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Gil Friend briefly assesses the environmental performance of government and private sectors around the globe. He sees Europe as a world leader in progressive policy implementation. He cites the example of the REACH initiative, an EU provision seeking to reduce harmful exposure to toxic chemicals. He says that Japan has shown innovative leadership in the corporate social responsibility reporting. Finally he examines the state of play in China, where he believes the game is either “won or lost.”
- Sustainability—A Progress Report
- Running time
- 3m 19s
- San Francisco, USA, November 09, 2005
- Marcus Morrell
- About Gil Friend
- Sustainability Consultant, Business Strategist
Gil Friend is a systems ecologist and business strategist with 35 years of experience in business development and environmental innovation. Tomorrow Magazine has called him “one of America’s leading environmental management consultants.” He is founder and CEO of Natural Logic Inc. based in Berkeley, California. He was also co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a leading urban ecology & economic development think tank.
The United States, for all the substantial improvement that we’ve seen in environmental performance over the last 30 years, since the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was established here in the early 1970s, we’ve really lagged at the national level. Part of that is the current administration, which has really yielded leadership on environmental innovation to the states, in local governments in the United States, are one of the advantages of the federal system that we have here, is that a lot of innovation is moved to local levels, but even beyond the national government, the United States, I think, has lagged Europe, we’ve been 10 or 15 years behind Europe for the last 15 or 20 years, so from our perspective, clearly the innovation comes out of Europe, both in terms of corporate integration of sustainability and its strategy, but also the policy integration.
I think this has been partly driven by the parliamentary system in countries like Germany, where a small group of well organized greens could have a national impact, something that’s much harder to do in the United States, but we’ve seen that then ripple out past that into national activities such as a tax shift experimentation in Austria, to European Union level activities such as the electronics take back regulations, the restriction on hazardous substances that’s coming into effect next year, the energy using products and chemical, the REACH provisions for revision of chemical regulation that are coming in succeeding years, these have been significant drivers with an impact far beyond Europe. Europe has a 350 or 450 million person market that’s affluent, that’s a major attractor for businesses around the world, so what Europe speaks, global industry has to listen to, and we’ve seen that very dramatically around the electronics take back regulations. Japan has been very innovative in many ways, I think the corporate reports that we see coming out of Japan are as sophisticated as any in the world, and probably do a better job of looking at, fully at the metabolism of a company, and understanding the impact of the relationship of profit and non profit to economic performance. I think Japan’s way ahead in that area.
The real interesting challenge is China, as the 800lb gorilla, if you will, that the, the largest country in the world in population, and arguably the largest economic force in the world by the end of this century, and perhaps the largest military force as well, China is key to the game. The game is won or lost in China, and China is an enigma, as it stands now. We see rapid growth, much of that rapid growth is preceding willy-nilly about environmental concerns, let’s just grow, build economic force and build jobs as quickly as possible, whether that means burning coal and turning the skies of cities dark, at the same time we see China embracing sustainable cities, a number of different vendors are designing and building sustainable, or even energy independent cities in China. We see industrial policy that is at least on the level of pronouncements, embracing cradle to cradle, and the performance on the ground, from everything I’ve been able to hear, is very mixed. You see trends moving in both directions in a very complex and frankly difficult to govern country, one that has always been difficult to govern, so it’s not clear which way China will go. It’s, it is clear however that it’s key to all of us, which way China goes, because China’s decisions affect air quality in the United States.
— Gil Friend