I sent the following feedback to the NetImpact leadership on their draft Letter to President Obama on priorities for a sustainable future.

As a NetImpact member, I commend your efforts in this draft letter to President Obama to influence government policy to promote socially & environmentally responsible business & I appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Make “Set targets and actively work to decrease U.S. carbon emissions through a mandate system” the first bullet point in the first section. As we in business know, market behavior changes when the financial incentives change. Changing price signals so that they “tell the environmental truth” will do more than any other action to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution & mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of continued fossil fuel use. While the government should fund other programs to ease the country’s transition to clean energy sources, the single most important action it can take is this systemic economic intervention. We must adopt the strategy of internalizing negative environmental externalities through appropriate price signals by taxing pollution and valuing ecosystem services in order to achieve market-wide compliance & sustainable progress on our environmental issues.
  2. Add a section on improving corporate governance. If we are truly serious about seeing corporate social responsibility becoming the standard for business, then we must change the accountability structure within corporations so that all stakeholders have representation & managerial incentives align with the social good. While most organizations have leaders who at least follow the moral imperative to “do no harm”, & many have leaders who go far further than that, seeking to do social good even beyond “gains from trade”, the intrinsic competitive nature of the marketplace will ensure that those corporations that can externalize costs will be the market victors. This simple competitive logic guarantees the spread of corporate pathology, of acting exclusively in the corporate self-interest. The only market-wide solution to this exploitative pathology comes from ensuring that costs cannot be externalized, either through government regulation/taxation in the cases creating the most extreme demonstrable harm, or, more generally, through changes in the corporate form, from requiring corporate governance structures that give decision-making authority to all stakeholders, not just shareholders, thereby institutionalizing in the most powerful “persons” in society the same internal constraint on behavior instilled in each of us & expected of all public actors: a conscience.

Thanks again for your efforts & the opportunity to provide input,
Keith Gillette