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Perhaps the greenest of nations is Germany, where commercial banks will grant low-interest loans for pro-environment projects and hotels urge guests to forgo daily towel changes to save water and energy. Environment Minister Klaus Topfer has ordered the phaseout of cfcs by next year -- two years earlier than most other countries -- and called for a 25% to 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. The government is investing heavily, having spent $90 million since 1974 on development of recyclable, high-efficiency batteries for electric cars and planning annual outlays of $182 million on solar-wind- and wave-energy research. Last year a government-support ed, high- speed train called ice started whizzing between Hamburg and Munich.
There is action as well at the level of the European Community as a whole. Last January, E.C. environment commissioner Carlo Ripa di Meana got initial approval for a tax to be levied on fuels that give off carbon dioxide. He figures this will eventually push the price of natural gas up about 30% and coal 60%, increases that will spur businesses and consumers to conserve energy. The E.C. has been helping finance development of clean technologies, such as 100%-recyclable cars and low-polluting power generators, since 1987.
Many companies recognized long ago, without any nudge from governments, that respect for the environment can boost profits. In the U.S., 3M has drastically reduced pollution and waste at its manufacturing plants and, despite the conventional wisdom that says environmentalism is a luxury, has steadily increased its profits. Once industrialists think about it at all seriously, they almost inevitably see the financial advantages of investments in environmental technology, says Hugh Faulkner, executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Development. The council was set up to advise the Earth Summit about industry's views on environmental issues. After a year's work, executives from such firms as Chevron, Mitsubishi, Royal Dutch/ Shell and Volkswagen agreed on a set of business principles, including the need for sustainable management of resources, the charging of environmental costs against corporate profits, and the rule that polluters, not the public, must pay for cleanup.
Yet even with greater industrial environmental consciousness, says Faulkner, "there could clearly be no prospect for sustainable development in either the developed or the developing world without government incentives." The nations that wield those carrots and sticks most skillfully will be the leaders of the new green revolution, and their industries will eventually be the ones to profit from it.