possible that there was serious overkill on this issue from a mainstream-media point of view. While it looks as if the world is adopting a new lifestyle, there is less pressure on the individual to feel compelled to join the bandwagon. Many people might rationalize that since the world is clearly moving in the direction of sustainability - and no doubt regulations will be tightened that will limit their choices one day to nothing but green options - they might as well continue to drive their Hummers while they still can.

One can't help but feel that this was an important and tantalizingly close call in affecting real changes to the way Americans take responsibility for the environment. But it's not too late to re-energize this topic, even if it must wait until the heat of election season dies down so that people will actually pay attention.

A lot of the momentum must continue to come from corporations. Even as the politicians have turned away from the topic, companies must not let it die just because consumers might not be watching as closely. The next wave will be born of real-life examples of changes that have taken place for the better because of new products and policies introduced during this period.

The green imperative is a golden opportunity for global corporations to demonstrate their capacity to do good, as only entities with their resources and scale can. They should lead rather than follow the consumer down this path.

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