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Will businesses ditch green moves to survive the recession?

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  • Can businesses stay environmental amid a slump?
  • One leading UK school has held a two-day event examining this
  • Another school's head of ethics says 'greed is good' era is over
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By Peter Walker
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As countries around the world plunge into recession, banks fail and companies go under, there are fears of another casualty amid the economic woes: Green business.

Not going away? The downturn could affect green initiatives

Not going away? The downturn could affect green initiatives

Many companies took advantage of the years of plenty to spend money on reducing their environmental impact. A corporation was well and truly behind the times unless it had a team of analysts working away on methods to reduce its overall carbon footprint.

Now, however, this hangs in the balance as many companies concentrate on saving jobs, or simply staying in business.

Some world leaders are attempting to make sure that environmental measures are not ditched as businesses cut costs. The $787 billion economic recovery plan unveiled recently by President Barack Obama included $100 billion in green measures, just under 13 percent of the total. These include funding to improve building insulation, tax breaks for alternative energy companies and an expansion to urban rail networks.

One leading business school has pulled together its resources in double-quick time to consider green business and green values amid the downturn.

The seminar last week at Judge Business School, part of Cambridge University in the UK, gathered commercial bosses, government officials, academics and representatives from voluntary and pressure groups over two days.

Among those taking part were the CEO of the advertising giant WPP, the head of sustainability for the London 2012 Olympics and senior advisers to the UK government's Department of Business.

Those gathered considered issues such as how to ensure ethical and environmental practices are continued in a recession, and how governments can help companies assist with a low-carbon economy.

Another discussion covered how markets affect environmental business and new business opportunities in the area.

The event was organized by the school's Center for International Business and Management. Dr Christos Pitelis, director of the center, said: "The global financial crisis has revealed the fact that sustainability is not just an academic issue, it has real and far-reaching consequences for society.

"We need to learn from the financial dimensions of sustainability and change the way we do business, we need to start to value the environment. Currently, we are creating a massive ecological debt by borrowing from the future at a rate that is unsustainable.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1= London Business School, U.K.
2= Wharton, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Columbia, U.S.
5. Insead, France/Singapore
6= Stanford GSB, U.S.
6= IE Business School, Spain
8. Ceibs, China 
9. MIT Sloan, U.S.
10. NYU, Stern, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2009

"We urgently need to combine business strategy with environmental regulation."

Pitelis said he hoped the event would "encourage dialogue and collaborative opportunities" between commerce, government and other sectors.

On a wider level, are business schools shifting themselves away from the old cut-throat attitudes of the past following the banking crisis? One expert on ethics in the MBA world believes so.

Writing earlier this week, Aine Donovan, a business professor at Dartmouth College's top-rated Tuck business school and head of the school's Ethics Institute, said she had noticed a "remarkable shift in focus" among her students.

"The 'greed is good' mantra is being seen for what it is: Reckless excess that leads to inevitable destruction," she wrote in an article for the magazine Newsday. "If earlier classes were blind to the excesses of a consumer-driven society, this group can no longer claim ignorance of the harm that can occur."

As business and banking corruption scandals came to light, she added, "MBA programs across the country have aggressively infused business education with ethics training."

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