IBM Think-Tank Calls On Businesses To Save The World While Making Money

While Silicon Valley executives have the cash to pay for trendy earth-friendly lifestyles, ordinary people don't, a U.S. think-tank warned on March 22. The onus was on businesses worldwide to lead a "green" revolution by sharing technology and costs before authoritarian governments slapped them and citizens with life-altering regulations, according to panel members.

"Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't think the green consumer will be the answer," Patrick Atkins, director of energy innovation at Alcoa aluminum company, said during a Global Innovation Outlook forum led by IBM Corporation. "People need to reach a tipping point at which it clearly effects their lives, and then they will address the problem and galvanize the innovation of the world."

Executives from firms such as Halliburton and Intuit joined academics and technology veterans to brainstorm on solutions to pollution and transportation woes. "Business has a key role to play," said Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. "Here we are. It is up to us to create a sustainable path in the world. If we don't, I don't like where we are going."

When Stigson asked how many people in the room believed in the "green consumer," a person willing to pay more for eco-sensitive products such as electric cars or organic produce, only one hand was raised. "If you price things out of reach for people you don't have stability, you have rebellion," said Hugh Aldridge of the Cambridge-MIT Institute. If business doesn't step in to fix the quality-of-life ills in major urban areas, heavy-handed governments will, predicted Aldridge.

"Governments are thinking in authoritarian ways to deal with these problems because they don't think market forces will do it," Aldridge said. "That, to me, is a huge danger and we need to come up with innovation to stop it." It would be misguided to expect business alone to solve environmental problems, but shifting costs to the wallets of consumers was a doomed strategy and waiting for government regulation foolish, pundits said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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