Comment | Wednesday, 28 October 2009

There’s no business like green business

The Prime Minister’s dire warnings about the recovery and rise of oil prices may have caused resentment within the business community, which is looking for signs of recovery to boost consumer confidence and spending. It is only too true that any mention of rising oil prices takes us all back to the hike in electricity prices and the huge bites out of domestic budgets. Did we need reminding about all this just as we approach the Christmas season, which is the annual waterfall for so many businesses which have to make do with dribs and drabs the rest of the year?
No doubt the Prime Minister is aware of all this and his warnings become even more ominous once they were made regardless of the known dampening effect. The moaners among us could seek even greater shelter than they have taken already. Those who want to remain active have to accept what is happening as a change rather than as a series of ills and woes.
Making money is not so much a matter of providing what people need, want and are familiar with. That is a service provided at relatively low returns without serious prospects of major growth. Quantum leaps in business are available only to those who are able to read the signs of the times and to seize the opportunities they present.
Business everywhere is undergoing a tectonic shift thanks to the dual realisations that the world supply of oil has peaked and that carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere over the past 200 years is set to bring about changes in climate which threaten civilization.
In order to deal with this challenge, the global economy must change, our modes of production and above all our modes of consumption will be transformed. Every operator at every level will be challenged to get in step with these fundamental changes. Already we can see that the change has begun: from major oil companies to the corner hardware store we can see business people hedging their bets. Old technologies are still available but the new ones are taking over.
In a matter of months Malta has gone from the most obstinately backward and ecologically-unfriendly country on earth to mumbling green jargon. Solar water heaters are no longer a great rarity. There are photovoltaic systems available for sale and domestic wind turbines too. Electric and hybrid vehicles are available for sale and locally produced bio-diesel is at several fuelling stations across the country. There is every reason to expect that the change will continue to penetrate deeper into our daily lives changing our mobility, work and leisure practices, every form of consumption. There are opportunities everywhere.
There are also pitfalls as never before. The new global challenge is an epochal spur to innovation and the rapid obsolescence we have witnessed in the IT world could infect all others as new inventions render yesterday’s wonder little more than junk. When and what to invest in require educated minds capable of appreciating the kaleidoscopic change as it happens and of relating it to the habits, the culture and circumstances of the consumers who will adopt it or reject it.
The great imponderable factor in Malta is the government. The firms that committed to solar water heating decades ago have been bitterly disappointed by governments ever since. The great lift off in the sector never happened. At the end of September their laments were echoed in the Auditor General’s report to Parliament on Energy. No reading between the lines is necessary: the report spells out the failure of government to have a National Energy Policy in place and in time, its half-heartedness in driving the change through effective subsidies and feed-in tarrifs. It was a damning report in every way, poor consolation to business operators obliged to find their way in a jungle that appears to get deeper, darker and more dangerous at every step.
Nobody can demand a blueprint for the future, specific advice on investment and other business decisions. Everybody has a right to demand a clear and constant policy, a framework in which economic reality can be fleshed out through the myriad efforts of operators large and small. As the risks and opportunities grow larger the demand for these basics can only become louder.


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28 October 2009


Malta Today


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