Another, and more serious, lesson is that if companies truly want to be benign they must be ahead of public knowledge. And they must take care to educate so that endeavours to create genuine improvements are rewarded more than efforts which are merely cosmetic.
Integration is also needed between companies, and between companies and governments. Recyclable products are quite useless unless both the technology and the organisation exist to recycle them. Why use recyclable plastic if it remains unseparated from other rubbish - and uncollected? How can plastic be recycled if it is made from a variety of grades? Here again are business opportunities: the latest cars from Volvo and BMW are marketed partly on the basis of their recyclability. Yet we cannot ssume that recycling is the best option. It may take more energy, and produce more pollutants.
If companies do not demonstrate an ability to manufacture cleanly then governments will impose restrictions upon them. And in practice, says Cairncross, governments tend not to set standards and allow companies to work out how these should be met. Rather, they specify which technologies should be employed. This can be expensive for those companies not geared to the technologies. In general, though, it is clear that the freedom of free enterprise cannot go unchecked. "Most companies", adds Cairncross, "will only be as green as governments make them."
The important thing for companies, and for the environment, is that the former should take their affairs in hand before ad hoc solutions are imposed upon them. The "new greenery" cannot, in the end, be resisted. For those who do not resist, says Cairncross, "it represents perhaps the biggest opportunity for enterprise and invention the industrial world has yet seen".
I have read many books on the politics of environment. Some are seminal. Many are tedious rants. "Costing the Earth" is a very fine overview of issues that are infinitely complex. No manager should venture much further into this decade without reading it.
(Colin Tudge's latest book, "Last Animals at the Zoo", will be published by Century Radius in September.)