Fortune Brainstorm Green: What Do Environmentalists Want?

By Evelyn Lee

Scattered among the innumerable shakers in green business at last week’s annual Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference, the public sector had ample opportunity to chime in on a panel discussion entitled: What Do Environmentalist Want?

Making their way to center stage at the intimate business conference was Frances Beincke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, David Yarnold sitting in for Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy. Fortune Magazine contributing editor Marc Gunter opened up the panel with a pessimistic view of what is currently not being done relative to policy and climate change posing a rather ominous question to panelists asking: “What do you see as the path to solving the global warming problem?”

Yarnold responded stating, “this is one of the rare moments of life that [we] are in the precipice of change,” and the rest of the panel replied with a resounding “yes” remunerating that the best thing we can do right now is to get going, start lobbying, and implement policy surrounding issues involving climate change. Brune noted how there is increasing consensus about what we want to do, but not necessarily the best path to go about doing it. Whatever course taken one thing is certain, there is a HUGE role for the private sector and big business to contribute to the conversation. However optimistic, the entire panel agreed that this is still very much an uphill battle.

How do we get the public sector involved?
Gunter pressed the group for a solution that will increase public sector involvement surrounding climate change issues. Yarnold believes it is as simple as asking the right questions that pull at the heart strings of consumers and business owners. “Forget the looming question of climate change and start asking questions that usually results in a resounding yes. Do you want to stop shipping oil? YES. Do you want to create more local jobs? YES. Do you want cleaner air for your kids? YES.”

Keep in mind this is a global condition.
Beincke reminded the group undertaking the initiative of climate change is not a local condition but a global one, and that alone makes it a bit harder for individuals to get a complete grasp of the topic. “People are nervous about the scale of the transformation. Every year more and more people come out with more innovative ways to find solutions, but there is a concern because of the uncertainty that is faced.”

What are the odds that we will have passed energy legislation by this time next year?
With the exception of Beincke, who chimed in at 40%, the rest of the panel estimated that there’s a 50/50 split that we will get something through by next April. Brune believes that the smart business people involved with climate change will continue to push for a change, and take it upon their own to create strategic change within their own firms. He believes those most likely to suffer from climate change in short term are the businesses not willing to change who are operating under the belief that no resolution will be made with regard to climate regulation. Whether or not the Waxman-Markey Bill will make it through the Senate is unclear, at best. In the meantime, the best way to bide time is by selling climate change policy as an opportunity rather than a threat, but that’s nothing new to our readers.


Evelyn Lee believes that all businesses can be successful in pursuit of a triple bottom line, that there is a lot of wealth to be earned (and saved) in the future with regard to sustainable enterprise, and that Green is not a fading trend (nor a new one), but one that continues to grow out of necessity. A licensed architect and LEED accredited professional, Lee earned her B Arch with Honors from Drury University and her M Arch from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. She currently is a student at the Presidio Graduate School in pursuit of a dual MPA/MBA degree and writes for a number sustainable publications, while serving as managing editor for Inhabitat LA and Eco-Travel Editor for the LA Examiner. To find out more about her, or to reach her go to

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