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Opinion: Why the US should follow Switzerland's lead on environmental policy

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Opinion: Why the US should follow Switzerland's lead on environmental policy
File photo: Petkov/Depositphotos
09:14 CEST+02:00
When it comes to being green, the US could learn a great deal from Switzerland, former Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White House spokesman Robert Weiner and policy analyst Kimberly Bartenfelder argue.

Revolutionizing clean environmental business strategy from the inside out, Switzerland has prioritized sustainable practices for decades, making the country now the leading global influencer.

In Yale University's Environmental Performance Index for 2018, Switzerland came first out of 180 countries analyzed for success in environmental health and ecosystem vitality. We are sad to report, despite all the recent talk about a "Green New Deal" in America, the US on the same index ranked 27 – and likely sinking under US President Donald Trump's environmental deregulations.

The US and the world should be taking note and learning from Swiss policy and practice, which combines environmental activism and business interests.

With decades worth of policy implementation, the Swiss have developed a sense of environment as part of the culture. Switzerland dominated the Yale survey because of policies like the 2001 green tax reform from the Federal Council, the Strategy on Biodiversity in the 2012 report released by the Swiss Confederation outlining dozens of goals for 2020, and the Spatial Planning Act for land use.

Swiss citizens and businesses care about the environment. The nation was the first to adopt a green economy in the constitution. They likely can remain number one. 

Most applicable to modern Swiss citizens is the federal constitution's “Section Four Environment and Spatial Planning.” Unlike the US Constitution, the Swiss specifically outline environment efforts ranging from sustainable development, land surveying, protection of water, forests, and animals, among various other articles. The US constitution in this exact regard pales in comparison.

Such advancements are presented through eco-innovation – a booming development for the European giant. Classified as sophisticated technological pioneering, eco-innovations are fast growing and picking up substantial public and business sector backing. By investing in this practice, Switzerland creates an atmosphere of attainable sustainability, reinforcing the idea that eco-friendly operations are widespread.

Making headway for Swiss eco-innovation was the conception of the Cleantech Master Plan officially reported in 2011. The report outlines that, “The main objective of the Cleantech Master Plan is to strengthen businesses involved in developing and producing cleantech applications” which furthermore can, “be achieved through greater coordination of science, business, government and policy making.”

Among the key players in cleantech are startup companies, They bring refreshing ideas to old techniques and expand on existing ones. Bottom line, it's transparent for business, policy, the environment, and the public alike.

Taken together, a greater Swiss ambition is achieved; making it standard practice to be environmentally aware and active.

Switzerland is admired for its breathtaking landscapes and the eco-tourism industry is also booming. It is of significant help that the Swiss have been environmentally conscious for so long that making a profit out of catering to tourists is without a doubt, a perceptive business plan. On top of that, the Swiss were the first to release an ecological footprint report in 2006, furthering the attraction of a greener, cleaner, and a better-off country than perhaps a tourist's native country.

A joint collaboration by the Swiss FSO, ARE, SDC, and FOEN, the 2006 report states: “Industrialized nations must be the first to take action.” The ecological footprint that hovers over nations currently is the responsibility of these nations and, “To reduce consumption of energy and natural resources is theirs.”

A detrimental blockage in US environmental progress, especially at present, is the existence of climate change deniers. Some influential American political figures are renowned for calling climate change a hoax or for being in complete denial of the subject. This sets back progress and stunts technologies that could be adapted from Swiss usage to American application.

Furthermore, the US, under Trump, has withdrawn from or complicated critical global accords such as the Paris Agreement and more recently the Arctic Council's issues.  The US president has downplayed the extent of global catastrophes.

By the end of 2019, the US may not see significant environmental progress. However, come 2020 and the new presidential election and term, there may be hope. Political affiliation and bias aside, climate change is happening. Switzerland just happens to be the best suited as the face of a global movement.

Switzerland can take justifiable pride as a world role model for environmental business. The nation is providing a lesson that can be an inspiration for American and world change and that can help the planet survive environmentally and thrive economically.

Robert Weiner was a Clinton and Bush White House spokesman, and spokesman for the House Government Operations Committee. Kimberly Bartenfelder is a policy analyst for Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change as well as an environmental activist.

 
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