Yesterday morning, we (Edelman) hosted an event that stared into the Crystal Ball to consider the business and economic outlook for 2009. Illustrious panellists included the Lib Dem’s Vince Cable; Jim O’Neill from Goldman Sachs (father of BRIC and described as the ‘rockstar of all Economists’); David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce and the voice of Middle Britain businesses; and John Waples, Business Editor of the Sunday Times. Their perspectives varied from the depressing to the apolocalyptic, with very few rays of sunshine in between.
Although all four speakers poo-pooed one question (from Anthony Kleanthous, co-author of ‘Let Them Eat Cake‘) on whether the blind pursuit of growth really is an answer to our economic ills (it isn’t), there was a surprisingly green tinge to some of the thinking. John Waples insisted that good corporate citizenship would become more important, not less, in these recessionary times – and that a firm’s environmental responsibilities would be central to their reputational balance. Likewise, David Frost called for a significant up-weighting in investment in green technologies and companies with environmental innovation at their heart. Why are all our wind turbines manufactured in Scandinavia or South Korea, when they could be an important stepping stone to manufacturing recovery in Britain? A neat vignette, I thought.
Meanwhile – as the Experts analysed, discussed and debated the height of the cliff-top on which we all now perch and from which we may all soon plunge – my Inbox was being peppered with interesting and indeed heart-warming news. First, that the DG of the CBI, Richard Lambert has called upon the Government not to abandon its environmental commitment – see climatechange.cbi.org.uk (disclosure: I sit on the CBI London Climate Change Taskforce); and, second, that the Godfather of Hedge Funds, Stanley Fink (another disclosure: an Edelman client) is launching a $5 billion Eco Fund, Earth Capital Partners. The first three Earth Capital funds will invest in solar power and waste-to-energy; agriculture in the southern hemisphere; and financial backing for companies developing new technologies. More of this, please.
These are encouraging signs. Cynics argued that the environmental agenda would die amid the pain of Recession – but there are clearly those among us who can see both the economic and well as the environmental imperative and sense of it all. Consuming more is not the answer, as Anthony K properly pointed out yesterday. Large scale, infrastructure investments – that can re-shape business models and help re-engineer consumption habits and give us real, long-term assets – might just save us yet.
Amid all the gloom, a flicker of real hope.