In Economics, 'Green' Is Gold

Article excerpt

EMERGING from the shadows of the current recession in the United States is one startlingly favorable point of light. Surprisingly, it comes from a source that Americans have long regarded as an alternative to, rather than an engine of, economic growth - the environment.

For the last two decades, the US economy has been undergoing a vast environmental restructuring. Initially brought about by thousands of new environmental laws, regulations, and court cases, this process has been reinforced in recent years by a dramatic "greening" of consumer preferences.

Equally important, as the world economy has become ever more competitive, greater efficiency has become the hallmark of successful producers. Since waste and pollution are just other ways of saying inefficiency and poor management, marketplace imperatives increasingly favor those companies (and countries) that pollute less in their manufacturing.

The economic restructuring brought about by environmental regulations, changed consumer tastes, and improved efficiency is more advanced in the US than anywhere else in the world for the simple reason that it began here earlier and has been pursued with greater vigor. In consequence, we stand to benefit from a greening world economic order.

The most obvious benefit is the striking growth of a domestic environmental-services industry, whose components now generate $130 billion in annual revenues and employ an estimated 2 million people. This industry is one of the few American business sectors that has not been obliged to "downscale" during the economic downturn.

As Western Europe and the tigers of Asia toughen their own environmental policies, as the pollution-wracked countries of Eastern Europe, Mexico, and Thailand seek to reclaim their natural environments, our lead in environmental services is opening vast new export markets for US "green goods."

The worldwide market for pollution-control products and services, according to the US Department of Commerce, was about $370 billion last year. …