Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice Pays a Carbon Tax in Wonderland

By Dave Rochlin - originally posted on

Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the Red Queen aren't waiting around for the climate bill. According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Disney is making the company’s business units pay an internal tax based on how much carbon they use.

Alice in Wonderland's filmmakers needed to think about everything from the commute miles for Johnny Depp's makeup artists, to buying local/organic for the on-set buffets. The more emissions they reduced or avoided, the less they had to pay into Disney's internal carbon fund.

"It would be so nice if something made sense for a change."
What an amazingly refreshing approach. Assigning a true cost to business activities is the best way to encourage greener behavior, and using the money for mitigation balances these activities with an equal measure of environmental stewardship, at least in the case of carbon. I particularly like that each business unit makes their own decisions on the feasibility and economic practicality of reducing vs. offsetting specific activities, rather than being shoe-horned into a one size fits all policy.

“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
- Cheshire Cat
The key to this sort of voluntary program is transparency on both the measurement and reduction/offsetting sides of the equation. To be credible, Disney will need to share much more of their eco-info in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. The program leaves lots of unanswered questions: How did they calculate each business unit's footprint? What were the organizational 'boundaries'? What is the internal price of carbon? Where does the money go? They have typically partnered with very well respected NGOs, so I suspect that they are doing a reasonable job, but when it comes to corporate behavior, show me...don't just tell me.

It's very easy to take more than nothing.
- Mad Hatter
CEO Bob Iger sees a strong need for Disney to practice environmental stewardship. In a recent interview, he pointed out that it is an "Issue of interest" to consumers, employees and shareholders. But, as Iger was asked, can a company that's focused on leisure travel and consumption be green? In other words, isn't Disney inherently a fundamentally eco-flawed enterprise? On this point, Iger was very clear an unapologetic: "Life is to be enjoyed....we don't feel guilty about growth, but we can grow in a responsible way...At least the consumption we promote in the future is better for the environment."

Be what you would seem to be -- or, if you'd like it put more simply -- Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.
- The Duchess
So is Disney the kind of firm that can lead us into a green tomorrowland, or are they doomed to forever encourage us to take another bite out of the poison apple? What do you think?

Photo: Official Alice in Wonderland Wallpaper Image, copyright Disney Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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