Paying for Environment Use to Drive Tech-Oriented Smart Growth

Mar 18, 2016

There is a growing drumroll of reports that are pointing to an inevitable climate change crisis.  A new report, “Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change”, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine “concludes it is now possible to estimate the influence of climate change on some types of extreme events.”  The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that 2015 was the earth’s warmest year since recordkeeping began in 1880. The temperature rise is accelerating, from 0.13 degrees F since 1880 to 0.31 degrees F since 1970.

But climate change is only one of many interlocking environmental issues. There also is the generation and release of toxic substances into the air, soil, and water, damaging food supplies, and leading to illness and death.

The issue is not the absence of solutions. There is a growing array of digital technology-driven methods and tools to prevent, limit, and mitigate environmental harm. They include brownfield redevelopment, cloud computing, green energy (on developed land than on greenspace), lighter, more durable, and less toxic materials, cleaner, more efficient industrial processes, smart buildings, smart metering, mass transit, and remote working and virtual travel with unified communications and conferencing. 

Moreover, products can be made modular so that only the damaged components are disposed of, and the materials recycled, instead of tossing the entire items into the waste stream. Mike Bossio, a freshman Liberal MP elected to the Canadian Parliament last October, which saw Justin Trudeau becoming prime minister, cited the example of Herman Miller’s sustainable office chairs at a recent House of Commons environment committee meeting.

Still we continue to make ultimately self-destructive product, service, land use, energy, and transportation choices because they are cheaper than environmentally sustainable options. But assigning environmental costs has, to date, been clumsy and unpopular. Methods like carbon taxes have raised the public’s ire and have been called into question.

Mr. Bossio may have a way forward. He suggested assigning environmental costs at the producer rather than at the consumer level, at each supply chain link. This method incentivizes providers to shrink their environmental footprints in order to keep costs down. As a result customers will pay less, in more ways than one.

Mr. Bossio’s suggestion merits detailed examination as it brings equitable user-pay to environmental costs. But it will require research into defining, determining, and measuring them. It should include land use, ie making sprawl pay, and have exemptions such as for brownfield cleanup, which could be financed by the collected revenues. The idea roughly follows Canada’s value-added taxation system and it could use that model.

On those lines governments should also look at equitably charging businesses and institutions for their workers’ and students’ incurred transportation including environmental costs, based on their average travel-to-home distances. In short, treat transportation like a utility. After all, they create the demand for transportation, while their property choices and their remote working (and distance learning) policies determine travel modes. They can then make more accurate and equitable cost-based site and policy decisions. The environment fees would pay to expand transit and bring broadband to rural and poor urban communities, eliminating the digital divide.

In turn governments could lower corporate, income, property, and sales taxes. And as a result green companies will become more competitive, while there will more investment dollars available. These outcomes will spark innovation, boost productivity, and cut waste, resulting in a more sustainable smart technology-oriented growth economy. 

Category : Cloud, Consumer

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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