Business in the environment

Like the footballer in the England team which won the World Cup in 1966 and was said by his manager to be ten years ahead of his time, ENDS came into being in 1978 when no more than a handful of companies were ready for the message that the environment was about to become a serious business imperative. Fourteen years later, only the blinkered or cynical could fail to take note of the increasing body of evidence that British business is rising to the environmental challenge.

The signs, to identify just a few, are the enthusiastic response of all but the financial sector to the new British Standard on environmental management systems (see pp 4-5 ), a recent poll which shows that a sizeable and growing proportion of British companies expect the environment to demand their attention (see p 6 ), and the impact which a few corporate purchasers have made on IBM's business strategy by questioning it about its environmental policies and practices (see pp 19-22 ).

Then there is the second report of the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment (see pp 3-4 ), which contains recommendations for the reform of vehicle and fuel taxation policies and on public transport provision which few environmentalists are likely to quibble with. It may be no coincidence that the Committee has only one member from the transport sector, and that it has made no noticeable progress on its promise to lean on sectors of manufacturing industry which are represented on the Committee to come forward with commitments to improve their energy efficiency, but too much need not be made of that at this stage. What is significant is that the Government has been put in a position where it is seen to be lagging behind not only the environmentalists' agenda but also the thinking of business leaders - or, to put it another way, the Committee has given the Department of the Environment plenty of ammunition to fire at the Department of Transport and the Chancellor.

Changes in attitudes come before changes in actions, and the greening of business will not come easy or cheap. But industrialists who may become discouraged by the difficulties of achieving either would do well to look at two further pointers to the future featured in this month's edition. The first is the huge and growing global market for environmental products and services - a market in which Britain's performance deteriorated during the 1980s because its interests were mishandled by governments and businesses which saw only costs in higher environmental standards at home (see pp 17-19 ). And the second is the steadiness of public opinion, remarkably sustained into a deep recession, which wants those higher standards even if they bring higher prices in their wake (see p 3 ).

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