The onus is on the government, and not private firms, to be the leaders in greening and the environmental sustainability movement at large. Think about it (from an economic standpoint). There really isn’t any incentive for private firms to reduce pollution and be more environmentally conscious (except if it’s in their best interest). Firms are rational actors and would do whatever it takes to maximize profit and reduce costs. In the greening movement, and thinking from a thoroughly macro-perspective, government is the best model to inspire the masses. Green Urban Cities, for example, thrive in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries where government is bigger. I’m not one to argue for the expansion of government, but if the right checks and regulations are put in place for justifiable environmental policies, this could be a worthwhile rationale.
The government can do more in spearheading green and environmentally friendly investments by employing the same economic means by which they attract rich multinational companies. They could, for example, provide tax reliefs for environmentally conscious companies willing to enter the market. As of now, there are two widely regarded government interventions in the green movement:
Environmental Tax (Carbon Tax): Governments can tax the pollution of corporations by setting a price on carbon emissions of companies in the region. The economical goal is to make the use of harmful fuels and energy more expensive.
Emissions Trading: Several governments have also introduced incentives to control pollution in the form of the cap and trade system. This is more of a market based approach and it has been largely successful in Europe under the guise of the EU Emission Trading Scheme.
These two interventions are more viable in established markets and would have a hard time being constructive in less developed markets. Keeping true to our micro-level approach of greening, I believe there are small actionable ways the government can engage people in the sustainability movement.
Confronting the consumer: With the help of non-governmental organizations, the government could utilize public awareness campaigns to engage and educate the masses on the best sustainability practices. Gradually, teams of households could be set up in neighborhoods who modify consumption patterns and take account of the waste and disposal patterns.
Employee mobility: Returning to theme of the government of being the best model for sustainability, there could be policies put in place that charge governmental employees to employ environmental friendly modes of transportation. Carpooling should be encouraged and if vehicles are bought for the government office, they should be more energy efficient and low polluting. The Leicester Bicycle program, for example, has been quite successful and there is a lot to be learnt from that city-wide endeavor.
Management of government buildings: Governmental building have to be used more creatively to reduce long term environmental impacts. Recycling bins should be located throughout the building and office appliances ought to be used more efficiently to lessen energy consumption.
Ecological Twinning: The environmentalism movement is a global one. We can’t afford to be myopic when dealing with such a global crisis. Ecological twinning involves partnering with other cities, possibly in other countries, by exporting sustainability practices. Other programs that encourage intra-country partnering on environmental sustainability should also be encouraged.
I want to emphasize that most of these actions should be taken at the local government level. Smaller scale investments are much likely to yield faster results. Once established, the federal government can then adopt a more macro level approach like the environmental tax and emissions trading discussed above. We’d love to hear from you; should government play a leading role in the sustainability movement or should it be left to the free market? What do you think?
Olaoluwa holds a Masters in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelors from Lincoln University. His core interests include poverty alleviation and youth empowerment. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing and watching sports. In the future, he hopes to obtain a doctorate degree where he aims to study exclusionary policies that limit youth participation in politics.