Huey Johnson
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Huey D. Johnson
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Huey D. Johnson
STOP THE PRESSES

This morning I called the publisher of the forthcoming third printing of my book, Green Plans, and told them to hold the presses. Why? A few months ago, I wrote in the final chapter that a major change had taken place from twenty years ago- some American businesses were beginning to go green. I called the University of Nebraska Press to say that I would have to revise that final chapter.

"Some businesses going green" was no longer accurate. In recent months many more than a few corporations have taken a sweeping and cooperative new direction toward seeking environmental quality. In fact, it is moving so fast that one can say American Business is taking a startling leap toward becoming green.

What jolted me into awareness was the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32. The legislation, signed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall, is the most progressive in the world. I had become so used to the exploitive attitude of business toward the environment reflected in government that it hadn't occurred to me that such an environmental advance was possible. However, it was the business interests of California that promoted the bill and lobbied it through. Silicon Valley had young company presidents actually walking the halls of the State Legislature. PG&E was a leader, though the states two other large utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, opposed the initiative

I interviewed Elliot Hoffman, a businessman and founder of New Voice of Business, one of the leaders that helped usher AB 32 into law. He pointed out that the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce was with him in supporting the bill, as were a lot of other business interests that previously would not have been pegged as pro-environment. This was totally unexpected. As an environmentalist and state secretary, I had enough fights with Chambers of Commerce that I couldn't imagine them campaigning for an environmental cause.

It is a good lesson for me. Businesses becoming more environmentally conscious will be a problem for a lot of environmentalists. Until recently we lived by taking on the bad guys and battling them in adversarial terms. Now the page has turned.

Environmentalists adapting to businesses deciding to go green, is similar to what happened in the labor movement. At first labor leaders were beaten up physically and politically, but then laws changed in the direction of their vision and the labor organizers gained legitimacy. Those early labor leaders rarely were able to handle success. They had become adept at withstanding being bloodied by armed goons and worse. It took a new wave of educated young leaders who could speak to power and the public to negotiate with management and go on to strengthen and formalize the place of labor in America.

Many environmentalists cling to the narrow premise that they must protect against the corporate onslaught threatening them. Accepting and adapting to change will be tough, as it was for early labor leaders. But we can do it.
I've spent years tracking the remarkably successful progressive environmental policies of The Netherlands. Nothing happened in that country until business there suddenly made a change to be green, and then it was a down hill ride.

The Netherlands Green Plan experience led me to believe that until business practices in the United States became green, there would be little hope for sustainability. I now see advancing sustainability here as a real possibility.

I don't want to be overly naïve. There are plenty of big-money interests that will do what they can make California's global warming legislation unworkable. Efforts to weaken the law will soon emerge, which is why we need a watchdog outside of government. This is the role for environmentalists. The militant environmentalists saved the Dutch plan from those wedded to business as usual. Our NGO's can save us from a similar fate.