Poll: Overwhelming Majority Of Michigan Small Businesses Support Increase In State’s Clean Energy Target
A new poll conducted by Small Business Majority shows that small businesses in Michigan “overwhelmingly support increasing the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.” According to the poll, 79 percent of poll respondents supported the measure.
Michigan’s renewable energy standard, which requires a 10% penetration by 2015, has driven more than $100 million in economic activity. The new proposed standard, which will be on a ballot initiative in November, is expected to spur billions in economic activity.
Supporters of the initiative have turned in over 530,000 signatures, almost 200,000 more than needed to make it on to the ballot: “We are taking the first step toward becoming an energy leader that can compete with anyone in the world,” said Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs spokesman Mark Fisk, in response to the signatures.
According to the Small Business Majority poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, small business owners also believe the targets can be a driver of economic growth:
“Small business owners in Michigan are eager for pragmatic energy policies that can help them develop new technologies and increase business opportunities. They understand that to survive in this tough economy they need creative solutions to curb costs and increase their competitive edge. These include continued government investments in clean energy and the enforcement of standards that reduce harmful emissions in their communities. Right now, giving small businesses the incentives and tools needed to drive job creation and increase market competitiveness should be a top priority.”
This is in direct contrast to the climate change-denying Chamber of Commerce and the state’s two large utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, which are waging an aggressive campaign against new renewable energy targets.
The small business owners polled by the pollsters were ideologically diverse, with 39 percent identifying as Republican, 38 percent as Democrat, 10 percent as independent and 13 percent as “other.”
More than three quarters of respondents expressed the belief that government should have a role in helping promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, and nearly 80 percent thought that financial incentives and policy directives are an appropriate way for the government to accomplish this goal.
– Max Frankel
I really love the idea of Electric City, the web series Tom Hanks is doing through his Playtone production company with Yahoo. The show is set in its titular dystopia, a place where criminals are sentenced to time on generating bikes, mail’s delivered by footbound couriers, reliable electricity access is a class issue, and a secret society of older women called The Knitting Circle really runs everything:
The thing is, though, it’s hard to set up a dystopia in five-minute chunks, and hard-boiled dialogue often goes down better if its silliest-sounding pronouncements are surrounded by some more normal conversation. The first episode of Electric City begins with a voiceover about how utopia is “The place of security. The illusion of freedom. Humankind gets in the way of perfection…It’s best to ask no questions and be told no lies, here in the Electric City.” That last sentence might have been better as a piece of advice from one character to another, earned after we’ve actually had a chance to see how the city works. But instead, it comes across as a thunderous cliche that distracts from what’s specific and interesting about the show.
The best of those things are the ominous members of the Knitting Circle, whose members actually bust out their crochet hooks and knitting needles while they plot in a building called the Camera Obscura that gives them a view of the entire city. “A source of our trouble has yet to become a responsible resident of our city. he is again a free man,” Mrs. Orwell declares, after a man named Vernon is released from his sentence generating electricity and has returned home where he’s commenced beating his wife again. “We only get so many chances,” one of Orwell’s compatriots tells her. “Get rid of him.” I imagine that the show will flesh this out, but not knowing what the Knitting Circle’s official role is in Electric City makes it hard to know how to feel about their actions and their tone even as a baseline. I like the idea of this show a lot. But folks who want to make web shows have to figure out how how to get context and setup in much shorter episodes, and to tell shorter story arcs. It’s not just a matter of making cuts at the five-minute mark. The episodes have to work on their own.
The activist and filmmaker Annie Leonard, who created an Internet sensation back in 2007 with her 20-minute animated movie The Story of Stuff — it’s been viewed more than 15 million times — is back with the new video called The Story of Change.
In the video, she urges “viewers to put down their credit cards and start exercising their citizen muscles” to build a more just, sustainable and fulfilling world.
Turning for inspiration to Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she argues that buying “green” is no substitute for the hard work of political organizing.
