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British business chiefs demand ‘greener’ companies

By Frederic Pouchot (Agence France Press) - November 27, 2007

Britain’s leading employers’ body, the CBI, on Tuesday urged the business sector to tackle climate change, but its ideas drew a lukewarm response from environmental pressure groups.

The Confederation of British Industry, staging the final day of its annual conference, has placed global warming at the top of the agenda with a flagship study on green technologies and working practices.

The conference kicked off Monday with a report from its climate change task force, which called for concerted action from British businesses, consumers and the government to slash carbon dioxide emissions.

“We will do what it takes” to combat climate change, task force chair and BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen on Tuesday told delegates gathered for the CBI conference in London.

However the CBI, whose membership includes 240,000 companies across Britain, faced claims of hypocrisy from green pressure groups over its stance.

“We welcome the CBI’s strong message to government that urgent action is needed on climate change, and the CBI’s own committment to do what it takes,” said Friends of the Earth spokesman Simon Bullock.

“This could not be more welcome — but now opens up a contradiction between the CBI’s new thinking and its lobbying in a number of areas such as aviation expansion, road building and raising specific environmental taxes such as fuel duty or Air Passenger Duty.”

Greenpeace described the CBI report as a “welcome” development but also questioned the commitment of the business lobby to the green cause.

The CBI’s task force comprises 18 chairmen and chief executives from well-known companies that together employ two million people. They include British supermarket giant Tesco, energy majors BP and Royal Dutch Shell and steelmaker Corus.

Verwaayen added Tuesday: “What we say to business is: you have to make this part of your DNA. You have to enable the consumer to have the choice and the information to make the right choices.”

He said that businesses had to examine issues like car fleets and building costs, as well as employee and consumer behaviour.

The CBI’s report contained pledges to develop green products and services, as well as a vow to save an extra one million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions among the employees of task force members within the next three years.

The study, based on data from consultants McKinsey, found that Britain’s carbon reduction targets for 2020 were likely to be missed, but other goals could be achieved if urgent action were taken to adopt green measures.

Verwaayen added: “If you look to the target to 2030, we can deliver all those targets if we do all of those things at the same time for an average price of 100 pounds (139 euros, 207 dollars) per household per year.”

“That means a Starbucks cup of coffee, per household, per week, as a price for delivering the target of 2030. That is do-able.”

Tesco boss Terry O’Leary told the conference that his group was aiming to halve energy usage across its stores by 2008.

“We all need to work together to fight climate change,” O’Leary told the CBI conference.

He added: “Politicians and regulators should ask themselves what can be done to encourage people to go green.”