Al Gore Reinvention? (From ‘climate change’ to ‘sustainable capitalism’)
“Business that is everything to everyone is not anything at all in itself.”
- Elaine Sternberg, Just Business: Business Ethics in Action. Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 33.
No doubt his handlers have given Al Gore the word: go easy on climate warming (aka climate change). The issue has little traction. You are the wrong voice for the cause. Solyndra. Climategate 2.0. Winter snows…. Not now, Al.
Take it up a notch! they must be telling him. Think bigger. Subsume the issue…. And so Gore’s new piece in the Wall Street Journal barely mentions his pet issue of (man-made) climate change but something much larger and amorphous.
“A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” coauthored with David Blood, calls for “abandoning short-term economic thinking for ‘sustainable capitalism’.” Such is code for that subjective, holistic, anything goes doctrine of corporate social responsibility, which I elsewhere questioned as follows:
The discipline of business ethics should be reoriented around a more sophisticated understanding of capitalism proper. Business ethicists should also respect methodological individualism given that in both the primary and final analyses, businesses do not act, individual businessmen and businesswomen do. Because corporate social responsibility (CSR) speaks to the elusive whole more than to the parts, much business-ethics thinking has become prone to a central- and social-planning mentality.
Think Enron! As I wrote in this rebuttal letter published yesterday in the Journal:
Al Gore and David Blood’s “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism” (12/14/11) reminded me of nothing so much as Enron Corporation, whose demise ten years ago is still the topic of debate and learning.
“We believe that incorporating environmental and social considerations into the way we manage risk, govern our projects, and develop products and services will help us maintain our competitive advantage,” Ken Lay stated Gore-like. “As we move forward, we will leverage our intellectual capital and innovative capabilities to promote sustainable business practices around the world.”
Enron had divisions in wind, solar, emissions trading, and energy efficiency services–pillars of sustainable capitalism in Gore and Blood’s calculus. Enron, according to Greenpeace official Jeremy Leggett, was also “the company most responsible for sparking off the greenhouse civil war in the hydrocarbon business.”
Enron’s “green” bets proved quite unsustainable. The company’s renewable energy ventures never turned a profit, and its energy efficiency services via Enron Energy Services was an accounting fraud.
“I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the publick good,” Adam Smith cautioned in 1776. “It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.” Remember Enron, and beware of ‘sustainable capitalism’.