Santa Barbara, CA -- The "ECO:nomics" conference was billed as an opportunity to learn about the economic opportunities of a new green economy and "creating environmental capital," and Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal certainly pulled together a stellar resource pool -- not only Al Gore and Amory Lovins but also Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Boone Pickens, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the heads of three of the nation's biggest electrical utilities (Duke, AEP, PG&E), and Bill McDonough.
But while the Journal's deputy managing editor, Alan Murray, conceded that this year's conference took place in an entirely different economic climate than last year's, it seemed that for the Journal and Dow Jones it was "forward to the past." Huge chunks of time were given to enviro skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg and Vaclav Klaus but, far worse, the Journal team interviewing the luminaries seemed firmly stuck in the paradigm of "now that we have a global economic crisis, surely we can't afford this environmental stuff anymore."
Even when McDonough repeatedly explained that good design meant that his green buildings were a better economic investment than conventional ones, Journal editorial board member Kimberly Strassel just as repeatedly kept asking, "But in today's economic climate aren't clients unwilling to pay the extra costs of going green?"
Ford's Mulally was repeatedly pushed back to his "we make cars that are the best in their class, and we listen to our consumers" talking points, but no one asked, "What is it about the market that a company that makes cars that are the best in their class still might not survive?"
The attendees at my luncheon table panel were very disappointed -- they clearly had moved beyond the "economy vs. environment" frame and were frustrated that the conference organizers seemed determined to resurrect it.