'Sustainable business needs gov’t incentives'

Policies that give incentive to businesses to alter consumption habits will be critical in generating a sustainable future.

March 11, 2013 22:00
3 minute read.
Jo Confino

Jo Confino. (photo credit: Sagit Porat)

Government policies around the world that incentivize businesses to alter dangerous consumption habits will be critical in generating a more sustainable future, a British expert on the subject told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.

Jo Confino, an executive editor at England’s The Guardian newspaper, and chairman and editorial director of Guardian Sustainable Business, sat down with the Post at Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies, several days before he was to address the Environment 2050 conference that begins in the city on Tuesday.

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Businesses, he explained, need to focus on more than simply shareholder value, and recognize the importance of emotional and spiritual values such as those involving sustainability.

While many businesses are undertaking such initiatives privately, government encouragement toward conservation can really provide the necessary “levers of change,” according to Confino.

“What drives change is not necessarily people who voluntarily recognize ‘I need to save the world’ but creating policies that incentivize this behavior,” he said.

Environment 2050 is an annual, international conference held in Tel Aviv that covers issues of environment, economy, societal trends and challenges, and is sponsored this year by the Porter School, as well as the Yuval Levy & Co. law firm, Benny Moran events and the government- owned Environmental Services Company for hazardous waste treatment.

Coming from the United Kingdom, Confino said he sees his own country’s path toward sustainability in business as a model in some ways for Israel, but still not quite the perfect picture.

“I think there was a moment in time – which some say we have lost – when the political parties came together with a political bill saying change was needed,” he said, noting that some of the progress has disintegrated under Britain’s current government.

There is a strong coalition for change in the UK, several steps ahead of similar efforts in the United States, in recognizing the scale of the sustainability debacle and “the radical need to change direction,” Confino explained.

Business consortiums are calling for the government to create a more stable sustainability framework and are demanding investments in new technologies, all the while forming collaborations with NGOs, he added.

Due to the increasingly interdependent nature of the world, such work to move forward together, across a wide range of fields, is crucial toward achieving lasting sustainable practices, Confino noted. Meanwhile, rather than maintaining a purely competitive atmosphere, businesses themselves need to be working together to accomplish this change and move things along in a much faster manner. Even the most enormous of companies cannot hope to solve sustainability problems on their own, he continued.

“It’s the philosophical idea that we’re all in this together,” Confino said, stressing that transparency is also driving the shift toward better conservation behavior.

“There’s the positive aspect of change, but there’s also the fear of reputational damage.”

Rather than wait for legislation on a global level, the best way to transfer sustainable practices from community to community, or business to business, is by replicating local models – demonstrating to others that environmentalism can bring benefits to cities and companies without costing huge sums of cash, he said.

The investment community, Confino explained, needs to take a much longer-term outlook and yield to societal pressures that call for a more sustainable future – in a timely fashion. Governments and businesses need to understand that climate change and other environmental issues are not following a linear pattern, but rather are growing at quite an enormous scale, he added.

“There’s no sense of urgency in any country,” Confino said.

“People only take things seriously at the moment they become extinct.”

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