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.