Seeing Green

As I listen to these captains of industry, I sigh just a little, because it's clear that they are not so much going green as they are seeing green -- the green of the dollar.
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We're led from a back room onto the stage of the Terminator II Theatre at Universal City in Los Angeles. There are ten of us, (with an eleventh to join by video.) From the stage, the auditorium looks vast -- I am told it seats 700 -- and it's packed.

The occasion is the General Electric "Green is Universal" press conference, which is, in turn, part of an all day extravaganza (held on May 25th 2007), designed to showcase GE's considerable investment in renewable energy and other green technologies.

The press conference is moderated by the CEO of General Electric; the other participants include the leaders of companies such as BP, Union Pacific, Wal-Mart, Poseiden, and Edison Electric Institute. Prominent developers and venture capitalists are also represented. It's a cross-section of corporate America. And they are all here to talk about going green.

For me, this is familiar territory. My life is split between the private sector, the public sector, and environmental involvements. I have seen this revolution -- this merger between entrepreneurship and environmentalism -- developing. I'm here, in my capacity as president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Commission, to speak about the leadership role taken by Los Angeles and the DWP (the largest municipal utility in the nation) to foster a revivified environmental ethos and to promote green commerce and technology.

The efforts undertaken by Los Angeles are historic and far-reaching. Just ten days prior to this event, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has unveiled LA's Climate Action Plan, a sweeping program designed to reduce the City's greenhouse gas emissions by 35% below 1990 levels by 2030. No other big American city has made such a commitment. As part of that same plan, DWP has pledged to obtain 35% of the City's energy from renewable resources by 2020. This is a promise that eclipses not only the announced objectives of other utilities, but also DWP's own prior mandate of 20% by 2010.

Los Angeles is opening its arms to the renewables industry. A recent Request for Proposals issued by DWP for renewable energy projects, garnered 59 responses, which demonstrates the readiness of the renewables industry to contribute significantly to the future of electricity generation. DWP has also prioritized green buildings and other environmentally beneficial conduct, providing incentives and rebates for construction and other practices, which conserve power and water.

It is these incentives, rebates, and business opportunities that attract my fellow participants at the press conference. Each one of them reiterates that renewable energy mandates are spawning a new and burgeoning market to be exploited, and that conservation means less cost and more income. They employ phrases such as "It just makes good business sense" and "It improves the bottom line" and "It's a good investment for our shareholders."

As I listen to these captains of industry, I sigh just a little, because it's clear that they are not so much going green as they are seeing green -- the green of the dollar. But their motivation for being here is less important than the fact that they are here. And if we can put them in a position in which they can produce their profits and protect our planet, all at the same time, then that's just fine by me. After all, it's doing green that matters.

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