Global Warming: Business' Biggest Economic Threat

Article excerpt

I admit I am a fanatic when it comes to the environment. Having been a vocal supporter of energy conservation and other environmentally conscious initiatives over the years, I have encountered my share of skeptics on the issue.

But, perhaps now more than ever, it's critical that CEOs, particularly those of U.S. companies, start to understand that protection of the environment is not incompatible with economic growth. If it's true that the United States -which has rejected the Kyoto Protocol - is responsible for nearly one quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, then the country must clean up its act.

Personally, I learned a great deal about environmental responsibility from my children. Years ago, they began questioning society's values. Was it acceptable from an ethical point of view, they asked, for a corporation to create wealth but, at the same time, damage the environment?

In the early 1990s, I concluded that if a company wanted to be in line with social goals and attract people who are essential, that firm must clean up its act, so to speak. The more I thought about it, the ecologists' creed, which says that industrial processes that use less energy and materials are more efficient, and therefore more competitive and less costly, made a lot of sense.

We decided to do our part at STMicroelectronics, not only because of the ethical mandate, but because it made economic sense. If what we do is sustainable in terms of the environment, we are convinced we'll be healthier financially. So in 1995, we launched a large-scale program of sustainable development and outlined our commitment to that program in the "Environmental Decalogue," which outlined detailed and measurable objectives. That year, we began committing 2 percent of our annual capital investment to improving our environmental performance.

Today we are using 28 percent less electricity and 45 percent less water than we did in 1994. Electricity is one of our single largest costs, but now we spend $50 million ayear less on energy, so we have cut down on pollution and also saved on our own bottom line.

In 2000, we published an updated decalogue in which we stated our new goal of zero-equivalent carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. …