Environmentalism is generally represented as some version of dichotomy: conservative v. liberal or business v. environmentalists or republican v. democrat. Probably the most common characterization is that corporate executives don’t want to spend money to clean up while liberals want businesses to be clean and green: in other words, profit v. the environment
This dichotomous presentation has historically made sense, and if you look at environmental battles in the past, this is how the lines have often been drawn. For examples, see loggers v. the spotted owl or coal mines v. health advocates.
Health advocates, however, are the crux of a coming change. As the environment degrades and as science discovers more links between pollution and health, environmentalism will be seen less as an earth and animal issue and more as a human health issue. Many companies are perfectly happy to prioritize profits above trees or animals or scenic views, but they are much less likely to put profits ahead of human lives.
As the science become clearer and activists get better at using that science, the link between corporate actions and human health will become more explicit. This will cause corporate chieftains to look at things differently: they are, for the most part, decent people, and they don’t want to kill or injure other humans. And even those chieftains who might choose profit over the lives of others (they’re the ones who make great movie villains) certainly don’t want to get caught valuing money over human lives – that would be bad for business.
To use a concrete example, coal mining creates pools of toxic sludge. In West Virginia, some of these pools sit near schools. One mine, owned by Massey Energy, has a 2.8 billion gallon sludge pool sitting 400 yards above an elementary school. If science were to demonstrate that the fumes from this pool are damaging to the health of the school kids, I reckon that Massey CEO Don Blankenship would look into doing something about it. Mr. Blankenship probably doesn’t want to kill kids, and he definitely doesn’t want the world to know if he does kill kids.
Moreover, as global warming become more widely accepted as fact, this problem will hit closer and closer to home for corporate chieftains. Because if the climate starts to change, it won’t be random kids being hurt; it will be the chieftains’ kids, or grandkids. And NOBODY wants to hurt their own grandkids.