Environmental Costs Outweigh Corporate Profits

The 2015 State of Green Business report was just released, detailing the environmental performance of large companies around the world. The report, produced by GreenBiz and TruCost, illustrates the true costs of pollution, ecosystem depletion, and health impacts of unsustainable natural capital consumption by corporations and the alarming rate at which they are growing. According to the report, environmental costs, like greenhouse gas emissions and water abstraction (removing freshwater from the natural water cycle, and thus preventing its future use), would render most businesses unprofitable if they were responsible for paying for the impacts. The report found that environmental costs tallied up to $1 trillion (or 6.2% of GDP) for companies in the US, and $3 trillion worldwide. The authors state, “Over the past five years, the proportion of company profit at risk consistently exceeds 100 percent of their profit… This means that, on average, companies would be unprofitable if they had to pay the actual costs associated with the commodities they consume and pollution they generate.” It’s not all bad news, however. The report finds that the level of sustainable investment has been growing considerably in recent years. According the 2014 Trends Report published last November by US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, cited in GreenBiz’s report, sustainable assets totaling $6.57 trillion represented almost 18% of the $36.8 trillion in total assets under management, a 76% increase over 2012. Social investors, joined by non-profits and growing consumer […]

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Update – US Banks Still Investing Heavily in Coal


Banktrack.org released an updated review of various financial institutions’ holdings in dirty coal energy. Green America promoted a scorecard earlier this year outlining the banks that were the strongest supporters of coal extraction and electricity production. The lowest marks went to Wells Fargo (D+), Bank of America (D-), Citi (F) and Chase (F). Of course, each of these banks has […]

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Greenwashing Alert: US Mega-Banks Rank Poorly on Sustainability Indicators

Talk is Cheap, but Coal Still Fetches a High Price

Greenwashing is prevalent amongst large US banks. In “Ranking the Banks”, a recent report by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainalytics, seven major US banks were rated on four different indicators relating to sustainability and corporate responsibility. The report ranks the financial institutions and their activities across select “social themes,” including their environmental consciousness, their tendencies to follow […]

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Clearing the Air

burning coal

This opinion piece originally ran in local newspapers around the country starting June 12.  You are free to repost to your own blog or Web site, or to submit to your own local newspaper, attributed to Green America. Here’s some good news: the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new rule that would make coal-fired power plant operators clean up […]

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Do No Harm?

Sometimes a statement in the media really catches your attention.  For me, it was the following: “When policymakers look for new ways to add jobs to the economy, they need to remember the critical role that American coal is already playing in protecting our jobs and helping our economy. Just as the Hippocratic Oath compels doctors to “first, do no harm,” so, too, must our elected and appointed officials ensure that any actions they take will not harm coal and, by extension, our nation’s economy.” The statement is part of a recent article in EnergyBiz magazine by Steve Miller, President of the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity.  The article goes on to praise the industry for cleaning up coal-fired emissions and promising that new technologies will make coal even cleaner. What the article leaves out are the facts.  The only reason that coal is now burning cleaner at all is due to EPA regulations, which the coal industry continues to fight.  No matter how cleanly coal can be burnt, it still results in massive amounts of mountain top removal mining that devastates communities.  The coal ash that results from burning coal is stored in impoundments that threaten communities nationwide.  The list of real harms of coal to our economy and health, and the degree to which the industry opposes necessary regulations, could fill pages. As I wrote recently on this blog, coal is unique in creating the worst cost […]

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Coal Ash is Good For You!

You might think that the byproduct of burning coal — which is laden with arsenic, selenium, mercury and lead — might be bad for the environment and human health.  And, since a giant coal ash impoundment in Tennessee burst three years ago, causing one of the greatest environmental disasters in US history, you might think it would be a good thing to increase regulations of these toxins.  This year, Green America called on the EPA to do just that. However, the coal ash industry would disagree.  They see coal ash as a vital resource that can be repurposed into concrete and other materials.  The fact that coal ash impoundments can and do leak, and can lead to a significant increase in the risk of cancer (for example, it can increase the risk of cancer in children to 9 out of 1,000, which is 900 times higher than the US EPA’s target), does not factor into their calculations.  Nor does the risk of another catastrophic flood, like the one in Tennessee.  It comes as no surprise then that the industry is pushing for legislation to limit EPA regulation of coal ash, and leave such regulations to the states (where it resides now). People who live near coal ash impoundments are alarmed by the industry’s attack on regulations.  The industry has already been successful in the House, which passed legislation in October to keep coal ash regulation with the states.  Similar legislation […]

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The True Cost of Coal

The American Economic Review has just published a paper, “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy,” which highlights the economic costs of air pollution versus economic benefits for several industries.  While the paper is fairly dense (and there is a cost to download it), the authors make clear that the economic harms of coal-fired power far outweigh its economic benefits.  In fact, coal has the worst cost benefit ratio of several polluting industries profiled, including solid waste combustion, sewage treatment, and stone quarrying (which also create more economic harms than benefits).  The authors of this study are just looking at the air-pollution harms of coal, which leaves aside the many other health and environmental harms caused by coal-fired power plants.  If you add those in, it is exceedingly clear that coal has a major negative impact on the US economy. In fact, a study published earlier this year by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, and written by faculty at the Center for Health and Global Environment at  Harvard Medical School, found that the true cost of coal is up to ½ trillion dollars per year, when all environmental and health impacts are added in.  Based on this true cost accounting, all clean energy sources are much cheaper than coal.  Of course, if you consider the fact that some of the economic harms of coal literally result from people dying, the need to transition our energy mix away […]

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