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January 01, 2008


Mark W. McElroy

Hi Joel:

Sounds like the corporate environmental movement has gotten very exclusive and selective. How very exciting for you to be in the in-crowd. Thanks for sharing the details with us, especially the exclusivity and prohibitive cost aspects. Oh, and the need to "apply" in order to attend. We're all counting on you and the other elites to save the world for us. We'll just be out here treading water while you do your thing. Please let us know how it goes.

By the way, before you leave these events, please tell each of the companies you come into contact with that the rest of us out here, especially those who are shareholders of theirs, expect them to function sustainably, not just economically, but socially and environmentally as well. Maximizing profits at the expense of the other standards is unacceptable. And tell them that simple tallies of ‘this’ natural resource used or ‘that’ waste emission is not good enough. What we want is information about resources used and wastes emitted measured against actual ecological limits -- just like they report revenues against expenses, not just revenues. In other words, we want triple bottom-line reports -- real ones -- not just triple top-line reports.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the screening process and costs you describe for these events stink, and I don't think you should put up with it. Your refusing to attend -- or some such other protest -- could go a long way for us. You have your livelihood to attend to like the rest of us, but let’s not confuse making a living with making a difference. Is your support of these companies -- and their support of your livelihood -- making a measurable social and/or environmental difference or not, and what makes you/them think so? Or is it just co-opting a well-known journalist in the field?

Sorry to be so tough, but I don’t think I can stand another year of mostly all talk and no walk (not by you, but by industry). It’s time for real measurement of corporate performance against standards of performance, not just GRI-type window dressing. Why not have 2008 be the year when that truly happens!



Steve Balogh

Mark, your comment mirrors my thoughts. I don't think that there will be many bloggers out there covering these events, nor others in non-profits adding their thoughts to the discussion. These events are run by the establishment, for the establishment.

Joel, you did offer your readers an attempt at humor when you wrote, "Clearly, the Journal doesn't want any riff-raff: There's a $3,495 registration fee — if you can score an invitation."

It is a shame that they do not set aside a portion of tickets to these events for independent journalists, students, or non-profit groups to attend.

If you score any tickets for the "little guys" let me know. Until then I hope that you use your position in the establishment to press these groups to open the doors to others.

p.s. the "discount" offered to students and non-profits from the Aspen event is laughable. $250 off, for a total of $1450.

Mike Kilroy

The corporate elite obviously don't want input from the "dirty hippies" -- you know, the people who predicted this environmental crisis years ago.

Marc Gunther

I don't know about "dirty hippies" but I can assure you that there won't be any shortage of corporate critics or NGOs at Fortune's conference, Brainstorm: Green. I've invited the leaders of Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and Forest Ethics, and I believe all will be speaking. Are they part of the "corporate elite"? If so, that term has lost all meaning.

We'll also have the top people from NRDC, Environmental Defense, WRI, Conservation International, CERES and National Recycling Coalition. They are, admittedly, more mainstream groups but NRDC and ED have sued utilities and the federal government over climate change issues. Does that make them the "establishment"?

If there are others who I should invite, please let me know.

Finally, I plead guilty to charging people to attend although we also waive the fee for some NGOs and students. If we didn't charge people and recruit sponsors, there would be no event. We're a business, obviously. I don't know of any better way to finance reporting of the kind that we do.

Mark W. McElroy

Hi Marc:

You're right. Fortune has every right to charge people for attending its private, invitation-only events, at whatever level it likes. Including non-establishment NGOs, “dirty hippies” (or not), and so forth.

But what I think some of us have reacted so negatively to is the implication that the events Joel cited are (a) meaningful, when we know that most if not all of the companies involved are really not managing for sustainability in a true bottom-line sense, and (b) are exclusive by definition. You will forgive me, I hope, if I am not swayed by your appeal to openness, when I know that the door is open to only those whom you have invited. If that is open, then to you use your phrase, the term has lost all meaning. Why not just make the event public, for Christ’s sake?

Last, you asked for suggestions about who should attend. My suggestions would be Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates, and Ken Conca, whose outstanding book, “Confronting Consumption”, provides just the kind of medicine business needs to hear, in my view. And consumers and government, too.

