Working together, industry and government form a formidable alliance: one that can foster economic growth and preserve the environment. "Costing the Earth" identifies this opportunity for enterprise and invention. Saving the earth from environmental catastrophe is no longer the purview of a few groups of single-minded activists; the upsurge of environmentalism is global and a part of everyday life in business, the home and the halls of government. Yet one preconception pervades the popular understanding of issues such as deforestation, ozone depletion and acid rain: sound environmental policies are anathema to the financial well-being of individual businesses and national economies. In "Costing the Earth" Frances Cairncross challenges this attitude. The author chronicles how industries worldwide are changing the way they produce goods to meet the growing demands of a "green" economy; for example, Dow Chemical has formed a special by-products recycling team and Danish pharmaceutical companies convert nitrogen waste to fertilizer for local farmers.
Environmental foresight and innovation can give a company the marketplace advantage by allowing it to spread research and development monies over time and set legislative standards that force competitors to catch up. Cairncross argues that government plays a critical role in helping industry harness the power of the market and in reducing environmental harm. Only governments can create the incentives businesses need to be both green and economically viable. Whether it is by price signals, regulation or standards, governments must encourage industry to develop technologies that make it profitable to be clean and unprofitable to be dirty.