May, 2008

May 14th, 2008

What Consumers Say

We mentioned in a recent post that news coverage around corporate greening efforts — or more specifically, corporate climate responsibility — seems to be lacking the most important point of view, namely what consumers think about what companies are or aren’t doing.

A new global market study just released by Havas Media may be the latest word on what the collective consumer voice is really saying. 79% of those surveyed from diverse corners of the globe (including the US and the UK) said they would rather spend their money with companies and brands that are working to reduce their environmental impact, and 89% would be actively seeking opportunities to do just that in the year ahead.

May 13th, 2008

Apple Peeling

Since we announced our updated 2008 company scores last week, many have focused on Apple’s low score.

Frankly, there are many better stories coming out of our scores this year. In fact, we felt there were so many better stories that we didn’t even mention Apple in our press release about the new scores. What about the double-digit point improvements from 2007 to 2008 of 23 of the 56 companies we’ve scored so far? What about the fact that no companies now fall below the 12-point stuck threshold in either the household products sector or the food products sector when four companies did last year? What about the fact that 84% of the companies we’ve scored have improved their score from 2007 to 2008?  This is all big news as far as we’re concerned in the growing movement to fight global climate change. Companies are recognizing - for whatever reason - that it’s no longer OK to turn a blind eye to this issue.

But all that good news aside, what’s going on with Apple? 2 points in 2007, 11 points in 2008?

Very simply, in our review of Apple’s public (consumer-accessible) reporting, what we found in 2007 and continued to find to a somewhat lesser degree in 2008 (through March 2008) was the following:

1. Apple had never made any public statements about any effort it had made to comprehensively (or in a more limited way) measure the greenhouse gas emissions from its companywide activities, among them corporate and retail facilities, design and development of products, manufacture of products by leading suppliers, and product distribution. At Climate Counts, we evaluate whether companies have used a standard and accepted protocol for measuring companywide emissions, for example the World Resource Institute’s and World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol. As a result of last week’s press coverage of the release of our 2008 scores, Apple was finally quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “We measure the emissions from all of our company’s activities.” Up until then, however, there had been no public indication of that fact, despite our direct requests to the company. We’d be interested in hearing more specifics of what standard they’re using, and if they’re trying to evaluate overseas manufacturing in their review.  But it’s a start, and this public acknowledgement of measuring emissions will improve their score in coming years. 

2. Apple had not established any public goals or timelines for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from its companywide activities. Goal-setting is both a critical part of defining corporate intent to act on climate AND an incredibly business-friendly climate metric. Our scorecard is designed to allow us to look at all kinds of corporate goal-setting. Certainly, we hope all companies will set aggressive goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quickly and in absolute terms. Apple has set no public companywide climate protection goals, and as a result, there is no evidence that the company has achieved any greenhouse gas emissions reductions toward such a goal.

For that matter, there is no evidence of any goals by Apple to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from energy used in the use of its products. This is noteworthy because the company has clearly undergone considerable effort to make its products more energy efficient, suggesting that nearly two-thirds of the company’s impact on climate change occurs during the use of its products. How Apple arrives at that number would certainly be interesting to know. Studies on the sector as a whole reveal that as much as 70% of the energy and environmental impact of a personal computer occurs before it is purchased by the consumer. By all accounts, the manufacturing of computers and other high-tech equipment is incredibly energy intensive, and that’s what we’re concerned about at Climate Counts. Consumers can certainly decide to purchase the most energy-efficient, “greenest” products they can (although we question the positive impact of replacing last year’s model with this year’s “greener” one; the issue of “embodied energy” presents one of the reasons why we should think differently about buying green), but that’s the consumer’s responsibility in all of this. When companies understand their impact and set clear, public goals to reduce the energy they use in producing gadgets and getting them to consumers, it sends a critical message to consumers that this kind of accountability is important. It’s important that governments, consumers, AND companies accept that kind of accountability.

We applaud Apple’s efforts to understand the life-cycle impact of its products, and we awarded full points (4 points) to the company for those activities. We also acknowledged with 3 of a possible 4 points the company’s efforts to educate consumers in a general way about environmental action and to engage with other companies on energy efficiency as part of the California Green Power Group (along with the company’s green power investments, which also earned a point). There a range of environmental activities that Apple has underway that we did not award points for using our narrow-by-design lens that looks at corporate climate activities. We certainly agree that product recycling efforts and other related initiatives can have a tremendous impact on energy use and, as such, greenhouse gas emissions, but we believe it is important for companies to demonstrate that those activities are connected to a broader climate action strategy before we consider them as actions that merit points on a climate-focused scorecard.

3. Apple has not actively or publicly engaged on the climate policy front. Apple has made no public statements in support climate protection policy at the local, state, federal or international level.

4. Apple’s reporting on all of its climate activities in considerably less detailed than any of its major competitors. Climate Counts has reviewed all the information available on Apple’s climate performance on its website and elsewhere. We’ve read A Greener Apple posted last May to the Apple website, as well as the “Environment” and the “Energy Efficiency” pages on the site - and much more. Compare, just as an example, Apple’s reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project with that of IBM (this year’s sector score leader). The information simply doesn’t shed any light - as much as we would like it to - on what Apple is doing or plans to do to address greenhouse gas emissions companywide.

Climate Counts utilizes a team of independent researchers to gather publicly available information on the companies we have scored. They are a very well-trained team, representing many important slices of the consumer marketplace. They’re environmental researchers, they’re communications professionals, they’re business analysts. In many ways, they’re people just like you. They’re people who want to know what companies are doing to address climate change, and they’re charged with helping you get answers.

