business corporate responsibility environment

The green sector contribution to the economy

It’s hard to know whether the coalition pledge to be the ‘greenest government ever’ was an empty promise or whether it got derailed along the way. One thing’s for sure, it hasn’t materialized. Many Conservative backbenchers have an profound hatred of wind power, and chancellor George Osborne has a barely disguised scorn for environmentalists. Laws protecting the environment are seen as red tape to be swept away, and subsidies for clean energy have been cut.

But while the government waxes hot and cold on the environment, other sectors of society are starting to pay more attention. One of the more noticeable interventions over the past few months is from the CBI, the Confederation of British Industry. It’s Britain’s biggest business lobbying organisation, and it has a fairly checkered record on the environment. As Friends of the Earth have detailed, the organisation has opposed environmental taxes and regulation in the past, but they’re currently lobbying for more support for green industry.

What’s changed their tune is the realisation that in 2011-2012, the green sector of the economy will account for a whole third of Britain’s economic growth. As other sectors like manufacturing and construction are stalling, green tech and renewable energy are growing, and faster than the rest of the economy.

It’s a little ironic to see the CBI championing the green sector, but it’s a welcome development even if it is still couched in economic growth terms. It’s also ironic that the technologies that skeptical MPs keep claiming are uneconomic are actually responsible for a considerable slice of our economic growth. Without the growth of the green energy sector, the recession would be deeper and longer.

The CBI aren’t the only group on the case either. The Aldersgate Group is bringing together some of Britain’s biggest businesses to pursue sustainable business practices. They’re the group behind the recent open letters to the government demanding more clarity on renewable energy.

There are reasons to be skeptical about green growth, and about CBI’s definition of green business, but these are useful interventions all the same. It’s easy to ignore environmental campaigners. It’s not so easy for governments to ignore big business, and creating a sustainable economy needs every sector to be on board, corporations and all. We often assume that the government will lead and drag business kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but it’s just as likely to be the other way round.


  1. It does not surprise me in the least that business is in the forefront of ‘greenery’. The best way to cut CO2 emissions is to use fewer things. Things costs money so a green company cuts costs. Good for the bottom line and shareholder dividends.

    Of course there are also those businesses that see green technology as a way to suckle on the government’s teat through subsidies (wind power etc). Until we have a proper carbon tax we’ll have these distortions and the companies that benefit from them at the public’s expense.

    Finally there is the burnishing of a company’s reputation with trendy green consumers. But that is only really worth doing when the greening saves you money anyway.

    1. Indeed, it shouldn’t be a surprise really. And I think if more politicians were aware of what businesses are up to on this front, they might change their tune a little.

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