A path to prosperity that we can all embrace

Prosperity. We all want to attain it, yet the ways we each define it are as different as we are.

As President Trump charges through his first 100 days, there is a risky theme being pushed that a prosperous America comes with a choice between environmental protection and economic growth.

This concept is not only false, but dangerous and short sighted.

Just look at China. When I was there last year, I saw a country that, during its own industrial revolution, made decisions that had unfortunately sacrificed the environment for a short-term surge in economic prosperity. Those tradeoffs were made during a time when coal and oil provided over 90% of energy consumption, and as a result, air quality reached unhealthy standards. Now China, the world’s fastest-growing economy (IMF), is sprinting to play catch-up. In 2015, in fact, China invested $102.9 billion in renewables, making it the world’s largest investor in clean energy (the US, by contrast, invested $44.1 billion that same year). (IEEFA.org, 2017)  Earlier this year, as the Trump Administration ceded U.S. leadership, China continued to step up with a new commitment to invest over $350 billion in renewable power generation.

So I reject the idea that people have to choose between a thriving economy and clean air and water. Or that we need to choose prosperity in the short-term, but an unstable and unhealthy climate in the long-term. We should not be forced into believing false choices. Instead, we demand and deserve a healthy future where both the economy and the environment can prosper.

Protecting the environment is being positioned by President Trump as something that stifles U.S. businesses with over-regulation. And while not all regulation is perfect, sometimes policy is necessary to round out the sharp edges of capitalism. We must ensure that we’re not just eradicating environmental regulation, but instead making informed improvements with both business and the environment in mind. Just look at California as a case in point. The state’s clean energy standards for cars, buildings and electric utilities are some of the strictest in the U.S., yet California’s jobs and overall economy continue to grow steadily.

And on a national scale, a new report from Environmental Defense Fund shows that our best line to job creation lies in the sustainability and clean energy market. Addressing climate change isn’t hampering growth, it’s driving it. Sustainability now collectively represents an estimated 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S.  The solar industry alone is currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Clean energy and sustainability is feeding a burgeoning pipeline of well-paying jobs across all 50 states. Jobs that cannot be outsourced I might add.

The Republican’s choice for Secretary of Energy, oil industry ally Rick Perry, said during his confirmation hearing, “the question is how we address (climate change) in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth.”  It’s a good question, and one that must be very thoughtfully considered by Mr. Perry. When it comes to the environment and public health, we cannot repeal safeguards without devising safer, smarter replacements that diminish economic burdens while maintaining, or even increasing, protection. We need to envision prosperity through a lens where both the environment and the economy can thrive.

Our path to prosperity must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics.

Rolling back environmental safeguards, pausing innovation on fuel efficiency and clean energy, and reigniting a U.S. reliance on coal and oil is short-term thinking that puts us on a dangerous path.

Business prosperity in the long-term relies on resource availability. By 2050 the world will be home to 9.5 billion consumers, all looking toward business to provide the products and services they need. This consumption drives our economy—but puts a massive burden on our planet’s resources.

This is why Google, Microsoft, Nike, Nestlé, Walmart and many others are committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable energy. This is why PepsiCo is focused on improving water use efficiency, reducing food waste and eliminating emissions from its supply chain as part of its 2025 goals. And despite the threat of environmental rollbacks and noise about pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, 1000 companies and investors have signed on to the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement, which reiterated support and intent to implement the historic Agreement to address climate change. Not because regulation demands this, but because long term prosperity requires it.

If America is to continue our longstanding tradition and commitment of leaving a better future for the next generation, we must continue making decisions that align economic prosperity with environmental protection and human health. This, to me, is the most important test of business leadership.  It’s time for committed sustainability leaders to live those values, speak truth to power, and move the dialog beyond transactional, and short term campaign promises to long-term health for the economy and the planet.


Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray