June 15th, 2017


By: Kimberly White

Tips to Begin Your Green Consuming Lifestyle:

  • Ease yourself into the beginning of your green consuming lifestyle by beginning your research. Make a list of products and services you use most. Once you have your list, start checking into what goes into those products. If an ingredient on that list is, for example, palm oil, check to see if it’s sustainable palm oil. If not, look for items similar to it that meet your new green consuming standards.
  • Use reusable bags at the store. This one may seem obvious, but it’s important. While plastic bags are often recyclable they can often be tossed out in the garbage or discarded as litter outdoors. Many of these bags often find their way into our waterways where they can be harmful to marine life.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle! One of the core mantras to green consumers, this is another obvious one. By reducing your waste, reusing what you already have, and recycling, you are not only helping yourself but you’re also helping the planet.
  • If possible, bike or walk to your destination instead of driving. Carpooling can also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide our vehicles put off and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Speak with your bank about switching to electronic billing. At the moment you may be receiving paper statements or notices once or twice a month from your bank. By switching to electronic banking you’re saving paper. You can also speak with other billing agencies to see if they offer electronic billing.
  • Opt for reusable food containers, cups, and plates. By choosing reusable items over disposable items such as styrofoam cups or paper plates, you are reducing your waste and saving your resources.
  • Watch your energy use! If you aren’t using your coffee maker right now, unplug it. The same goes for other electricity-using items you have.
  • Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth or washing your hair. Water is essential to life, try to conserve it.
  • Research the company before you purchase the product. Climate Counts states, “The production of basic household goods is resource-intensive; it also has a multi-faceted impact on the environment through packaging, disposal, and more.” Learning more about a company before you purchase a product ensures you are aware of their environmental and social impact, allowing you to make the most sustainable choice.

“Going green” has become a popular slogan in recent years, but what does it mean? Going green is more than just a saying, it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle that involves carefully researching products and being conscious of what all goes into a purchase.

It is a lifestyle that puts you- yes, you- the consumer in charge. Your purchasing power ultimately influences the market of the product or service you purchase. If enough people show a desire to purchase products or services that are sustainably sourced, economically viable, and ethically produced, businesses would be keen to meet that demand.

Green consuming can be a difficult pill to swallow for some. According to Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), a magazine which reports on current social issues, there are five barriers potential consumers face when trying to go green:

  • Lack of Awareness: People want to help prevent potential environmental issues like climate change, but they just don’t know how. SSIR reports that consumers they surveyed understood the basics about issues like climate change and how by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions they will help in the battle against climate change, they are just unaware of how they be of help.
  • Negative Perceptions: Green labeling occasionally scares consumers. People can get caught up on past stereotypes. Early versions of hybrid vehicles, along with other green products, used to get a bad rep for not being as powerful, long-lasting, or as “good” as normal products. SSIR reports that GfK Roper Green Gauge, a market research company, surveyed 2,000 Americans. The results showed that of the 2,000, 61% believed that green items performed worse than their brown alternatives.
  • Distrust: As mentioned above, people can be skeptical about the quality of green items. Consumers are also distrustful of how “green” certain products are. They are concerned about companies “greenwashing” their products in order to portray an environmentally friendly image.
  • High Prices: A high cost can definitely scare away a consumer. When searching for a green alternative to a product, only to find that it is 2-3 times more expensive than the standard product can be disheartening. It can also give the impression that being green means spending more of your hard earned green.
  • Low availability: Embarking upon the green consumer lifestyle but discovering that the closest place the sells the green product you’re after is 25-50 miles away can be a real challenge. Low availability discourages consumers from making the switch to green consuming.

These barriers may make it seem like becoming a green consumer is nearly impossible, but fear not, many of these barriers you will be able to surpass. The list of green products is steadily growing, making them more readily available for the average Joe. Also, not everything is of a higher cost; however, for those products that are, just remember you’re spending a little bit more for a guilt-free product. Distrust and lack of awareness too shall pass. As you discover for yourself which products do and don’t work for you, you will find that certain brands you can trust while gaining more knowledge in the process.

Why should you do it?

The most obvious reason to go green is to protect the Earth. However, there are other benefits that go along with a green lifestyle.

  • Reduce your expenses when you reduce your energy consumption. When switching to more energy efficient appliances, you lessen your carbon footprint and end up saving on your electric bill.
  • When buying green foods, you’re promoting a healthier, sustainable lifestyle.
  • Switching to a green lifestyle helps you determine what you do and don’t need. You can get rid of what’s unnecessary in your life, which helps cut down on your monthly expenses.
  • You’re in charge! With your purchasing power you are able to help influence market trends to be more eco-friendly!

“It’s not easy being green.” – Kermit the Frog

Kermit has it right, it isn’t easy being green. Becoming a green consumer can take time and effort, but you don’t have to do it alone. With a simple web search you have a plethora of green information at your fingertips.

