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< Prev   CONTENTS   Next > The Promise of Ecological Modernization and Limited Political Will

The ecological modernization Discourse addresses how environmental damage can be addressed through foresight, planning, and economic regulation. The Discourse is that it pays to promote efficiencies, develop new technologies, promote green consumerism, and invest in ecologically sound practices. It is more cost effective to redesign environmentally benign processes today than to pay for higher cleanup costs later. Businesses can make money by improving efficiencies and by making and selling green products and services. Keegan Eisenstadt, of ClearSky Climate Solutions, described how, when he returns to companies he has previously worked with, management says that the greatest benefit they received from entering into a sustainability process is they found many other ways to increase their company efficiency:

The process started with a review of their greenhouse gas footprint and then along the way they recognized, 'Oh my gosh, we can save money on water, we can save money on power, we can save money on heating and cooling, we can save money by telecommuting or having video conferences,' and they have found huge financial savings from efficiency gains just because somebody said, 'Let's look'.. .. They are saving tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the client, from efficiency gains. From thinking about the way they schedule employees, the way they schedule shifts, the way they bring in inputs, the way they manage supply chains and inventory, the way they market. It may not be that in the corporate suite they have a cleaner conscience, it's that they are amazed that being smart throughout their business could save them so much money.

Cities such as Denver and Portland are working to develop technologies and processes they can export. Susan Anderson, Director of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, discussed their We Build Green Cities program. She said:

We have found that by trying to do the right thing here for our own reasons, we actually ended up growing this industry [the LEED building industry].. .. We have really keyed into that. For example, we look at what else is out there around storm water mitigation, around all sorts of different environmental quality issues where we think there is going to be job growth. [We ask ourselves] what if we put in standards here? So people are coming up with ways to do it here. Then they have this expertise to export to everyplace else.

Ecological modernization requires business and government working together. As Portland illustrates, a government can stimulate and reinforce environmentally preferable private sector actions (i.e., resource use reduction, new benign product development). In Europe, ecological modernization appears to have moved beyond the perceived conflict between economic development and environmental quality. The relationship between government, business, and environmental groups is more cooperative (Schlosberg and Rinfret 2008). However, European-style ecological modernization is unlikely to work at the federal level in the USA at this point in time given the partisan gridlock in Washington. Bipartisan political consensus was possible in the USA in the 1970s as illustrated by the large number of federal laws passed (e.g., the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Water Act) and by the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Party lines emerged over environmental issues in the 1980s when an anti-regulatory, anti-environmental stance characterized the Republican agenda. Later the Republican majority in the House and Senate worked against Clinton's environmental agenda. In the 2000s, Bush's environmental agenda focused on economic interests, rather than on environmental protection. More recently, Obama increased the use of renewable energy technology through the use of tax credits, launched a new grant program to fund a residential solar and wind project, and raised fuel standards for cars and light trucks. See Kraft and Vig (2000) and Vig (2000) for a discussion of presidential leadership on the environment. However, by 2013, political gridlock surrounded the issue of climate change and little was being done to incorporate ecological modernization ideas into federal policy.

Lacking systematic incentives from the US federal government, organizations still engage in eco-efficiencies in terms of designing or redesigning buildings, products, and processes to utilize less energy, water, or natural resources and/or minimize or repurpose waste materials. Eco-efficiency is one of the most popular industrial strategies for environmental change, establishing a direct link between efficiency and environmental preservation. Eco-efficiency arguments resonate with organizations because they fit within a familiar corporate mindset regarding efficiency and cost management (Bullis and Ie 1997). Many for-profit organizations have had environmental management systems and/or continual improvement systems in place since the 1990s, if not before. Yet often eco-efficiency changes are limited to incremental modifications in production processes and the initiation of green consumerism.

Hydropower, Pierre, SD, and State Government Eco-Efficiency As we followed the Lewis and Clark Trail along the Missouri River, we learned how a chain of six main multipurpose dams in the upper Missouri River Basin supplies hydroelectric power to North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana communities. In 2008 hydroelectric power accounted for almost 67 % of the USA's renewable energy and over 6 % of its total electricity. At least 34 states have hydroelectric plants. A large hydroelectric plant was located just outside our destination of Pierre, SD. Pierre is the South Dakota state capital and a town of almost 14,000.

In response to record rains in June 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the dams along the Missouri flooding many parts of Pierre. Jody Farhat, Chief of the Missouri River Basin water management in the corps' Omaha District, said, “We had this incredible rainfall event. That was a rainfall event in May, and that was the game-changer in terms of system operations.” High-magnitude water events and droughts are part of the very high-probability scenarios projected in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (2013) report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. The rivers the US Army Corps of Engineers “tamed and harnessed” surprise people during high-magnitude water events.

After we discussed the flood, Mike Mueller, Sustainability Coordinator for the South Dakota Bureau of Administration, and I talked about how the state primarily defines sustainability in terms of achieving eco-efficiencies:

The focus of my job, by design, is less on environmental impacts than it is on operational cost savings.. .. And that's because so many more people are receptive to saving money than saving the planet. So the view here has always been if we can be more efficient we'll reduce costs and therefore be able to keep taxes down for taxpayers, which is a very laudable primary goal.

Mike's job as the state's first sustainability coordinator is to pay attention to energy and water conservation and waste reduction in all state-owned buildings. He also focuses on fleet travel and fuel use. The South Dakota state government received over $1.3 million dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). They used ARRA funds to pay for an energy assessment of all state-owned buildings. Then they designed a spreadsheet prioritizing the buildings which needed to be retrofitted. Almost $23 million was spent on projects such as installing new windows, buying new boilers and chillers, and installing new lighting systems in state-owned buildings. In addition, in 2008 the South Dakota State Legislature passed a bill requiring that all new state government buildings be built to LEED Silver certification. A few years later, the state's procurement laws changed to require environmentally preferred purchasing by all state agencies. Anything that uses electricity must be Energy Star certified and water fixtures must have WaterSense certification. Key Point: Ecological modernization partnerships and government leadership are critical in the face of global climate change.

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