Thursday, October 1, 2009

U.S. Chamber of Commerce must Face its Fears

The latest United States Chamber of Commerce actions and responses is sending a clear signal on the just how far behind America is on the debate of Climate Change and responding to it. Wednesday saw shoe giant Nike walk away from its position on the Board of Directors over the decision of the Chamber to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency and all legislation over climate change initiatives.

Nike isn't alone in its opposition to the Chamber's stance on climate change, where the Chamber has demanded a "scopes monkey trial" on the science of climate change, later to reverse its decision as a "mistake." The largest electric company in the U.S., Exelon, joined Pacific Gas & Electric, and PNM Resources in their refusal to renew their memberships in the 97 year old "voice of business" this year. What does it say when the power companies who would be hurt most by environmental regulation lead the way in advocating it?

America has long hesitated in accepting regulations over the environment in favor of oil and energy companies dating back decades, but it finds itself behind in innovations for the energy future of the world despite having invented many of the technologies now being utilized or developed globally. Energy companies are starting to realize that they will be so far behind the world in efficiency that they will lose money in the long run.

Good business models often view businesses as seeing market opportunities and utilizing them as ways to move forward. American businesses for the last few decades have been stifling innovation, resting on profits on decades old technology in many areas, allowing the world to get generations ahead of us in civilian technologies, and then begging for help later. The politicians are left with a choice of letting them fail and letting Americans go unemployed and the foundation of the American economy die, or bailing them out to preserve jobs for those who suffer most from their failure to look forward: the workers.

There is a reason why companies like Wal-mart and Nike are industry leaders: they attempt to move forward to not simply stay ahead of the competition but to dominate their fields by being the best at what they do. While their labor practices may not be great, the decision by Wal-mart to make all stores that would provide their own energy through alternatives wherever possible was a decision that made business sense and put rivals behind the eight ball in the long run as they had to pay for energy bills that Wal-mart wouldn't face, and they would be closed in blackouts that Wal-mart would never see.

Nike's decision to design shoes around artist visions and personal creativity first instead of basic shoe design moved the personality of athletic shoes leaps and bounds ahead that the rest of the industry has never recovered from. Their pushing of technology has given them a marketing boost and most professional athlete endorsements.

It is this kind of thinking ahead, this kind of looking to be better than the rest of the industry, this kind of planning beyond today that has made them industry leaders for the foreseeable future. Someday, the sun may set on their leadership, but the pattern of behavior is what has set all leading companies apart from the mediocre: anticipate a niche in the future, and fill it; anticipate problems arising as Southwest did with oil prices, and address it in creative and smart ways; and to see the future and take advantage of it as Microsoft did with computers and the need for an operating system.

It is time for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take its head out of the sand and as the "voice of business," maybe it should stop shouting the fears of business and start reminding its members that they should lead innovation and change, not fear it if they are to be successful business leaders of tomorrow instead of the leaders of yesterday. Exelon gets it. PG&E gets it. Nike gets it.

Just do it.

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