Five reasons why Trump is good for sustainable business

The coverage of the Trump administration’s roll-back, or attempted roll-back, of social and environmental regulations is well documented. But are there some benefits to his election?

It could be that I’m looking for a silver lining here, and I liked the idea of a bit of a clickbait headline. But also I think there is some validity in the suggestions below. After all, when very clear lines are drawn in a battle for the future of the planet (if that’s not too hubristic a description) it’s easier to know which side we are on.

Perhaps this provides impetus to ‘live our values’ (give me a better phrase, please) more explicitly. We’ve already seen this with CEOs, particularly in the US, feeling they have to be much clearer about where they stand. I’d argue there are other reasons to find optimism in difficult political times, too.

Anyway, here are five reasons why Trump might be doing us all a backhanded favour:

One: Companies now need to put clear distance between themselves and Trump’s views and policies in general. Many have done so. Even solidly conservative-minded companies are doing things such as having employees blog on the value of free trade and global markets, something we wouldn’t have seen until recently. CEOs have had to lay out their values much more clearly, almost always in opposition to Trump. This is, of course, a good thing, whether it be about sexism, sexual assault, racism, immigration, free trade, disability or the environment. Trump’s attitudes to race and gender, just as an example, mean it’s so much easier for everyone to state and be clear about taking reasonable positions as the debate becomes more polarised and more about Trump vs. the rest, even amongst his base.

Two: While the compliance bar might be lowered in the US, in fact responsible companies won’t want to drop their standards. More firms will therefore understand what it’s like to be ahead of regulation, and benefit from the advantages that offers. This applies to climate change, water, chemicals use, deforestation, human rights and many other areas. In turn this may result in them actively lobbying for a level playing field, but from a position of higher standards. Again, we’re already seeing this. But I suggest we’ll see a lot more, starting at the upcoming Davos World Economic Forum, where it’s reported Trump will ‘speak’ later this month.

Three: Removing mentions of climate change from EPA web posts, and action like it, demonstrates a willingness to censor debate and alter history, and will just raise awareness of the importance of issues such as climate change further. In particular, when the battle lines for free speech and democracy are so clearly drawn, this helps drive both awareness and action.

Four: Trump’s lack of interest in substantive foreign policy means other countries may feel obliged or empowered to step up their work around a transition to a sustainable future. Many already are. This won’t always be a good thing, but given the EU is re-asserting itself as a centre of stability and high standards in the light of Trump and Brexit, it has some benefits.

Five: The clear conflicts of interest in the Trump administration and links of many of his contacts to serious crimes have hugely raised awareness of global money flows, laundering and how politics can be captured by a corrupt elite accusing past administrations of being run by…a corrupt elite. Leaks such as the Panama and Paradise papers, the impact of which is amplified by the Trump administration’s elitisms and blatant nepotism and corruption, are surely significant. The question is, of course, can and will anything be done beyond the court of public opinion? There are indications that when it comes to mass corruption, populist empowerment may end up backfiring on the very people who encouraged it, as awareness of their practices becomes increasingly widespread.

Of course, none of this solves the problem of how and why, in democracies, populist, nationalistic, and often non-democratic leaders and political parties can gain traction. It feels like there is a growing consensus that this is because the benefits of globalisation have been unevenly shared to a highly significant degree. Some kind of capitalist Marshall Plan type shift will be needed to redress this. It’s likely this will happen slowly, and we face a long hard path towards reasonably-minded open trade based on sustainable global capitalism.

My argument, simply put, is that relatively short-term blips such as Trump’s election and subsequent administration, may end up being the strangest of catalyst to get us there, a little faster.

Upcoming events and recent analysis from Innovation Forum below:

Here’s the conference plan (all debate, no PPT, no speeches, no velvet covered tables, we promise)

How business can tackle modern slavery and forced labour – 7-8 March 2018 – London
From legislation to real practice: How to manage risk and eradicate slavery from operations and supply chains
7th-8th March 2018, London

How business can make smallholder supply chains resilient – 13-14 March 2018 – London
Practical ways to use the Sustainable Development Goals

Can innovation and technology make agriculture sustainable? – 5-6 April 2018 – Washington DC
How to scale solutions that win for farmers, food and the planet

How business can tackle deforestation – 18-19 April 2018 – Washington DC
Build relationships, develop targets, and drive positive impact

How apparel brands can transform supply chains (contact us for more information, details will be published soon)
24th-25th April 2018, Amsterdam

How business can tackle forced labor and human trafficking (contact us for more information)
12th-13th June 2018, New York

Corporate sustainability measurement, impact and technology (contact us for more information)
June 2018, London

Lot’s more of these are here on our website. We spend quite a bit of time and money on all this, and it’s all free, so the site is worth a look, just click here.