SAN FRANCISCO - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said Wednesday one of the biggest obstacles to investments in sustainable business models is the "impatient, short-term" mindset of investors coupled with a "debilitating" reliance on automated financial transactions.
But he expressed optimism that the passion of business sustainability leaders, as well as a next generation that cares passionately about environmental issues, can help counteract those forces.
That is why the Occupy Wall Street movement represents an important threshold in public thinking in the United States and around the world even though its actual goals aren't well defined, Gore told approximately 1,000 attendees of the BSR Conference 2011.
"The Congress of the United States, on matters like this, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the financial services industry," Vice President Gore said during remarks made in a question-and-answer sessions following his plenary speech opening the conference.
Gore pointed out what many of the executives and sustainability leaders attending this event face on a daily basis: No matter how sound some of their proposed long-term investments might be when it comes to the future of their companies, those investments are sometimes at odds with the quarterly financial view against which many businesses are managed.
The situation has degraded as more trades have become automated. Gore figures that close to 70 percent of the trades on the New York Stock Exchange, for example, fall into the high-frequency category, which means they are managed by algorithms and supercomputers rather than humans. In that kind of environment, the short-term view can be compressed from 90 days to a matter of one second.
"This constant and relentless drive toward more and more short-term decisions is functionally insane," he said.
When it comes to the facts surrounding climate change, Gore said too many political leaders and business lobbyists are living by a motto that disrespects future generations. That motto: IBGYBG, shorthand for "I'll be gone, you'll be gone." This attitude has been shaped by the "100s of millions of dollars" that lobbyists have spent to convince members of Congress that climate change is an illusion, he suggested.
For this reason, Gore cautioned business leaders from relying too heavily on politics and policy to blaze a path forward when it comes to the sustainable use of the planet's resources in their business. In the face of all that special interest money, the most powerful force that sustainability managers can draw upon is the truth of their vision. A clearly articulated vision will lead the way for the right strategy and specific tactics, especially in emerging economies more attuned to climate change issues than the United States, Gore said.
"Allow yourselves to feel passionate about the mission that [business social responsibility] represents," he urged the conference attendees.