November 22nd, 2015

Another Year to Give Thanks… For Holiday Deals!

By Mike Bellamente (this article was first published on Huffington Post)

With each passing year, retailers become increasingly audacious in their quest to exploit the holiday season for profit. Come Halloween signs of Christmas abound, and by the time Black Friday rolls around, the yuletide shopping season is already in full flight. But what began as a well-orchestrated marketing ploy of the early 2000s, Black Friday has seeped into Thanksgiving Day as a time when families across the country dart away from their turkey dinners to join the herds in search of discounted prices.

Ironic as it may seem, we have successfully displaced one of the rare occasions for family gathering and reflection (Thanksgiving) with the chaos that comes with shopping for another rare occasion for family gathering and reflection (Christmas). I can hear the Grinch turning in his grave… “What if Christmas doesn’t come from a store?” he thought, “What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

But who is really to blame here? The big box retailers who are simply accommodating an insatiable demand for crap, or rather the crazed, group-thinking public who are more than willing to claw over one another for holiday shopping deals. While some may offer a curmudgeonly sneer to the Wal-Marts and JC Pennys of the world, it is really no different than blaming oil companies for climate change as we steer our SUVs toward the nearest Exxon station to fill up on two-dollar gas. “EPA LOL” as one license plate in a nearby town so aptly put it. “BLK GLD” reads another. Oi. Never mind the “L.”

So this year, when the conversation at the dinner table turns to how American (or un-American) it is to inundate our airwaves with ads for Black Friday, or how unfair it is that young Suzie has to race to her minimum-wage-paying job at five o’clock on Thanksgiving Day, let’s give pause before we cast stones at the faceless corporation. Let’s instead each head to the nearest vanity mirror to discover what role we as individuals can play in ceasing the material madness.

To this end, Climate Counts has recently teamed up with a rag-tag bunch calling itself the Blue Marble Gang to help those who shop become more adept at recognizing the good corporate actors versus the bad. Using CDP corporate climate change data as our beacon of sanity and as the basis of scoring, Climate Counts and the Blue Marble Gang are officially joining forces in the lead up to Christmas to launch the #BlueMarbleLove campaign. The campaign itself is meant to secure seed funding for a number of consumer apps that will drive conscious consumption and foster awareness on the concept of embedded carbon in the products we buy.

Beyond the technological component of the campaign, the #BlueMarbleLove initiative is also meant to steer the domestic climate conversation in a direction of solidarity, and away from the vitriolic mudslinging that so often accompanies and confuses the issue. For it has occurred to us, that over the past several years, the well-funded climate denial movement has quite successfully and effectively hijacked our collective common sense. Looking back, it seems obvious now that the moneyed interests who stood to lose the most in a transition toward a low-carbon economy armed themselves with fringe scientistsinternet trolls and nefarious groups like the Heartland Instituteto seed doubt and stir gun-toting free radicals into a frenzy. Of course they would. With the Tea Party already roiling on issues like same-sex marriage, gun control and immigration, it would take nary a spark to ignite the flame of a fictitious climate conspiracy.

But now that cooler heads have prevailed (we hope), we the people can now stand together with forward thinking businesses (see the WeMeanBusiness coalition) and civilized countries around the world (see the 192 countries besides the U.S. who signed the Kyoto Protocol) to devise a long-term plan for addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Make no doubt, the upcoming COP21 in Paris, and the hopes of forging a globally binding climate treaty, is also an opportunity to show the world that the U.S. and China, as the world’s largest two economies (at $18 trillion GDP and $11 trillion GDP respectively) are willing to assume an active leadership role in setting historic greenhouse gas emissions targets. To be sure, it is no longer possible to say with a straight face that progressive climate and energy policy will hinder our economy when countries like Germany have led an entire continent out of financial crisis, even while remaining true to aggressive emissions reduction targets.

Many would argue, though, that in order for our monkey-brained congressional leaders (no offense to monkeys) to agree to a level playing field on climate with other world powers, we must first see the demand from voters within. This is precisely where #BlueMarbleLove is meant to act as our call to arms to the American public to show that we stand aligned on the need to address climate change. While we have no ice buckets or pink ribbons, we do have a hashtag and a whole shed-load of hope. Now please pass the yams.

December 19th, 2014

Green Initiatives Add Up for Coca-Cola of Northern New England

The following article first appeared in the Portsmouth Patch as written by Michael McCord of the Green Alliance.

Coca-Cola Company, and its regional franchise, receive high marks for its sustainability initiatives from Climate Counts.

Sustainability is a top to bottom, team effort at the Coca-Coca Co. of Northern New England. CCNNE’s operating philosophy welcomes all good ideas when it comes to recycling, energy efficiency, and better resource management.

