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Outlook for the '90s : For business, the 1980s were a period of enormous turmoil. A Japanese siege of the high-technology and auto industries, a surge and plunge in oil prices, massive failures of financial institutions and a fearsome stock crash. The 1990s don't promise much peace and quiet. Here's a look at what business faces in the next decade. : ENVIRONMENT

January 02, 1990|MICHAEL PARRISH

In the '80s, environmentalism swept the field in its campaign for the hearts and wallets of the American public. Polls show overwhelming support for cleaning up the country. Membership in conservation groups has soared dramatically. Politicians and corporations now flaunt their environmental credentials.

In the next decade, new generations of technically sophisticated conservationists and government regulators will deal with business leaders who accept environmentalism as a fact of life as they undertake the practical work of this green revolution. Much of the needed regulatory machinery is in place, but progress to date has been slight.

The state of hazardous waste, for instance, is typical. So far, only 37 sites, of 35,000 identified, have been restored. The rest will spawn a $500-billion cleanup industry. Similarly enormous environmental tasks--and businesses--will flower in asbestos removal ($50 billion to $100 billion over the next 20 years), upgrading and building water- and sewage-treatment plants ($450 billion over the next decade) and in setting up recycling, composting and other massive public-works systems.

On the neighborhood level, cities will move toward 24-hour-a-day operation as conservation efforts shift from the smokestack industries to white-collar firms. Staggered work hours will allow parking spaces, even desks, to be used by two or three shifts of workers. Some businesses will profit from catering to customers who shop, bank and catch a movie at all hours.

But more than anything, the '90s will be the decade of international environmentalism, not only to slow global warming and the destruction of rain forests, but to transfer conservation technology to such areas as Eastern Europe. Western environmentalists have been appalled by the energy inefficiency in the newly accessible Eastern Bloc--to say nothing of whole aspen forests dead from acid rain. These countries may soon resound with one of the likely buzzwords of the '90s, "sustainable development," already a much discussed concept for environmentally sound economic growth in an ever more interconnected world.

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