Leadership & Management

Al Gore: Factoring Earth into the Balance Sheet

The former Vice President says integrating environmental responsibility with business is "one of the most critical decisions" facing our entire world.

November 01, 2005

| by Lisa Trei

Former Vice President Al Gore encouraged graduate students at a Nov. 11 conference promoting socially and environmentally responsible business to remain true to their values even in the face of powerful naysayers.

“You are on the right path,” he said, advising the audience in Memorial Auditorium. “But it’s a difficult path. Millions of people are searching for a way to find better meaning in their lives when they routinely encounter a business environment and marketplace that seem to frequently clash with what they believe in their personal lives is right and good and just.”

Gore delivered his keynote address, “Earth in the Balance Sheet,” at the annual meeting of Net Impact, an international organization of young professionals committed to using business to promote social, environmental and ethical change. The event, hosted by Stanford GSB, attracted about 1,500 participants, organizers said.

While Gore peppered his talk with lighthearted references to the 2000 presidential election, which he narrowly lost, and made jabs at the administration of George W. Bush, he spoke earnestly about the environment. Gore is chairman of Generation Investment Management, an investment firm that combines traditional equity research with social and environmental responsibility.

“I do believe that global warming and climate change is by all odds the most significant challenge that our civilization faces,” Gore said. “It’s a symptom of a deeper collision between our civilization as we have currently designed it and the ecological system of the Earth.” During the last 100 years, Gore noted, man’s relationship with planet Earth has been “utterly transformed,” with human activity capable of changing the composition of the atmosphere, damaging the oceans through overfishing and destroying the tropical rainforests. “We have to change the way we relate to the Earth,” he said.

Since the marketplace is where most of the decisions affecting this relationship will be made, Gore said, socially conscious business people should take advantage of that. “We need to reaffirm that we have the right to assert values even if a supply-and-demand equation, as interpreted by someone narrowly, says that is not efficient,” he said. Bringing these two spheres into a closer integration on healthier terms is what Net Impact is all about. “Finding ways that integrate [these values] into marketplace decisions is one of the most critical decisions facing our society and our entire world,” he said.

Referring to the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe recover from the economic devastation of World War II, Gore said what is needed today is a “global Marshall Plan” to save the world’s environment and give billions of dispossessed people the tools needed to participate in the marketplace in a rational way. “I want to challenge you to make a personal commitment [to this] regardless of where you end up,” he said. “Remember that right is still right even if nobody is doing it. Wrong is still wrong even if everybody is doing it. These values have to be integrated. It is not too extreme to say our survival depends on it. Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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