“Little changes for us can mean big things,” said Ray Dube, the sustainability manager at CCNNE. The widespread sustainability measures at CCNNE’s state-of-the-art bottling plant in Londonderry, its 10 distribution centers (in New England and upstate New York), and its fleet of more than 500 vehicles have combined to make a significant difference in company operations.

CCNNE is a regional franchise and its sustainability initiatives are mostly its own. But the efforts correspond with a top score that the Coca-Cola Company received at the global corporate level from Climate Counts, the Durham-based nonprofit organization which brings together consumers and businesses to confront climate change and reduce carbon footprints.

In its latest report card, Climate Counts graded Coca-Cola with an 85 score and a “Soaring” ranking which is its top mark. In particular, Coca-Cola was recognized for measuring its companywide impact on global warming since 2002; for distinguishing itself by strongly advocating for comprehensive climate change policy; and establishing clear goals to reduce the company’s energy use and its impact on global warming while working “to foster climate awareness among consumers, employees, and other businesses.”

This sustainable focus has fostered a transformation in doing business at CCNNE for more than a decade. Dube runs a one-man sustainability shop at CCNNE but contributions come from everyone in the company which was founded in 1977.

“It’s never just one thing and done and not all the efficiencies are from the top down. We are constantly looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient dispatching of our delivery trucks to decrease mileage use,” Dube explained. Or through a practical idea from a distribution center manager in Vermont who reduced heat costs at his facility by creating a loading schedule for opening up bay doors for more than one truck at time.

Through technological modernization of its production lines and a rethinking of how it uses water, the Londonderry Production Center is not only the fourth largest Coca-Cola bottler in the United States but is one of the most sustainable and energy efficient operations as well.

Given the massive scale of production – 25 million cases of products in 2013 – small changes such as smaller bottle caps, shrink wrap, and plastic pallets can save up front dollars and less resource usage.

Dube says that consumption from Lake Massabesic, the water source for the center, has dropped dramatically. A decade ago the average water use for one-liter of product was 2.0 liters but it has dropped to an average of 1.7 liters nationwide in 2013 and it stands at 1.64 per liter for CCNNE, one of best ranks in the country. Water waste has also dropped as it is recycled for washing or used to clean pallets. Additionally, hoses are constantly checked for leaks to reduce water waste.

“Waste costs money and when you can save money that goes to the bottom line,” Dube said. Recycling every product that can be recycled is another priority. CCNNE recycles light bulbs, oils, metal and shrink wrap, toner cartridges, cardboard, paper, aluminum, PET, glass, wood pallets, old vending equipment, waste oil and antifreeze, and they provide recycling bins for customers.

Last year CCNNE oversaw the recycling of 4.5 million pounds of aluminum cans. Dube said that aluminum is one of the few products that can go through many generations of recycling and not lose quality. About 31 percent of aluminum produced in the United States is made from recycled scraps and recycled material production only consumes five percent of the energy needed to produce new aluminum. CCNNE strives to purchase 60 percent of its aluminum cans as recycled aluminum. Bundled into bales as large as 700 pounds, the recycled aluminum collected by CCNNE and sent to recycling vendors can often come back in the form of new cans in as little as six weeks.

“When you have a thought process focused on sustainability, you would be surprised what people can do,” Dube said. Included among many ideas was one for healthier work processes to reduce back injuries.

Dube and two of his CCNNE colleagues also spread the good word about recycling and sustainability through extensive educational outreach in New England. “We teach a lot more about sustainability than what students might get at their school,” he said. “We not only talk about what we recycle but what it turns into.” For example, students learn that PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles go through a recycling transformation that leads to materials used for textiles, automotive parts, carpets and other goods made by New Hampshire companies such as Foss manufacturing in Hampton and Polartec in Hudson.

CCNNE and Climate Counts are both business partners of the Green Alliance, the Portsmouth organization representing more than 100 local green businesses and nearly 4,000 consumer members. CCNNE is also a member of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Mike Bellamente, the executive director of Climate Counts, said the high score for Coca-Cola reflects the company’s overall commitment to aggressively reduce its carbon footprint.

“They have not hidden behind the issue of climate change as a lot of companies have,” he said. “They have vocalized the need for carbon policy and support the UN Global Compact. They realize that consumers do care and there can be a connection between environmental leadership and brand loyalty.”

For more information about Coca-Cola of Northern New England, visit www.ccnne.com.

Find out more about the Green Alliance at www.greenalliance.biz.

March 11th, 2014

Sign up TODAY for the 2014 Climate Ride!

Are you the type of person that wakes up and thinks, “Ach, man, so many problems in the world.  How could I possibly do anything about it between work, my drinking habit and a healthy addiction to Candy Crush?”

