Reflections on Copenhagen: The Economics of Green

By Dennis Salazar

Copenhagen – A Microcosm of the Green Movement

Last year’s disappointing climate summit in Copenhagen demonstrated if not proved two important things about “saving the earth”:

1. Sustainability is a very emotional topic for some
2. Sustainability is a financial topic for most

Unfortunately, what transpired in Copenhagen is probably the rule, rather than the exception. It was disheartening to realize the events probably represent and reflect the domestic and world population’s perspective on saving the environment.

Public Demonstrations versus Back Room Deals

Perhaps due to decades of protesting, a wide array of real or perceived injustices, unruly public demonstrations have for the most part become unproductive. Even the nightly news has lost interest in well meaning protesters being hauled away by force. I recall the first time I saw an eco activist chained to a tree in the seventies, and thinking “how cool is that.” It did not matter what the cause was, I really admired the commitment.

Three or four decades later, I realize what drew attention in that era, is now for the most part perceived as futile acts by someone at the losing end of an argument. Regardless of how sincere the motives or heartfelt the emotions, that type of action is not likely to move on-lookers from their steadfast self-focused positions. I now know that most compromise is made and ground gained in negotiations that are conducted in private and out of the camera’s view.

Green Is Indeed the Color of Money

In Copenhagen we learned countries are no different than people in that they tend to think and vote their checkbook, more so than with their heart. When push comes to shove, you can usually count on people doing what is in their best financial interest.

Even when the world economy was booming, we could not expect an underdeveloped country to agree to a deal that was almost certain to keep in its present, underdeveloped state. Just like we cannot expect a country that is growing rapidly in a depressed world economy to agree to a deal that is likely to make it lose jobs, profits or its competitive advantage. While we are all citizens of one earth, it is naturally our own families and nations that we are most determined to protect.

Back to Business

The question I answer on an almost daily basis is whether or not green is affordable. When I am offering a green packaging proposal, rarely am I asked about the environmental impact or how many cars it is the equivalent of removing off the roads. What two things people focus on are:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Will it help us gain sales and market share?

The economy has forced companies to evaluate everything from a top line and bottom line perspective. Doing something good for the sake of good has become a luxury most companies and people can no longer afford.

When is the Primary Motivation Green?

At a recent conference I attended a green marketing guru pointed out the fact that “saving the earth one (fill in the blank) at a time” was now one of the most over used and thus quickly becoming one least effective marketing slogans or tag lines today. Certainly if you Google “saving the earth one”, you will find over seventy million results. That is a lot of people and products rescuing the planet, unfortunately without all that much success.

I don’t deny that there are people who may choose one eating establishment over another because of their green efforts but the vast majority of us will visit, just as an example, a green pizza restaurant because the food and service is good and because it represents a good value. The fact that they deliver in electric cars is an eco perk but not the primary motivation for buying their product.

Maybe We’re Becoming Smarter

Personally my days of public demonstrations have long passed so it is unlikely you will ever see me being hauled away by “the man”. I am much more likely to be caught “saving the earth one corrugated box at a time”.

Some may consider my comments and perspective as cynical or pessimistic but I believe they are realistic because until we acknowledge and accept the economic realities of life today, we are unlikely to succeed promoting green, domestically or worldwide. In today’s economy, businesses as well as countries have to be financially sustainable before they are likely to even consider attempting to become environmentally sustainable.


Dennis Salazar is a prolific write on sustainable packaging and is president and co-founder with his wife Lenora of Salazar Packaging inc..a company focused on stock and custom green packaging solutions. They are also creators of the Globe Guard line if eco friendly packaging products and which is the first internet store featuring green packaging supplies.

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