Should Corporations Have Their Own Green Stimulus Plan?


Image credit: Google

Yesterday I mused on whether we, as individuals, should have our own personal green stimulus plan. Given that significant Government spending seems to be off the cards right now, I thought, can each of us find ways to modify our spending and saving patterns to ensure that cleaner, more ethical, and more innovative businesses, organizations and even ways of thinking survive the economic downturn and sloth-like recovery better than their planet-pillaging competitors.

At the time I referenced Google's huge investments in residential solar, and IKEA's commitment to solar and wind, musing that we can't just rely on corporations to build the clean energy infrastructure we need. But a report from NPR has me wondering if I'm giving these gigantic mega-corps too much credit. It turns out they are sitting on more cash than ever before. I wonder if there's a way to get them to spend it, and to spend it right?Corporations Spending on Renewables on a Government Scale
Whether it is Google's massive investments in wind power and large-scale solar, or Toys R Us' building the largest solar roof in the US, many of the most impressive investments in our clean energy infrastructure are coming from the private sector. And they are generating thousands of new, green jobs in the process.

Cash Reserves at a Record High
But a report from NPR that major companies are sitting on record amounts of cash, reluctant to invest for fear of another economic downturn, suggests that there is potential for even more:

At the end of last year, Google was sitting on nearly $35 billion in cash. And it's not alone. The U.S. economy may be slowing to a crawl, but a lot of individual companies are richer than ever. They're being cautious about how they spend their cash, though.

Fear of Recession Holds Back Recovery?
There is, of course, a deep irony in this situation. Companies are cautious to invest in labor or infrastructure for fear of a double-dip recession and, unless they invest, we are at greater risk of a double-dip recession. But given that some of these companies have already made aggressive moves in clean tech, renewable energy, and a greener economy (often in sectors outside their immediate business interests), I wonder if there are ways we can help leverage more of the same?

Can Corporations Be a Force for Recovery & Regeneration?
I am not, of course, expecting corporations to act out of altruism. They are, first and foremost, motivated by profit, and they will not spend unless it makes sense to them. Some even argue that the focus on corporate-friendly economics is what got us here in the first place, and that no growth economics and grassroots community solutions are the only way forward.

But if we accept that corporate resources are needed to build a clean energy infrastructure in the timescale we have available to us, how do we encourage the Googles and Apples of this world to loosen their grip on their pocket books, and to start spending even more on the very things that could create the next, green industrial revolution?

If You're Going to Spend, Spend Consciously
The first part is, of course, to shift our spending and consumer habits to companies that are true leaders in their field. Whenever and wherever we have a choice, we can choose to buy our beer, coffee, cars or whatever else it is we "need" from companies that invest in clean energy. And we can, as argued in my post on a personal green stimulus plan, focus our frugality on the most environmentally harmful products, services and companies.

Activists Seek Leverage on Corporate Spending
And we can also raise our collective voice. We've already seen campaigns to get Facebook to switch to renewables, and for companies like Toyota to quite the US Chamber of commerce for standing in the way of green energy.

But can and should we expect companies that often have more money on hand than our own governments to start spending on the infrastructure, technology, skills and (of course) jobs that can both lead us out of recession and take on the environmental challenges we face?

I would love to hear your thoughts below.

More on Corporate Spending and Clean Energy
Google's Invests $55m in California Wind Project
Google Invests in Huge Desert Solar Project
Toys R Us is Building the Largest Solar Roof in the US
IKEA Buys 9MW Wind Farm, Plans 3MW of Solar on All UK Stores

Tags: Economics | Renewable Energy | Solar Power | United States

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