Worry no more, because our dear friends at the Climate Ride have recently announced that they will be hosting not one, not two, but THREE incredible cycling adventures this year.  Among this year’s once-of-a-lifetime events include cycling in California wine country (May 17 - 20), a cycling tour of craft breweries in the Midwest (Sept 6 - 9), and, finally, a high-octane ride from New York to Washington, D.C. (Sept 20 - 24).

If you’re unfamiliar with the Climate Ride, they provide an opportunity for up-standing individuals (like you) to make some money for a good cause (like climate change), that will eventually help to fund reputable organizations (like Climate Counts!).

Visit the Climate Ride website for more information: www.climateride.org

So don’t delay, sign up today.  The world depends on it!


The Climate Counts Team

Ps… when you go to sign up, don’t forget to choose Climate Counts as your beneficiary organization!

February 26th, 2014

Keystone and Big Oil are Not the Problem

The blog originally published in the Valley News and is being re-published with the consent of the author, Mark McElroy.

Thetford Center, VT Critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline rightly point out that its construction will only add to the intensification of global warming. Even the U.S. government agrees with this. After all, anything that has the effect of facilitating a new generation of fossil fuel extraction and incineration can only be bad for the climate.

What some of us can’t understand, though, is why leading opponents to Keystone XL aren’t at least as vocal in their opposition to the use or consumption of fossil fuels as they are to their production- of not more so- especially when one considers the fact that is the burning of fossil fuels that is the proximate cause of global warming, not their supply. Why are opponents of the Keystone pipeline so quick to vilify the supply side of climate change, but not the demand side?

What is instead of focusing on narrowly on the supply of fossil fuels, advocates of reversing climate change were to focus on their use and incineration? In other words, what if instead of rising up in opposition to the producers of oil and gas, they were to concentrate their efforts on those who actually burn them, as in those directly cause climate change instead of merely facilitate it in some way?

Last year, we (the Center for Sustainable Organizations) led to a study in conjunction with Climate Counts, another non-profit next door in New Hampshire, in which we compared the emissions of 100 of the world’s largest corporation to science-based targets for reversing climate change. Included in our findings was the facts that 2 of the 3 Big Oil producers we looked at (BP and Chevron) scored sustainably in terms of their own emissions since 2005. Emissions at both companies, that is, have gone down, not up.

Of greater importance, perhaps, was our conclusion that most of the world’s GHG emissions have nothing to do with the activities or operations of oil companies, since more than 90 percent of them are attributable to other sectors. Commerce writ large, that is, is responsible for the vast majority of emissions on Earth, thanks to the combustion of fossil fuels by businesses in general, not just the extraction and sale of them by Big Oil. What we desperately need more than anything else, then, are reductions in emissions by industry as a whole, whether Keystone XL is completed or not.

Importantly, we also found that roughly half of the non-oil/gas-producing companies we looked at have been on track since 2005 to reduce their GHG emissions at levels prescribed by science for what it will take to reverse climate change. The demand side of the equation that is, is making progress, albeit nowhere fast enough, we agree.

Still, and with all due respect, I think opponents to Keystone XL, Big Oil, etc. would do well to at least balance their efforts by focusing on the behaviors of those responsible for 90-plus percent of the world’s emissions, instead of simply condemning those responsible for the other 10. Anything less just seems like gratuitous vilification and may not be helpful in the end.

Mark W. McElroy is executive director of the Center for Sustainable Organizations in Thetford Center, VT.

February 18th, 2014

Protecting Our Planet, One Mile at a Time

by Susan Torman, Communications Intern

TrolioLast year, Climate Counts’ intern Ben Trolio pedaled the climate movement forward when he participated in the NYC to Washington, D.C. Climate Ride. This multi-day, multi-city charitable bike ride benefits organizations working on sustainable solutions. As a beneficiary of the ride, Climate Counts receives funds from those who choose to ride for them, helping their efforts gain even more traction in the future. In addition to representing Climate Counts, Trolio rode for Better Future Project, a grassroots organization aimed at building a better world free from the burning of fossil fuels.

After some friendly pressure from his mates, Trolio chose to participate in the Climate Ride with two goals in mind- personal growth and advancing a cause. Trolio said, “Fundraising is challenging and asking for money is a true test to your values.” He had plenty of practice asking friends and family through e-mail blasts, Facebook, in-person conversation, and fundraising events.

“Climate Ride gives people a reason to raise money,” Trolio said. It can be hard to raise money for a cause without an event coinciding with a fundraiser. But with a worthy event, like biking 304 miles over the course of 5 days to support sustainability and protect our planet, fundraising can be easy. Trolio believes that anyone can raise the money- citing that even a 16-year-old succeeded in raising the funds to complete the ride. However, he also talked about the challenges of fundraising as a young person. He had to employ a variety of strategies to raise the money. His pool of donors had much less to give, but this presented a great opportunity for Trolio to perfect his fundraising skills. “When I start asking people about supporting Climate Ride, I get more confidence. It’s like training for a race. The more ask for you ask the more confident you become.”

