BIZTIPS - September 11, 2005

Biz Tips: Business Leads Global Change
Sunday, September 11, 2005
By Art Hill

On this anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, let us pause to honor those who died. Let's also remember that they died because they represented American democracy and free enterprise. To the terrorists who carried out the attacks, nothing symbolized America better than its centers of business and government.

Yet in his new book, "Capitalism at the Crossroads," Stuart L. Hart cites example after example of businesses that are waging a peaceful revolution in two socially significant areas -- environmental sustainability and the economic well being of the world's poor. That's quite a change from our traditional view of business. What are they doing that's so different?

First, they've figured out that pollution is waste -- waste of raw materials, waste of energy, and waste of profits. Ever drive behind a car or truck that needed a tune-up? That smell of unburned gas is the smell of wasted money. Between 1991 and 1995, DuPont eliminated more than 50 million pounds of waste in their production facilities. Their return on investment? A whopping $250 million dollars in disposal, compliance, by-product sales, and increased production up-time. Did you know that BMW now designs its automobiles not only for assembly but also for disassembly? It's their strategy for making every single part recyclable.

OK, it's easy to see how reducing waste is good for business, but what about the world's poor? Humanitarianism is good, but how is it good for business? One example speaks volumes.

Thirty years ago, Muhammad Yunus formed Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to offer "micro credit" loans to the poorest of the poor in his country. As a university professor, he had found that the poor had the creativity and energy to succeed, but they lacked attention and capital. By 2004, Grameen Bank was lending in excess of $445 million each year to over 3.8 million poor customers in 46,000 villages. Their repayment rate? A staggering 98.9 percent!

Opportunities are everywhere. The poorest countries can't afford expensive telephone lines, so cell phones have gained widespread use. One micro loan was used to buy a cell phone so its enterprising owner could rent it for a few cents a minute to her neighbors. There's a water treatment company in our region doing installations in developing Asian countries. Small-scale electrical generation technology is available locally for vehicles and gen-sets worldwide.

So when we pause to remember the victims of 9/11, let's recognize that we are not going to prevent terrorist attacks until we address their causes -- the unmet social and economic needs of the poorest of the world's poor, and the waste that makes business as usual unsustainable. Now the same global business that was the target of the attacks is in the best position to provide permanent solutions.

Content © 2005 East Oregonian