Market forces can help change climate for us to live better

Debnath Guharoy, Analyst

Some 10,000 delegates from all over Planet Earth are still in Bali, trying to negotiate an acceptable plan to help save it.

For the vocal minority who are entitled to remain climate-change skeptics forever, the overwhelming majority has a simple message. Poor air quality cannot be good for our health. Fossil fuels are the biggest contributors to self-inflicted pollution. Less of it would help us all to live better, perhaps longer. That's not up for discussion.

Business can help shape change, like it has so often. It has impacted life in innumerable ways, whether by electricity or cellular services, railways or retroviral drugs. But when was the last time we stopped to think about all the plastic we mindlessly consume, the lights that stay on all night unnecessarily or the short trip by car that could have been walked with cardio-vascular gains instead?

Rich or poor, East or West, there is a common desire among most human beings to do the right thing. For themselves, for their fellow man, for this tiny but fragile planet. Two neighbors with two differing cultures, Indonesia and Australia confirm that view. Almost 80 percent of Indonesians and almost 70 percent of Australians think that "at heart I'm an environmentalist". Sixty-one percent of Indonesians and 78 percent of Australians believe the threat to the environment is real, not "exaggerated".

In any democratic society, in any free and fair election anywhere, these results would be described as sweeping mandates and landslide victories. This consciousness is on the increase. It is not a view likely to change in the decades to come.

For businesses big and small, consumer awareness of a planet in peril represents an opportunity that will last for years. It is an opportunity to ride a popular wave for commercial gain, a wave that can positively impact the bottom line while winning hearts and minds. Not often do we come across an invitation from the consumer to take her money and win her heart as well.

The obvious examples are out there already, not as vigorously promoted as they could be, perhaps. Fuel-efficient engines. Energy-saving light bulbs. Bulk packaging with less wrapping. No free plastic bags. There is no limit to the good the human mind can do if it gets down to business. There can be no better time for business to get going down that path.

Everybody can pitch in to raise awareness and make money while doing it. Look at what else the consumer is saying. "I try to recycle everything I can," say 54 percent of Indonesians and 87 percent of Australians. Ironically, Australians bear the shame of being the world's worst polluters per capita while Indonesians are among the lowest.

The key commonality is the desire. Australia voted with its feet recently and climate change was one of the reasons a long-standing prime minister was unceremoniously ejected. Kevin Rudd's first act was to reiterate he will sign the Kyoto protocol, moving the country from pariah status to instant popularity in the eyes of the world.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated Indonesia's position on the issue by hosting this mammoth meeting of global minds. Now, both leaders need to go beyond symbols and gestures.

It is time too for business to make climate change a part of the culture in the workplace as well as the marketplace.

48 per cent of Indonesians and 65 percent of Australians also say that "environmentally-friendly products are overpriced". Scale is vitally important in business. If this is the reason businesses price these products higher than the less eco-friendly options, isn't it time to reverse the logic and have one brand subsidize the other? Simplistic as it sounds, there can be no shorter path to achieving those all-important economies of scale.

Whatever may be the appropriate course of action for each business and each brand, consumers will respond with their wallets, as all indications reveal they are keen to do the right thing.

Big business can take the lead to nudge consumers in the right direction. It is not too late for managers to put their thinking caps on, from the perspective of individual brands. And that's not just windmills or solar heaters.

These observations are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, the country's largest syndicated survey with over 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually, projected to reflect 90 percent of the population over the age of 14. That is a universe of 140 million people. The results are updated every 90 days and used by more marketers, media and creative agencies than any other syndicated survey.

Good things happen to good people, or so I read somewhere recently. Shareholders, like CEOs, are people after all. They also have hearts and minds, families and friends. And pride in doing the right thing can be as good a feeling as making money.

Well, almost perhaps. Richard Branson says he will plant enough trees to neutralize the carbon emissions from his aircraft. Who wouldn't want to fly his airline? What do you think his wife really thinks of him? Real change in social behavior will only occur when people stop measuring "nett worth" in monetary terms alone.

The writer can be contacted at
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