Friday, January 30, 2004

Or Has It Moved to the Boardroom?
Citigroup made a remarkable announcement the other day. After a campaign of advertising and boycotts organized by the Rainforest Action Network--not exactly your typical, mainstream environmental group, as typified by the Sierra Club or Environmental Defense--Citi has signed on to a RAN agenda that would restrict funding for projects in environmentally sensitive areas around the world, as well reporting the greenhouse gas emissions of projects in which they become involved.

While governments argue about the Kyoto Treaty, which will be a dead letter unless Russia signs on shortly, NGOs are applying pressure on companies where it hurts: with their customers, stockholders and bankers. This could result in a new kind of environmental "regulation" that is even more restrictive than those generated by governments, because the writ of these groups spans the entire globe. Even if you agree with their principles, you have to be concerned at the power being accreted by groups that are unelected and lack any accountability beyond themselves.

The bottom line is not that companies can or should try to stop these groups. Rather, their impact needs to be factored into project economics, business plans, and M&A valuations.

Finally, a colleague pointed out that many of the anti-globalization protesters missing from Davos this year were probably attending a competing conference, the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

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