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Are capitalism and conservation incompatible?

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An article we wrote in February, Free markets need to be free, prompted a little Twitter debate when published. There is the honestly and strongly held belief that free markets are the implacable foe of sustainability. The demands of a free market economy are incompatible with the needs of viable ecology.

While there was a misunderstanding of the central message within the article, we blame the writer, not the reader. The article’s thesis was that the current model of corporate and financial capitalism is not capitalism.

Among both advocates and detractors, this is the central misunderstanding of capitalism, which, at its heart, is the creation of prosperity from investment in innovation. For example, innovative capitalists have connected the world through horse delivered post, the printing press, the train, internal combustion engine, powered flight and the internet.

Many innovative capitalists and the businesses they run have become spectacularly wealthy as result. Their work has also lifted large swathes of the global population out of grinding poverty.

Despite the financial crisis and global recession, the number of people living in extreme poverty (on less than $1.25 per day) has kept on falling. The fall is dramatic, from 52% in 1981, 43% in 1990 and 22% in 2010.

As Bono pointed out in this TED talk, we could see the elimination of poverty by 2030.

By taxing this wealth, capitalism has provided the resources to invest in medical science, public health, education, vital transport infrastructure and utilities. A city without clean running water and sewers is very unpleasant indeed. It also funds philanthropy, charity and international development.

This does not make us an apologist for unsustainable capitalism and reckless financial speculation. Modern capitalism would be unrecognisable to enlightenment thinkers. Adam Smith recognised the value of moral sentiments.

Modern capitalism would be unrecognisable to modern economic thinkers. Friedrich Hayek recognised the failure of markets in dealing with externalities such as pollution.

Capitalism is not industrialism. As we pointed out in an article earlier this year, we referenced the distinction made by Seth Godin between industrialists who exploit efficiency and capitalists who use creativity.

The industrialist deploys economies of scale, automation and reduces workforce numbers, rights and wages. Driving margin is their core purpose. Often, their size makes them too big to fail and that is the enemy of capitalism. Let them fail, has to be the reaction to private sector failure. Capitalists innovate, often inefficiently, and pay the most to attract the best talent.

However, capitalism needs a moral and ethical dimension to work effectively. Not for sentimental reasons, but enlightened self-interest.

Capitalism needs healthy and affluent workers and consumers. Those workers and consumers need to be paid a living wage, which allows them to buy the things that capitalists make.

One of the massive failures in western capitalism has been the decline/flat lining of wages, while costs of living have spiralled out of control. Once credit lines closed, this hidden lack of income came home to roost.

Capitalists also need a viable planet. As Ben Goldsmith pointed out in our launch edition, “There’s no business to be done on a dead planet”.

Capitalism may be the worst economic system, until you consider the alternatives. It just needs to be well regulated to guarantee minimum standards for workers and consumers, such as living wages and sales of goods rights. It also needs to take into account externalities such as pollution and deforestation. And that’s where conservation comes in.

The planet belongs to future generations. It is profoundly unethical to exploit finite resources, those future generations may depend on. Polluting the planet is equally irresponsible. Acting in a way that triggers irreversible climate change is immoral.

Clean technologies, such as renewable energy, could create both sustainable economic growth and demonstrate the UK’s leadership in conserving the natural environment.

We do not understand the Conservative Party’s position on this. The London Evening Standard’s Amol Rajan described the current policy positions of the party as “a betrayal of conservatism itself.”

Osborne describes conservationists as an ‘environmental Taliban’ and delivers budget after budget after budget that is unsustainable.

Capitalism and conservation would be happy bedfellows if the people who advocate free markets actually understood the economic theories they propound and created a legal framework that recognised the limits of our planet’s resilience.

Further reading:

Free markets need to be free

Pick-and-mix dogma is unethical and intellectually dishonest

Capitalism’s woes will not be solved by 16th or 19th century economic theories

Enslaved by free markets

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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