The greatest highlight of his ride was biking alongside his dad who is a diabetic. Sharing this endeavor with his dad gave him a new perspective and appreciation for his biggest ally in life. No doubt biking day after day was challenging, but Trolio said that his biggest challenge was making sure he was eating enough! When asked if he would participate in the ride again, he responded, “I already signed up!”

Spots are still available for the California Wine Country ride May 17-20, 2014. This new ride is an exciting 4-day cycling adventure that begins in San Francisco, heads north to Marin and the spectacular Wine Country and on to California’s Capitol in Sacramento. Climate Counts is honored to be a beneficiary of Climate Ride again this year. Not interested in biking but want to support the movement? You can donate!

Participants are helping to provide much-needed financial support, raising awareness, engaging other riders, and helping to build a national network of supporters while making an extraordinary contribution to a cause they care about. For Trolio, “Biking as a community organizer allows me to connect with other people and help people to relate to the climate movement.”

January 13th, 2014

Autodesk Ranked #1 of 100 Public Companies for its GHG Target-Setting Methodology (“C-FACT”)

By Emma Stewart, Ph.D., Head of Sustainability Solutions, and Aniruddha Deodhar, Building Program Manager, Sustainability Solutions, Autodesk, This blog first appeared on In the Fold December 18, 2013

As co-authors of Autodesk’s Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-Stabilizing Targets (“C-FACT”), Ani Deodhar and I were deeply honored to receive the #1 rank in the world’s first science-based carbon rating by Climate Counts. The rankings were based on a collaborative study between Climate Counts and the Center for Sustainable Organizations that analyzed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 100 companies against science-based targets that seek to limit climate change to 2o Celsius (3.6o Fahrenheit).

“Climate Counts is honored to recognize Autodesk for emerging as the #1 company in our latest review of corporate emissions performance.   Autodesk has demonstrated tremendous leadership in shaping corporate sustainability metrics to be more grounded in science.  Employees of Autodesk should be proud of the work being done by their sustainability team,” said Mike Bellamente, executive director, Climate Counts. Image courtesy of Climate Counts

When we set out to develop a greenhouse gas reduction target for Autodesk back in 2009, we were disillusioned with what passed as “best practice” of the day. With the scientific and policy trends pointing to increasing and unprecedented levels of consensus on the scale of global emissions reductions, corporate GHG reduction strategies were non-transparent, non-standard and non-verifiable. A bit like the Wild West, the domain lacked law, scrutiny and was full of somewhat “aimless shooting”.

We agree with the rating’s authors that “allocating a fair and proportionate share of the global climate change mitigation burden to an individual company is not for the faint of heart”. C-FACT took many months to develop, and we would never have succeeded without the inspiration of Chris Tuppen at BT and the meticulousness of Rich Baltimore at Deloitte.

The work paid off when I spent an hour of thoroughly enjoyable debate with our CEO on the merits of the methodology, Carl Bass, after which he approved it through the year 2020, an incredibly long-range goal for a technology company. We then decided to make the methodology freely available and open source so that other companies could benefit from the intensive effort and tailor it as desired. Since that time, those in our Facilities, IT, and Travel departments have ensured Autodesk meets the annual targets derived from C-FACT each and every year.


Autodesk has committed to reducing its carbon emissions per dollar contribution to GDP by 9.08% year over year through 2020.

Fittingly, I’m happy to announce today that we have recently tailored the methodology for use by city governments, which tell us they also struggle with many of the same challenges we saw in 2009 in the corporate sector. We will make that tool (“City Finance Approach to Climate-Stabilizing Targets”) available free-of-charge in early 2014.

Hear Mike Bellamente (Executive Director of Climate Counts) discuss the rankings, how Autodesk captured the top position, and the future for the ranking program [4:20 minutes]

Hear Emma Stewart discuss key factors in Autodesk’s corporate sustainability efforts, including the company’s methodology for setting Green House Gas Reduction targets – a methodology, as she explains, is now open source [9:21 minutes]

About the authors,


Emma Stewart, Ph.D., Head of Sustainability Solutions, Autodesk


Aniruddha Deodhar, Building Program Manager, Sustainability Solutions, Autodesk

December 18th, 2013

Just in Time for Christmas, a Carbon Study that will knock your Stockings Off

by Mike BellamenteCarbon Study

If a company claims that it plans to reduce its carbon footprint 15% by 2020, is that good?  Better yet, is it enough?

This is the question we sought to answer in the latest collaborative study from Climate Counts and the Center for Sustainable Organizations called Assessing Corporate Emissions Performance through the Lens of Climate Science.

These days, nearly every major company has sustainability goals to reduce carbon emissions by a certain target amount and target year.  In some respects, this represents a great deal of progress, for even 10 years ago these kinds of commitments were the exception and not the norm.

