Eco-Advantage Blog

January 23, 2008 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (0) | Post A Comment

Russia Rising?

[Originally posted on my site here on January 14, 2008]

A couple of weeks ago TIME Magazine surprised many with its pick for Person of the Year…not Al Gore, who they probably figured had run out of room on his mantel, but Vladimir Putin. The story was about the rise of Russia back into the top rungs of global powerhouses.

The choice was interesting to me personally because I had just gone to Russia for the first time to speak to execs in Moscow about greening. At a meeting of industrialists held by the International Chamber of Commerce Russia, a few Westerners presented some perspectives on climate change (Sir Nicholas Stern), the greening of business (me), NGOs and their role (Peter Seligmann, founder of Conservation International), and Russia’s place in the world (James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank – Jim and his son Adam were kind enough to invite me along). As you might guess, I was wowed by the company I was in.

There were some culturally fascinating moments – like when a Russian environmental minister basically asked why they should listen to Americans since the U.S. is the biggest emitter (a fair point no doubt). Or the moment where discussion turned to how to build a culture of environmental awareness and get employees – or as they call them in an amazing throwback, “workers” – involved. Someone actually pointed to the works of Lenin on how to deal with workers.

Why do we care about Russia? Well, depending on how you measure it, it’s the 3rd (or top 5) emitter of GHGs. Mr. Wolfensohn cited some remarkable statistics. RAO UES, the utility that produces 70% of the country’s electricity is responsible for 2% of all emissions globally. And one “town” with power generation and smelters apparently has emissions equal to France. Gulp.

My overall impression was one of a country and industries just coming to the green topic. That’s both terrifying and exciting – imagine the opportunity to adopt what the 3M’s, DuPont’s, Toyota’s, and other eco-efficiency mavens of the world have done. But can Russia apply the same lessons? Are the same structures in place that can get all the ‘workers’ on board? Can you follow the same Green to Gold logic and path? It’s unlikely, but frankly, I don’t really know – you need real knowledge of a culture to make that kind of assessment.

The “how” may vary greatly in different cultures, but I suspect the “why” is pretty consistent. The natural world pressures component of the Green Wave is not going away. And going green will be better for business and will allow you to compete. In this case, we made the argument to them was that a country that wants to operate on the world business stage – one that wants to be a world supplier – will need to green its operations.

A final thought from Peter Seligmann really stuck with me. In response to the legitimate complaint that we were representing the worst offenders, he said that, yes, the U.S. doesn’t really have a leg to stand on (and in fact our administration was battling global action in the Bali negotiations while we were in Moscow). The Chinese couldn’t really lead either since they are trying to manage growth and prosperity. So, he said, why not Russia? Why shouldn’t you take the lead? It’s a good call to action for anyone really. And with all due respect to the fast follower business model, isn’t leading a lot more fun?

 

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