A Healthy Planet is a Profitable One
Through policy we can make capitalism work for the things that we need to survive as people on this fragile planet that we share.
In his 26 years as head of Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp has overseen the growth of EDF from a small nonprofit with budget of $3 million into a recognized worldwide leader in the environmental movement. Under his direction, EDF’s full-time staff has increased from 50 to 350, membership has expanded from 40,000 to more than 500,000 and new offices have opened in Raleigh, Austin, Boston, Sacramento and Beijing, China.
Fred is widely recognized as the foremost champion of harnessing market forces for environmental ends, such as the market-based acid rain reduction plan in the 1990 Clean Air Act that The Economist hailed as “the greatest green success story of the past decade.” Today, this approach has become the leading model for solving the problem of global warming.
Fred broke new ground by engaging American companies to lessen their impact on the environment. Strategic partnerships with McDonald’s, FedEx, and DuPont, among others, have resulted in the elimination of millions of pounds of waste, the adoption of hybrid delivery vehicles, and an accord to reduce the environmental risks of nanotechnology.
What the planet needs is profitable for individual businesses. This way of thinking has been tried and it has worked. It has worked for fish, where we’ve given fishermen an incentive to be stewards of the fishery. Suddenly they become advocates for lower catch limits. If they have a share in that catch, in the future they become advocates for strict enforcement even for marine-protected areas around the spawning grounds of fish.
Time and time again we see that if we align what the planet needs, what Public Health needs, what we all need, with a profit motive, we can motivate people to produce the goods and services that we need to survive and thrive.
Another way to think about it is that these environmental problems are caused by what the economists call external costs. A business throws out pollution but doesn’t have to account for it or pay for it. When we figure out the policy tools to internalize those costs we can actually reward companies for dramatically reducing pollution and producing ecosystem restoration.
Capitalism has worked so well for so many things, producing a high standard of living, and given people jobs. We can take capitalism, which doesn’t take into account the common good and the need for our planet to survive, and we can correct that flaw and harness companies and entrepreneurs to be enterprising on behalf of the things we need.
Over the years, capitalism has proved to be the most effective way of organizing human endeavors. Having said that, there’s a serious flaw in that it doesn’t account for the need to keep our life support systems in tact. But we can take those flaws and through policy make capitalism work for the things that we need to survive as people on this fragile planet that we share.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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