"If you don't have a sustainability plan, you don't have a business plan" is the note on which the media company Bloomberg News introduced its new Bloomberg.com Sustainability section yesterday. That's a pretty pithy way to sum up the mainstreaming of corporate social responsibility, but Bloomberg being Bloomberg you're going to get a dollop of hard core economic perspective thrown into the mix along with your renewable energy news. Judging from the Sustainability section's inaugural page, there certainly is going to be a measure of tension between left-leaning and right-leaning sensibilities when you read between those lines.
A Sustainability Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Come to think of it, the image accompanying yesterday's lead article was kind of aggressive for green-themed news. It's a perspective shot of a huge stack of red-tipped wind turbine blades that look like arrows that are all pointing at you and they are ready to launch straight at your head and do some serious damage. So, I guess no treehugger stuff for this Sustainability section. The article itself, "Renewable Power Trumps Fossils for First Time as UN Talks Stall," is a straightforward cheer for new energy technologies while basically making the point that free markets good, cooperation among governments bad.
You're Entitled to Your Own Sustainability Opinions...
The inaugural op-ed carries on the free market theme under the heading "Energy Subsidies Stymie Wind, Solar Innovation." The author starts off with some dead-on points about the downside of government subsidies for outdated technologies. Oh - oops, I read too fast. I thought he was talking about subsidies for any old energy technology, which in the U.S. would include a century of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, not only direct subsidies from taxpayers but also indirect subsidies in the form of forgiveness for environmental and public health damages as well as deployment of U.S. troops to preserve access to overseas supplies. Okay, so that's all in the past and now it's actually not okay to do energy subsidies. Okay. So, okay.
...But Not Your Own Sustainability Facts
The author ends up with the rather odd assertion that "the electronics industry has demonstrated that when a technology has true potential, subsidies aren't needed. Each step of the way, electronics technology paid for itself -- as well as for the R&D that led to successive generations." Hmm. Perhaps in some parallel universe the electronics industry has no public assistance, but where I come from it has always received a heavy lift from federal research facilities, government-supported academic research, and public-private partnerships along with a fine system of publicly supported education where all those engineers and innovators get their training.
Reaching New Audiences for Sustainability News
Anyways, that's all just quibbling. The important thing about Bloomberg's new Sustainability section is that a major media company is talking about sustainability in a language that is familiar and comfortable for its news consumers, which brings sustainability a giant step closer to the everyday civic landscape. Republicans in Congress have been busily painting renewable energy as the demon seed, but Bloomberg News just made the ground shift under their feet.
Bloomberg Walks the Walk
In case you were wondering, yes, Bloomberg's Sustainability section is not just hot air. The company does have a sustainability plan of its own, called BGREEN. It pretty much covers all the bases including workforce initiatives, carbon reduction (on track to cut 50 percent off its 2007 baseline, by 2013), and supply chain issues. Bloomberg states that the company's goal is "to provide reliable, actionable information that drives responsible investment decisions across the value chain," so it seems that Bloomberg News will provide its audience with a kind of live-streamed corporate social responsibility experience that reflects on itself while it reports on the world.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.