April 10, 2006

Globe 2006 leaves policy questions unanswered as business achievements, technology take centre stage

While questions about federal policy dominated much of the corridor discussion at this year's Globe conference and trade fair, informed answers were almost totally absent. In fact, attendance at Globe 2006 by senior government officials and ministers must have been among the lowest ever. Canada's Environment Minister Rona Ambrose appeared briefly and delivered her first formal address on how Canada's environmental performance has not lived up to its reputation. She reiterated the government's commitment to a Canadian Clean Air Act, a made-in-Canada plan for a cleaner Canada, and 5% renewable fuel in gasoline and diesel by 2010.

The conference agenda advanced from that of previous Globe events with a strong emphasis on business economics and capital markets. More than a few presentations emphasized that corporate environmental and social performance is more about ensuring business success than about the idea of doing good for its own sake. Canadian and U.S. investors and investment consultants were well represented this year, and companies seeking investment for technology commercialization seemed to have no problem in meeting with a number of potentially interested organizations.

Climate change discussions, once again a strong component of Globe, this time focused more on the need for adaptation strategies than on meeting international targets. Everyone wants clean energy and, if some presenters and exhibitors are to be believed, there is more than enough to meet everyone's needs. This observer of the scene is inclined to dismiss those who claim that their technology can single-handedly meet or surpass Canada's Kyoto target.

Industry, especially the energy industry, described its eagerness to find ways to reduce its environmental impact. Exhibitors across the well-populated trade show floor were happy to oblige with solutions. From electric and hybrid vehicles to waste management and air and water pollution control technologies, a visitor to past Globe expositions could not help but notice the large number of overseas exhibitors this year. Europe was particularly well represented, with a number of exhibitors actively discussing partnerships to bring European technology to North America.

The importance of community relationships also gained some attention. Wal-Mart, the mining industry, and a natural gas producer were among those who explained why and how they were building better relationships with those communities that are affected by their operations.

While there may not yet be a word that is the social equivalent of "greenwashing" (defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as the attempt "to diminish the perceived extent of environmental damage caused"), it certainly appears that Canadian corporate social performance efforts still have a way to go to catch up with corporate environmental performance efforts.

Most of the companies from conventional sectors that participate in Globe are already of a light to bright green hue but nevertheless, perhaps because of the dearth of senior government speakers, many managed to make their presence shine. From the opening with Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive for exploration and production, to Suncor's award for environmental stewardship and competitiveness related to efficiency and mitigation strategies at the closing, an observer of Globe might be left with the conclusion that all of the world's major corporations are on the path of environmental excellence. The biennial event, however, still tends to represent a gathering of business true believers with no noticeable attendance by any of the world's larger polluters.

~Colin Isaacs

Colin Isaacs, head of the CIAL Group and publisher of the Gallon Environmental Letter, reviews environment-related trends in policy (government and corporate) and legislation for ELW. Comments may be E-mailed to cisaacs@compuserve.com.

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