Businesses should take a leading role in making "green" technology available to the average consumer, or governments will step in with heavy-handed environmental policies, experts said at a business and technology forum.
Executives from major firms packed an auditorium in the San Francisco Museum of Art, where academics and technology veterans brainstormed solutions to pollution and transportation woes.
"Business has an extremely important role to play," said Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
"It is up to us to create a sustainable path in the world. If we don't, I don't like where we are going," he said.
When Stigson asked how many people in the room believed in the "green consumer," a person who is willing to pay more for eco-sensitive products such as electric cars or organic produce, only one hand was raised.
"Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't think the green consumer will be the answer," Patrick Atkins, director of energy innovation at aluminum company Alcoa, said during the Global Innovation Outlook forum led by IBM Corp on Wednesday.
"You can't tell poor, struggling people to just pay more," said Hugh Aldridge of the Cambridge-MIT Institute.
"If you price things out of reach for people you don't have stability, you have rebellion," he said.
If business does not step in to fix the quality-of-life ills in major urban areas, heavy-handed governments will, predicted Aldridge.
Technology being "seriously discussed" in Britain would remotely redirect cars and stop them to ease traffic congestion, Aldridge said.
"Governments are thinking in authoritarian ways to deal with these problems because they don't think market forces will do it," Aldridge said. "That, to me, is a huge danger and we need to come up with innovation to stop it."
It would be misguided to expect business alone to solve environmental problems, but shifting costs to the wallets of consumers is a doomed strategy and waiting for government regulation foolish, pundits said.