Big businesses can help the environment and turn a profit at the same time, according to journalist Todd Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, who recently completed a book about CNN mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, spoke to a crowd of graduate students from the Law School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies on Tuesday at Kroon Hall. During his talk, Wilkinson said he became interested in writing about Turner because of Turner’s ideas about “green capitalism,” which is the notion that businesses with environmental responsibility can use capitalism to help the planet.
“[Turner] has hope,” Wilkinson said. “And he really is looking at you [students] to make the difference.”
Wilkinson emphasized Turner’s “triple bottom line” message: economic stability, environmental stability and humanitarian service. These are the three responsibilities of wealthy corporations and wealthy Americans, he said.
While many people may believe that businesses promoting environmental responsibility are hypocritical because of the negative impact they have on the environment, Wilkinson said these businesses can still have a positive “net impact” if they do more good than they do harm. Investing in the alternative energy industry is one way to pursue this approach, he said.
Wilkinson emphasized the need to act now to preserve natural resources.
“If we consume resources according to our standard of living, we’re going to need another planet,” he said.
Wilkinson also addressed criticisms that have been levied against Ted Turner throughout his career.
According to Wilkinson, conservatives have disagreed with Turner’s more drastic green initiatives while liberals have denounced his association with big business.
“Saints are less colorful people to write about than Ted Turner,” Wilkinson said. “He’s this character who is a pathfinder as an eco-capitalist.”
Wilkinson said Turner’s quirks can rub off on people and have profound effects. Wilson referenced how Turner picked up trash on a visit to his New Mexico properties with close friend Mikhail Gorbachev. When Gorbachev asked Turner what he was doing, Turner said, “Nobody is too big to pick up trash.”
Josh Galperin — associate director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Law, which sponsored the talk — said though Wilkinson’s book is relevant to climate and energy, it is not specifically a climate and energy book.
Logan Yanovjak FES ’15 agreed with Galperin, adding that Wilkinson’s book has given publicity to the idea of “green capitalism.”
“I’m really interested in Ted Turner’s idea that environmentalism and economics should not be pitted against each other,” Yanovjak said. “The realistic and smart thing to do is to work for conservation in our existing framework of capitalism.”
Center for Environmental Policy and Law Research Assistants Verner Wilson FES ’15 and Amy Weinfurter FES ’15, who helped to organize the talk, said they were also drawn to “green capitalism” as an alternative way to do business.
Wilkinson said that he has met a surprising number of Yale alums who are influencing environmental policy.
“Even to undergraduates, I think Turner would say, ‘Do more good than harm.’” Wilkinson said. “If we all did something a little better, think about the difference to the world.”
The talk was the second in the Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series introduced by Yale Law School’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy. The center will hold two more book talks in April as part of their series.