Paul Holmes

While politicians sit idly by, companies are stepping up over environmental regulations

While politicians sit idly by, companies are stepping up over environmental regulations

There's nothing particularly unusual about corporate executives approaching government officials to complain about the regulatory environment - although it's a little peculiar to hear them complaining about the lack of regulation.

But that's just what happened a couple of weeks ago, when a group of industry CEOs in the UK approached the Blair government to ask for stricter environmental standards. And just in case anyone mistakes this for one of those peculiar European phenomena, another group of US corporations equally concerned about global warming has banded together to ask for a mandatory federal scheme to encourage emissions trading.

There are several reasons for this activity, and not all of them are altruistic. The Economist, in its coverage of the British lobbying effort, points out that, "in the absence of clear guidance from the government, [companies] are shy of making the first move, since firms that go green will merely burden themselves with higher costs than their less virtuous competitors."

In other words, even leaders worry about getting too far ahead of the competition.

But if that was their only concern, these corporations would presumably be quite content to stick with the status quo. The fact that they are not suggests that they are motivated by some genuine concern for the future of our planet or by the belief that investing in cleaner operations will have some long-term benefit for their companies and their shareholders. (Or they are motivated in some measure by both those beliefs.)

The fact that US corporations - long derided for their inability to see beyond the next quarter - are taking a more long-term view than the Bush administration is alarming, though not especially surprising. The impact of global warming is unlikely to be felt in any serious way until many years after this President vacates the Oval Office, so why should he sacrifice votes today for a future payoff?

Many executives leading major corporations hope to be at their helms for many years to come, and they understand that if the scientific consensus about global warming is correct, inaction today might lead to a complete collapse of their markets a decade from now. That's why companies like Citigroup, Coca-Cola, GM, and P&G have signed up to an agreement called SEEE Change that is designed to "measurably improve society, the environment, and the economy." They are no longer locked into the old, destructive mindset that the first two are in direct conflict with the third.

Some may say it's sad that corporate leaders are behaving in a more statesmanlike way than their political counterparts. But given the vacuum of leadership in the policy arena, I find it encouraging.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 18 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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