But, living in an age when we’ve crested 400 part per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon, and scientists continue to warn that 350 ppm is the level needed to avoid a 3.6o Fahrenheit temperature rise by the end of the century, it’s perhaps time to revisit how companies are setting their carbon targets.

The argument in our study is that corporate emissions goals should not simply be to reduce CO2 output relative to a unit of product sold or relative to every dollar of revenue; these targets should be informed by the science, and set in a way that is congruent with natural limits and environmental thresholds.

Of course, in order to sell this concept upward it needs to make business sense, for as idealistic as I may be, I still think that companies should be in business to make money.   And that might just be the Golden Egg in this report: of the 49 companies (out of 100) that rated “sustainably” in our study, 25 of them have grown their revenues since 2005, while concurrently reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the same period.  This proves that, at least in the short term, decoupling growth from emissions is possible.  Who said Santa wasn’t real?!?

While there are many positives to be drawn from our analysis, there are definitely some downers as well, represented by the fact that 51% of companies are emitting unsustainable levels of carbon dioxide.  Perhaps of even greater concern, is that of the 100 companies reviewed, arguably less than 10% are setting science-based emissions targets.

So where do we go from here?  Admittedly the concept of sustainability context has, until this point, been relatively fringe-thinking, but those fringe thinkers have included the likes of Andrew Winston, author of From Green to Gold, and Allen White, Co-Founder of the Global Reporting Initiative.  The hope with this release to begin popularizing the concept so that corporate sustainability leaders pick up the baton, as has been done by Autodesk (#1 performer in this study) and, to an extent, Unilever (by way of Ben & Jerry’s).

One of the premises of our report is that while sovereign nations must come to an agreement on how to reduce global CO2 emissions sooner rather than later, there is an increasing role to be played by the business community in addressing climate change.   This point is crystalized by the fact that of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 40% of them are corporations.

Author’s note: for those who are familiar with the annual Climate Counts company scorecard – which rates companies on their commitment to measuring, managing and reporting their emission – this performance-based study has momentarily usurped the spotlight.  Our traditional scorecard will be back in the spring of 2014.

November 22nd, 2013

Reality Check: Climate Counts Set to Launch World’s First Science-Based Carbon Rating

The following interview was first published on Sustainable Brands: pull quote

At the New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference, Climate Counts presented initial findings of the first-ever science-based rating of corporate carbon emissions. The study, conducted by Center for Sustainable Organizations (CSO) Executive Director Mark McElroy and Bill Baue, applies CSO’s Context-Based Carbon Metric, which compares company carbon emissions to science-based targets. The New Metrics panel, led by Climate Counts Executive Director Mike Bellamente, also included perspectives from two companies on how they achieve sustainable levels of carbon emissions:  GE’s Corporate Environmental Programs Manager Gretchen Hancock and Johnson & Johnson’s Global Energy Director Jed Richardson.

To tell the story behind the development, Baue chatted with Bellamente  and McElroy in the following dialogue.

Bill Baue: Mike, what drew Climate Counts to a context-based approach to rating the sustainability of companies’ carbon management? What does context add that wasn’t already in the mix of Climate Counts’ ratings methodology?

Mike Bellamente: Honestly, I think assessing sustainability performance without context provides a limited view of reality. It’s as if I were to tell my wife, “Hey, I’ve reduced my cheeseburger intake by 20% from last year” without telling her that my doctor advised me to abstain from cheeseburgers altogether if I’m to avoid having a massive coronary by the time I’m 40. Personally, I’m encouraged by the distance companies have come in such a short period to the extent that they’re benchmarking and setting targets around emissions. But it seems that setting goals that take climate science and atmospheric thresholds into account is the next logical step in the evolution of corporate sustainability. Same with our Climate Counts scoring methodology – it’s time we begin rating companies on whether their carbon output is sustainable, rather than assessing them only on their attempts to measure, reduce and report their emissions.

Mark McElroy: Mike’s assessment of the need to take ecological thresholds explicitly into account when rating or ranking companies on their greenhouse gas emissions is, of course, correct. How else are we supposed to determine whether or not a company’s emissions are consistent with climate change mitigation models, if the thresholds contained in those models are not somehow explicitly applied to organizational emissions? It is not enough to simply set reduction goals in relative or absolute terms, since reductions expressed in those ways are not explicitly tied to ecological limits for what they would have to be in order to be sustainable.