To score well, companies must be up front with consumers on their stance on climate.   Some have described this as a flaw of our scoring system-implying that companies that aren’t marketing their “green credentials” suffer and that we reward talk over action. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our experience is that if companies aren’t willing to be transparent, aren’t willing to face scrutiny from an increasingly sophisticated marketplace, they’re obstructing the issue. They’re not part of a solution that requires action from multiple fronts. The time for companies to just say “trust us, we’re good on climate” has passed. Consumers want to see - and follow - companies committed to real substantive action.

Even in the wake of so much cyber-attention to Apple’s low Climate Counts score for a second year running, we’re still focused on the positive stories coming out of this year’s scores. Many companies (and their consumers) are realizing that meaningful climate action is a crucial part of the future of any company that is focused on the 21st century. We continue our quest as an organization to find the true corporate leaders on climate protection who embrace the opportunity to lock arms with their consumers and stand unified in the fight to stop global warming.

May 9th, 2008

Confusion? Not When Climate Is At Stake

When it comes to our growing public conversation about the environment and sustainability, I’m always struck by how much it seems like a bad 7th grade debate. One voice authoritatively states a defensible position, and the other voice responds with a similarly viable point of view. Then it goes back to the first voice, returns to the second voice, and so on, until one voice either wins the so-called debate, or the debate continues on endlessly, leaving the rest of the class – or society as a whole – bewildered and confused.

We see this with so many divisive political issues all the time. And unfortunately, we are seeing it with climate change – and more specifically the notion of corporate climate responsibility. As many media outlets report on the new Climate Counts company scores we released this week, the point/counterpoint dynamic looms large.

Here’s usually how the story goes: we evaluate the publicly available information on the climate actions of some of the world’s most well-known companies, score and rank them, and then present what is a hopeful story about what we see as the growing openness and technical sophistication of many companies we’ve scored as they address climate change. Then some of those companies are asked to respond their scores, most often the companies that seem most surprising or haven’t improved as much as others. Those companies often protest, and then the issue is left at that. A non-profit organization provides its analysis; a company brushes it off. Where does that leave us?

What I’d like to hear in the reporting on stories about corporate action (or inaction) on climate is not what one side or the other thinks, but what consumers really think – from real consumers themselves. After all, it’s consumer concern that motivates companies to act on any issue. I’m often asked – do consumers really care about what companies are doing to address climate change? I always mention that fact that over the last year, thousands of people have come through the Climate Counts website and have sent e-mail directly to companies, and in a number of cases, companies themselves have told us they’ve heard from many people about their Climate Counts scores, so much so that they considered it a call to action – or it expedited their ongoing climate action plans.

Consumers and companies need to be collaborating to address the climate crisis. That means that it takes (1) individual behavior change, (2) strong public policy, (3) the development of greener products and greener energy technologies, and, (4) yes, a clear demonstration from the world’s biggest companies that they are committed to leading by example on climate protection – through measurement, actual companywide emissions reductions, policy engagement, and public education. When they show the marketplace that they can reduce the companywide impact they have on climate, it sends a strong message to us all – that reducing our climate impact can and, in fact, must be part of a growing, 21st-century economy.

At the end of the day, I don’t care which companies are on top or which companies are on the bottom of the Climate Counts rankings. What I care about is whether all companies are committed to taking responsibility and doing something. Even if the ranks of the companies we’ve scored were completely reversed, that point of view wouldn’t change one iota.

The fact of the matter is, we know that companies have a tremendous impact on climate change – not just in the products and services they provide but in what goes in to creating those products and services. What we don’t know is whether consumers really care about what companies are doing about climate change – and care enough to hold them accountable.

So tell me — do you?

Wood Turner - Project Director, ClimateCounts.org

May 8th, 2008

Our New Scores Reflect Growing Consumer Power

Consumer climate action isn’t just about switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs or buying recycled. While people across the country are taking action to reduce their own carbon footprint, some consumers are using their power to push companies to take action themselves - and it’s paying off.

Today, Climate Counts is releasing its second annual Climate Counts Company Scorecard. We launched our first Scorecard last year with the hope that creating a simple, easy-to-understand ranking of companies would motivate both companies and consumers to step-up their efforts on climate change.

Now, with the release of our second scorecard, we can say that it appears to have worked. The new Scorecard shows a real shift towards greater climate commitment across most industry sectors — with 84% of scored companies improving their Climate Counts scores. Looking at the companies that showed the most improvement—Google, Levi Strauss and Anheuser-Busch—shows the diverse kinds of great American companies committed to paying attention to global climate change.

The average overall Climate Counts score jumped 22% to 39 (from 30). That number, 39 out of 100, also shows that there is still a lot of work to do. Please spend some time on our site exploring how companies stack up with each other on climate performance (Click here to check out our new scores.).

We’ve been excited by the response from consumers all over the world who have told us over and over again how ready they are to align themselves with companies that reflect their own concern for global warming. Consumers have told us – through their e-mails and calls to us and to the companies we’ve scored – that they are ready to vote with their dollars to stimulate meaningful corporate climate action.

We’ve always believed that a more informed, climate-conscious consumer can play the most important role in driving corporate action in a dynamic marketplace. Indeed, those voices play much louder in corporate boardrooms than you probably ever imagined. When everyday people raise an issue with companies in a clear way, those companies pay attention. We know because it’s reflected in our new scores.

Most companies have a long way to go, but it’s a promising start. Thanks for joining with us.

  • Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge