Friday, November 27, 2009

Whew! The air just gets hotter and hotter

While the Aussie Liberal Party tears itself apart over the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) bill before the Senate, divisions have emerged elsewhere, notably within the US Chamber of Commerce. Apple announced its resignation as a member over the Chamber's position on the Waxman Bill. Other companies like Nike and Pacific Gas and Electric have either withdrawn their memberships or reduced their level of engagement with the Chamber over the issue. And boy, have these moves generated passionate discussion on the web!

The bottom line is that these companies have accused the Chamber of an anti-science stance in its opposition to the Waxman Bill, which is the US version of the Australian ETS. There are remarkable similarities in the arguments for and against these pieces of legislation. Beneath the rhetoric of climate change advocacy and denial, the core issue relates to the commercial and community cost of implementing climate change legislation and, indeed, if there is to be legislation, whether the management models are appropriate.

Apple, Nike and others have put their brands on the line by taking their strong public stances. Both Apple and Nike have faced battles of their own in the past on environmental and labour issues. Both clearly believe now that they have cleaned up their act and are now setting about cleaning up the rest of the world.

But there is a risk. Take the Apple case, where the company is accused of supporting legislation that will penalise US commerce and favour China, where most Apple computers are manufactured. Detractors argue that Apple has relocated its manufacturing to China to bypass the constraints and costs of US regulations. Advocates argue that Apple is being true to its values, evangelised by its charismatic leader in a recent BusinessWeek interview.

In order to maintain their brand integrity, I believe the key thing for Apple and other companies taking this stance is to ensure that they uniformly apply environmental policies and manufacturing controls no matter where they locate their operations. Brands that can be proven opportunistic and not authentic will be damaged if they fail to do this.

For me, an interesting facet of the debate ahead of the climate meeting in Copenhagen for me is the assumption by detractors that China will be a laggard in climate change negotiations. Who is to say that China will fail to recognise the opportunity to adopt a global leadership position in relation to this? Their rapid economic and civic development is underpinned by a better understanding of the need for resource planning than was the case for any of the countries arising from processes and societies established during the Industrial Revolution.

And, if you don't believe the Chinese will be motivated to progress climate change measures, take a look at this article in The Times relating to glacial loss in China. No matter where Apple and others manufacture their goods, there is a growing prospect that they will find political and community expectations for environmental management might be rapidly aligning.

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