Indeed, one has to wonder why it has taken so long for mainstream sustainability rating and ranking systems to build sustainability thresholds explicitly into their metrics – and kudos to Mike and Climate Counts for being the first to do so! The real reason for the delay, I think, is the extent to which global thresholds need to be allocated to individual emitters (companies), and the reluctance most people feel when asked to make such decisions. Issues of fairness, equity, and morality invariably arise, all of which must be addressed without hesitation. Allocating a fair and proportionate share of the global climate change mitigation burden to an individual company, then, is not for the faint of heart. Still, it can and is being done in ways that have the force of science and reason behind them. The current study at Climate Counts makes that abundantly clear. It is the first study of its kind in the capital markets, where the sustainability performance of publicly traded companies is being rated and ranked relative to contextually relevant ecological thresholds – the world’s first systematic application of context-based sustainability to assessing the non-financial performance of listed companies. Really takes non-financial performance assessment in the capital markets to the next level, in my view.

Bill Baue: Ok, so that establishes the rationale for taking a context-based approach to rating corporate climate impacts. Now, how did Climate Counts go about translating this notion into an implementable methodology?

Mike Bellamente: As a ratings organization that prides ourselves on the consistency of our scoring process, we first needed to publicize our intentions of piloting a Context-Based Metric (CBM) to our stakeholders (see this SB article from last year). Essentially, we see CBMs having a large role to play in telling the story of whether or not we’re any closer to reducing our climate impact as a society. We, therefore, gathered insight from thought leaders around the industry on how we could use this pilot project to inform the future of Climate Counts ratings, while signaling to the market that this is coming.

To get us to the point where we could implement the methodology, we first engaged members of the scientific community, including Cameron Wake, a well-regarded climate scientist at the University of New Hampshire (and board member of Climate Counts) to vet the notion of using carbon models like WRE350 or Tellus Polestar to accurately assess carbon performance at the company level. Once we had consensus on which model best-suited our needs (Tellus), all we needed to do was determine which companies to include in the test pilot. As the universe of companies that have been reporting GHG data since 2005 is relatively small, many of our decisions on this front were made for us. At the end of the day, we think we arrived at a diverse group of companies representing a broad swath of industries.

Mark McElroy: The methodology we used at Climate Counts was actually already in existence beforehand. At the Center for Sustainable Organizations (CSO), we have been working on a context-based carbon metric for several years, starting back in 2006 when the metric was first deployed at Ben & Jerry’s. The method we use starts with the selection of a science-based climate change mitigation model, which essentially describes a normative pattern of global emissions reductions that should be achieved over an extended period of time in order to reverse climate change and restore greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to safe levels. Most such models, or scenarios, start with a baseline year, and then prescribe a pattern of emissions reductions from that point forward until a desired concentration target has been reached in the atmosphere (e.g., 350 ppm CO2). If a company has been recording its own emissions for all of the same years, a science-based model can simply be overlaid onto its record to see whether its emissions have been consistent with the model’s prescribed reductions or not.

In this case, we looked at two models. The first was the WRE350 scenario, which has as its target stabilized CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at 350 ppm. The other was a model developed by Tellus Institute in Boston, the same folks who co-founded the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and more recently, the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR). The model there is known at PoleStar, and it, too, is aimed at achieving atmospheric concentrations of 350 ppm (CO2). In the end, we chose the PoleStar model because of the way in which it allocates a higher share of the mitigation burden to developed (OECD) countries, and less to developing ones. The WRE350 scenario, by contrast, doesn’t address policy or allocation decisions at all, and is therefore more difficult to work with in cases where such uneven (i.e., justice- or equity-based) allocation policies may be of interest.

We then turned to the task of gathering data for a portfolio of 100 publicly traded companies,including companies Climate Counts had previously examined with its own scorecard in prior years. The goal was to find 100 companies for which emissions data was available from 2005 onwards. To help gather this data, we worked with a company in Zurich called South Pole Carbon, and also CDP (formerly known as Carbon Disclosure Project). Most of the data provided by South Pole Carbon was, in turn, sourced from Bloomberg.

Once we had the data, we were then able to systematically compare each company’s emissions over an eight-year period (2005-2012) with what the PoleStar model says emissions reductions need to be in order to be sustainable (i.e., to be consistent with a mitigation scenario that would help reverse climate change and restore greenhouse gas concentrations to safe levels). In our scoring method, any level of emissions (i.e., in a year) that were less than or equal to the allowable levels specifed by the PoleStar model received a less than or equal to 1.0 score, accordingly. We measured performance in this way annually, but also cumulatively. As of the end of 2012, then, any company with a cumulative score of less than or equal to 1.0 was categorized as sustainable, insofar as its Scopes 1 and 2 CO2e emissions were concerned. We then ranked all 100 companies according to their cumulative emissions scores, and found that 51 out of 100 were sustainable, and 49 were not.

Bill Baue: So, what are the implications of these findings, both in terms of actually tackling climate change, and more broadly, in terms of advancing sustainability ratings?

Mike Bellamente: I think the biggest implication of the study is that we’ve come up with a more accurate way to assess sustainability performance. With regard to carbon: if climate scientists predict that, as a society, we can emit roughly 565 gigatons of CO2 before we tip the 2 degree Celsius scale for runaway climate change, and we’re currently burning fossil fuels at a rate of 31 gigatons/year, it will be 18 years before we arrive at the 565 gigaton mark. Our new context-based rating scale enables us to see which companies are pulling their weight in reversing this course and steering us away from dire climate scenarios.

