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Leading Global Investors Call the False Dichotomy Between Economy and Environment "Nonsense"

A top GE executive is calling the political battle between economy and environment "nonsense." In a video interview at an international clean energy investment conference last week, Mark Vachon, vice president of GE's successful Ecomagination program, hailed "environmental performance" as a key driver for business.

“There’s this theory that you have to pick one: economics or environmental performance. That’s nonsense. Innovation is the way you can have both,” said Vachon.

GE started the Ecomagination program in 2005 and has since invested more than $5 billion renewable energy, efficiency and smart grid technologies. The company saw such a powerful business case for clean technologies, it plans to double investments in the sector to $10 billion by 2015. According to Vachon, the $85 billion in revenue from cleantech has doubled the performance of the rest of the company’s portfolio.

“Companies that don’t get this, really risk becoming irrelevant to the marketplace. Whether you believe it for climate change or just the markets that are developing, it is our responsibility as businesses to be responsible to the design signal that the world is telling us,” he said.

One of the most important themes moving into America’s national elections is the perceived conflict between the economy and the environment. But leading investors from around the world representing a cumulative portfolio worth trillions of dollars gathered last week in New York City to explain why the two are inextricably linked — calling for strong, consistent government policies that help leverage private investment.

As the rhetorical bombs get tossed back and forth over energy issues in 2012, the business community is hoping to bring a little more sanity and perspective to the debate.

In 2011, global investments in clean energy amounted to $260 billion — bringing cumulative investments since 2004 to over one trillion dollars. Last year was also the first time that investment in renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels.

And this is only the beginning of a very long transition. The International Energy Agency issued a report in 2009 concluding that investments need to reach $37 trillion a year by 2030 in order to avert the worst of global warming. We’re not there yet, however. If we continue on our current path, Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that we’ll reach about $400 billion in global investments per year by 2020 — still a very impressive figure.

Although leading investors consider clean energy one of the greatest wealth creation opportunities in history, some politicians in Washington — particularly those who think global warming is a hoax — don’t seem to be listening to what the private sector is telling them.

“Today, investors can deploy capital in a manner that brings them stable returns while also addressing the need for low carbon energy — and that is through the finance of renewable energy projects,” said Bill Green, senior managing director of Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, an asset fund management firm.

“When investors deploy capital into renewable energy projects, they’re investing in proven technologies: solar PV, wind, biomass, geothermal. These technologies can be put to work today. Deals can be structured such so that investors can enjoy virtually bond-like, long-term returns with immediate yield,” said Green in a video interview at last week’s investor conference.

Political leaders like to pride themselves on acting more like business leaders than politicians. But if they actually listened to what the private sector was telling them, sustainability would be a top national priority, not a politically dirty word.

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and was republished with permission.

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I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in to...

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