Until we have a conference (or many) that challenge the prevailing paradigms of (a) consumer sovereignty, and (b) random, top-line-only sustainability measurement and reporting, everything else will be just noise and not particularly helpful – even hurtful. I frankly don’t see the Fortune event, or the other ones Joel mentioned, as being helpful in this regard. Quite the contray. That's my beef.



Susie Hewson

Those of us that have been predicting environmental meltdown for decades should not strive to be the only gatekeepers of the solutions nor should we always be the first to cry Wolf at Corporates attempt to enter the debates and look to provide solutions. The fact that conferences to discuss how Corporations should address ecological and environmental issues together, as part of the way of conducting businesses and driving ecoEco health in this new Century, should be supported. Yes, we know that most CSR documents are wrapping paper, but now the pressure is on and the media is focussing on substance and, hopefully, such conferences will draw CEO's into the issues of measurable responsibility and corrective action.
I support ANY conference that brings Corporations together to explain their actions and to demonstrate how they plan to put ecoEco issues in the Boardroom and hopefully into practice in 2008.
There appears to be an adequate balance of proposed attendees to be able to examine how Corportations are planning to incorporate Real ecoEco changes and also to raise concerns and draw out any Corporate Bluffs! Shareholders and Pension Funds are paying ever more attention to the ecological and ethical practices of Companies, so the financial implications of not taking measurable CSR action will ultimately become obvious to those who only focus on the bottom line.
Governments can have International Climate Change Summits adinfinitum and achieve very little, however, with continuous ongoing Public scrutiny, either at conferences or in the news, of the devastating ecological impact of Global Corporations, whilst all recognising the part consumerism plays in upholding damaging Corporate principles, then publicly debating Corporate input and formulating credible solutions, Corporations could achieve more to put an end to environmental and Climate damage than any International Government agreements. The ecoEco debate in conference needs to take place otherwise the Corporate sole legal obligation to make money for it's shareholders, will be the only principle, irrespective of the global ecological and climatic damage created in order to achieve that legal obligation. Good luck with the outcome, but please report the procedings responsibly and with Integrity and offer a forum for public response within the reporting media - for free, but more importantly, upload the conference to the internet so we can all see and react to what is being said!

Marc Gunther

Some good ideas, here, thanks.

Mark, I will check out the people you propose and see if we can invite them.

Also, we'll webcast all the plenary sessions on the Internet. I'll also welcome bloggers from places like Grist and Treehugger that reach the environmental community.

As for the prevailing paradigm of "consumer sovereignty" (a.k.a. capitalism), I don't like the results any more than you do but I also don't particularly like the alternatives. (I'm not even thrilled about rising CAFE standards or banning incandescent bulbs, but that's another debate...) Consumer sovereignty isn't really the problem. Nor is corporate hegemony. The problem is today's consumers in the west, their status anxiety, the enormous waste built into the system, the resulting overconsumption. I.e., us.

Sue Sawyers

Thanks for bringing these events to our attention. Someday maybe the pony express will make it's way eastward and make a stop somewhere this side of the Mississippi...

Talk is good and in the meanwhile, perhaps some of the companies will put their money where their mouths are and offer up sponsorship in the way of reusable water bottles...stamped, of course, with their brand.

Mark W. McElroy

Hi Marc:

Good moves on your part in response to this exchange. Thanks for that.

Regarding the 'consumer sovereignty' and/or 'corporate hegemony' versus western overconsumption issue, the dichotomy implied in your comment between consumers and producers is a false one, in my view, because both consumers and producers are consumers and they both overconsume.

And in the west, to follow your lead, producers cultivate and encourage overconsumption by their customers, who happily comply, and then the producers responsible for such outcomes and/or their media operatives hold invitation-only exclusive sustainability conferences ostensibly dedicated to discussing what to do about such irresponsible overconsumption, as if it is not a problem that they themselves are responsble for and could not resolve.

Sorry, couldn't resist that last remark. A grain a truth there, though, eh?



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