“The solutions we really need are not for sale at the supermarket,” she says.
The movie runs for about six minutes. Take a look:
The idea that we need to take political action to deal with big environmental and social problem is both inarguable and unremarkable. It should be obvious that we can’t shop our way to the regulation of carbon pollution or to a more equitable tax system.
But I think Leonard has it exactly backwards when it comes to the power of consumers. Like many on the left, she seems to see the economy into “people” (good because we pursue health, happiness, well-being) and “corporations” (bad because they pursue profits, exploit and pollute). But, for the most part, we get the corporates that we deserve. Those that meet the needs of people thrive. Those that fail to satisfy will wither away. Put simply, the power of consumers is formidable.
That’s why I think that environmental and social activists ought to devote more, not less time, to changing consumer behavior. The food we eat, the cars we drive, the size of the houses we build and buy and other choices we make have significant global environmental consequences–particularly because Americans are, on a per capita basis, among the biggest polluters on the planet. [See my 2010 blogpost, Can behavioral economics help save the planet?]
More important, conscious consumers can reward companies that are responsible and punish those that are not. Over time, this has changed and will continue to change corporate behavior.
I could offer dozens of examples to prove that point, but I’ll put forward just three.
No. 1. Last fall, Starbucks, a corporate-responsibility leader, formed a partnership with the Opportunity Finance Network, a national network of community development financial institutions, to provide financing for small businesses, housing and nonprofits and thereby help create jobs. [See my October 2011 blogpost, Starbucks: We are indivisible] I’m partial to this program because it was the brainchild of two of my friends, Ben Packard of Starbucks and Mark Pinsky of the Opportunity Finance Network, and so I noticed the other day that Starbucks has been selling coffee beans under the Indivisible brand to raise more money.
I emailed Mark to ask him how the fund-raising is going. He replied:
We’ve raised more than $11.5 million to date, which multiplies into more than $80 million in new financing, more than 3,700 jobs created and retained, and more than 650,000 wristbands out there somewhere.
That’s real change, driven by consumer behavior and led by a company and a CEO, Howard Shultz, who understand that the power of business can be deployed to do good.
No. 2: I’ve been doing some reporting lately about aquaculture, and the efforts by environmental groups, working with industry, to develop standards and certification systems to separate those fish farmers who operate more sustainably from those who do not. Rigorous new standards for popular species like shrimp and salmon are being rolled out by a group called the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.
Standards, certifications and eco-labels have their drawbacks, of course, but they can be a power lever to change corporate behavior. The Forest Stewardship Council rewards the better timber operations and the Marine Stewardship Council certifies responsible fisheries. They do so because they get backing from big retailers like Staples and Office Depot for paper products and Unilever and Walmart for wild-caught fish. These retailers, in turn, reflect what they believe to be the expectations of consumers that they “do the right thing.”
Imagine what an even more energized consumer culture could accomplish.
No. 3: Enormous political effort has been expended to increase fuel-efficiency standards. Automakers agreed to increase average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks by 2025. (It’s actually more complicated than that, and we can argue another time about whether fuel-economy standards make sense.) None of that would be necessary, really, if people chose on their own to buy small, fuel-efficient, hybrid or electric cars. The automakers would, very rapidly, adjust to meet consumer demands; the entire culture and outlook of the industry would change.
Or, better yet, what if more people chose take buses or train? Or walked or biked to work? [Here's a great story about biking "highways" in Copenhagen, where about half of the people already bike to work.]
Now, just to be clear, I’m not arguing that personal choices can take the place of political action. But the choice between behavior change and activism is not an either/or. It’s a both/and. People who bike to work are more likely to lobby for bike lanes.
But, please, let’s not underestimate the power of shopping — or better yet, not shopping — to change the world. Corporations are not abstract, evil entities, disconnected from the rest of us. They’re a reflection of who we are and what we do.