“Environmentalists Doing Business”

Reblogged from the Urban Times – link available here

Interested in what it looks and sounds like when people who care about the earth put their money where their mouth is? In 1996, British entrepreneur Dale Vince founded a company built to provide clean electricity to its customers. Still operating on a not-for-dividend model 16 years later, today Vince’s company, Ecotricity, invests its customers’ energy bills into the construction of additional sources of clean energy.

You can read all about Ecotricity and its business model on their company website: http://www.ecotricity.co.uk. What I thought was really great about the interview with Mr. Vince, though, was the way he described his work as a businessperson:

Essentially we are environmentalists doing business as opposed to business people doing the environment. Sustainability always comes first – it’s in our DNA. Ecotricity’s missions is to change the way energy is made and used in the UK to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. Electricity from fossil fuels is responsible for 30% of Britain’s carbon emissions – it’s our biggest single source of emissions as a nation – and therefore the biggest single thing we can change.

In a world where, despite considerable progress, too many corporate “greening” initiatives rely more on style than substance, the idea of “environmentalists doing business” is refreshing. Putting aside the fact that environmentalism itself is doomed unless it puts forward a compelling vision of its own for how people can live and prosper in the modern world, lost in the justifiable outrage within the environmental movement toward large industrial polluters (think BP with the oil spill) is the fact that business doesn’t have to be about raping and pillaging. Business, at its most basic level, is about something very simple: providing a product or service that people will pay for. This is a noble calling, and reflects the most fundamental human undertaking in a capitalist society.

What’s really exciting, then, about the notion of environmentalists doing business is that if you want to get something done that’s good for the planet, all you have to do is provide something that people want, and figure out how to do it in an efficient manner. Easier said than done, sure, but each person who succeeds makes a small contribution toward turning the conventional paradigm on its head simply by showing that it is possible, and even advantageous, to turn a profit treating the planet’s health as an asset rather than a cost.

Legislation and politics are important, no doubt. But if you’re an American like myself, you also live in a country where one of our two major political parties simply thumbs its nose at basic scientific evidence. So with all due respect to those who work hard each day within various governments to make the world a better place, what seems like a more effective strategy? Dale Vince didn’t wait for the world to sign an international treaty cutting carbon. He started a company that would do it and help him earn a living in the process.

By all means, those of us who care about the environment should continue pushing for a climate bill, and anything else that may make a difference. But we may be waiting a long time before our governments can get together on their own to do the right thing. The planet, however, can’t wait, and neither can an economy crying out for the creative infusion of new companies and ideas. So in the current political and economic landscape, what can those of us who want to make a positive difference do immediately to create new sources of opportunity and prosperity, while charting a more sustainable way forward?

Go out and become entrepreneurs. Our country needs us.

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