Hazy idea? Ask Maria Energia.

Every week we are offering you the chance to submit all of your niggling or frustrating questions about ethical business and environmental policy to Maria Surma Manka – a top expert in US environmental policy and green business. We will then publish your answer on our blog! Here is the first in hopefully a long series.

Maria EnergiaPhoto:

Dear Maria,
How do you think we can provide incentives for business to put sustainability before profit?

Thanks for your question, David. Businesses exist to make money, so I don’t believe we should necessarily try to convince them to put sustainability before profit. Rather, so many businesses are getting involved in the cleantech revolution and global warming solutions because we’ve hit the sweet spot of sustainability going hand-in-hand with profit.

Renewable energy is one of the “green” areas we hear about often; it’s growing, it’s making businesses and people a lot of money, and it’s cutting down on the global warming pollution. In the U.S., wind power grew 27 percent in 2006 and worldwide it’s quadrupled since 2000. Solar power – despite bumps in the road – continues to be a hot area for investment.

As with most economies, government policy plays a crucial role and must set the rules of the cleantech game. Incentives for renewable energy construction, green buildings, and carbon trading mechanisms (like a cap-and-trade system) are all ways that policy can help drive the move towards a cleaner, more efficient energy system; one that makes economic sense and eco-sense.

We also can’t forget consumer choice in all of this. “Vote with your dollar” sounds a bit cheesy but it’s certainly true, and it’s how businesses learn that their sustainable choices are profitable or how their unsustainable choices are not. Europe and the U.S. can hardly keep up with the demand for organic food and the cost of green power may be increasing in some areas of the U.S. because demand is so high. We can’t expect the government and businesses to do all of the work for us; we have to make conscious decisions in our daily lives to make smart purchases that encourage more of the action we want to see.

What we’re experiencing now is really a coming-together of major factors: Global warming impacts are being felt around the globe, elected officials are hearing that their constituents want smarter energy choices, cleantech innovations are popping up every day, and there’s the potential to make a load of money. This intersection of sustainability and profits can drive a smarter, more diverse economy and a cleaner way of doing business on the planet.