As for the implications to the sustainability ratings industry as a whole, while I think it’s important to rate companies on things like transparency and governance, at the end of the day our job as raters should be to assess true sustainability performance. I just don’t see how that can be done without rating companies against environmental limits and thresholds. While it may not be an easy task, it shouldn’t preclude us from attempting it.

Mark McElroy: Of course I agree with all that Mike says on the importance of bringing contextually relevant limits and thresholds into the picture when trying to assess and rank the sustainability performance of organizations — can’t be done, meaningfully, in any other way.

I think the study we’ve done has some other important implications, as well, particularly with respect to debunking the conventional wisdom, as it were. For example:

· Even when measured with our comparatively rigorous and unforgiving context-based metric, almost half (49%) of the companies we looked at scored sustainably. This includes lots of companies from heavy industry, such as Siemens, GE, Volkswagen, United Technologies Corporation, Emerson Electric, and many others. Some petroleum companies, too, such as BP and Chevron scored sustainably, contrary to what many might have expected.

· Of even more significance, perhaps, is the clear demonstration in our study that it is, in fact, possible to decouple the growth of a company from its environmental impacts. It is not necessarily the case, that is, that as a company grows, its environmental performance must worsen. Indeed, almost all of the companies that scored sustainably in our analysis grew in business or economic terms in the years we looked at, and yet also managed to comply with science-based targets, if not increasingly so, as time went on.

· Of greater surprise to many, perhaps, is that not only is decoupling possible, but so, too, is it possible for a company’s absolute emissions to actually increase over time, even as its sustainability performance remains positive, if not steadily improving — all while remaining true to a science-based mitigation model that has global emissions in the aggregate coming down, not up.

These and many other surprising insights from our study will be revealed in more detail when the full Climate Counts report is released in December.

October 17th, 2013

Climate Counts Heads North in Search of Great White Hope

by Mike Bellamente, executive director

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For years, whenever the topic of climate change arises, it is seemingly always juxtaposed with an image of a polar bear; usually a starving one, or one that is clinging to the very last outcropping of sea ice on the North Pole as an unwitting poster child of man’s greatest pitfall. So often is this the case, that when I joined Climate Counts in the summer of 2011, my mantra became, “We need to make this less about the polar bears.”

Well, here I am, 10 days out from joining my friends at Polar Bears International on a 5-day excursion of the frozen tundra to broadcast about climate change in Churchill, Manitoba (polar bear capital of the world) and I’m hoping against hope the great white beasts haven’t been listening. Drip, goes the irony.

Truth be told, while the primary goal of the trip is to conduct a series of climate change web events targeted at university students, corporate sustainability folks and the zoo and aquarium community, for me it’s become a soul-searching mission.

The longer I sit on the front lines of the climate issue, the more I understand the elements at play:

1) While the greenhouse effect is a seemingly elementary concept, human-caused climate change is abstract to the point that is completely depersonalized. Unless you’re living in the Maldives and your island is sinking, it is difficult for subtle changes in weather to motivate people to modify their consumption habits or to vote in a way that may address the problem;

2) Journalistic integrity is dead (or dying at least) and we’ve become victims of a fractured, hyper-partisan media space; one where years of peer-reviewed, scientific research can be discounted with distorted facts and amplified mightily with a few strokes of the keyboard and the right media partner (see the Daily Mail with nearly 200,000 shares on “arctic cooling”);

And, 3) In the U.S., as Monty Python’s Eric Idle so rightly points out, half of our country has gone to ideological loo-loo birds who would rather take the other half of the country hostage, instead of governing toward a set of compromises that best represent the sentiments of the entire country, let alone the global community writ large.

Alas, I’m not heading to the sunny, expansive tundra of Churchill, Manitoba to gripe about any of the above issues. To the contrary, I’m going in search of hope: a great, white, furry hope that can set me down the path of enlightenment.

I’m convinced that environmentalists (a term that has become a four-letter word in many circles) can bring a better game to how we’re getting the message across to the masses. The thinking needs to change, and it needs to embrace a broader audience with revolutionary, solutions-oriented concepts like zero wasteedible packaging and flying, hydro-powered cars.

As a movement, we need to get past trying to change people’s beliefs, and focus our energy on trying to shape people’s behaviors. We need to work more openly to inspire, motivate and challenge the average Joe and Jolene to think critically about what they’re hearing and from whom. And finally, we need to make climate change less about extreme weather, the Koch brothers, and battling an inept Congress.

Perhaps, in the end, it’s not so bad to make this about our fuzzy, black-nosed friends in the Arctic after all. See you in Manitoba!

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post

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