June, 2008

June 27th, 2008

Time for Fast Food Companies to Move Faster on Climate

Estimates suggest there are upwards of 300,000 fast food restaurants in the United States, one for approximately every 101 Americans. My guess is that the actual number of restaurants changes daily. In a world with “billions and billions served,” how could we be more precise than “thousands and thousands serving”? That’s not to mention franchises popping up of every shape and size and even the specter of venerable institutions in the industry being absorbed by yesterday’s also-rans and what that will mean for consumers.


In a general sense, we know what fast food means for American consumers. Quite simply, it’s convenience and affordability. In a culture perpetually on the run, who has time to cook balanced, natural meals at home? And with gas prizes pounding the wallets of families in “forced marriages” with their cars (as Colin Beavan of the blog No Impact Man says), who wants to spend more than a few bucks on something as important as food? Our self-imposed rat-race has driven millions of us into the waiting arms of the highly profitable fast-food industry.


Unfortunately, the cost of that now almost 80-year embrace with the drive-thru far exceeds what consumers can buy from the value menu. The industry has long been criticized for its impact on national health care by contributing to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and the effects of childhood obesity. It’s been the target of animal-rights advocates and, more recently, forest advocacy organizations because of its packaging impacts. And now, it’s become increasingly clear that the industry is a laggard on global climate change. In our annual Climate Counts scores of well-known consumer companies on their commitment to addressing climate change, four out of six companies (Yum! Brands, Burger King, Darden Restaurants, and Wendy’s) in the food services sector made no improvements in their scores from 2007 to 2008. That’s in a year when 84% of the companies we scored actually improved their scores, some significantly. It adds insult to injury when you consider that those four companies earned scores of one point or even zero points on a 100 point scale (100 being the highest possible score) for two years running. (Two other food services companies, Starbucks and McDonald’s, score significantly higher than the other four but much lower than many other companies we’ve investigated.)


What do the scores mean? They mean these companies are not measuring their climate impact, they’re not substantively and comprehensively working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, they’re not supporting good public policy on climate, and they’re not being open and transparent with consumers about any real commitment to making climate actions a part of long-term business strategy. These companies spend tens of billions of dollars every year on energy, and by some estimates, as much as 80% of that energy is wasted through outmoded buildings and restaurants and inefficient food storage. Their impact on climate and our communities is all too clear.


Suddenly, convenient and cheap food is not so easy and cheap anymore. Inefficient use of energy affects corporate bottom lines – and it hits consumers. But that’s just the beginning. A report released in May from Tufts University and the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that lack of action on climate will eventually cost our economy $3.8 trillion a year. What’s truly astonishing is the significant amounts of that money that could be saved by businesses and families with a little forward-thinking and some thoughtful investment. But the time for this action is of the essence.


This summer, Climate Counts is circulating a petition designed to send a clear message to the fast- food industry that it’s time to get serious about climate change. Through our partnerships with artists like Jack Johnson and organizations like the Hip Hop Caucus, we’re asking people around the country to use their mobile phones to get active on climate change by signing our fast-food petition.


It’s time to tell an industry skilled in the art of speed what urgency really means.

June 3rd, 2008

What Corporate Climate Metrics Matter?

By Wood Turner
Project Director, Climate Counts

A version of this post also appears on the blog of The Climate Group’s Together campaign (www.together.com) which launches in New York City on June 5.

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.

In early May, Climate Counts (www.climatecounts.org) released its second annual Climate Counts Company Scorecard. We launched our 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. We applaud the work of companies that are taking a leadership role in creating products that help our marketplace and our society as a whole become more accountable for the impact they have on global climate change.

With the release of the second Climate Counts Company Scorecard, we can report that many well-known companies have embraced a leadership role on corporate carbon management, not only through the development of products that reduce the carbon footprint of those who use them, but also through companywide accounting of the greenhouse gas emissions that occur during design, development, production, and distribution of those products. Companies that recognize the impact of their products AND the impact of their operations are both connecting the strategic dots for their organizations and modeling the kind of climate action that consumers should be following.

The new Climate Counts Company 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. Of course, it also tells us which companies and sectors are still not taking it as seriously as they should be. (Click here to download our pocket shopping guide.)

But let’s go back to how and why companies like this can truly lead consumers on a pathway toward real sustainability. When we developed our 22-criteria scorecard, we consulted academics and NGO experts who agreed that the climate metrics, or key performance indicators, that make up our scorecard were not only appropriate for measuring company climate performance but also represented a strong “transit” map for climate-conscious companies seeking a set of standards to drive their future climate action and innovation. Our evaluation of company climate action focuses on four key metrics, specifically whether companies have

• MEASURED their climate footprint
• REDUCED their climate impact
• SUPPORTED (or blocked) progressive climate policy initiatives
• Made their climate protection efforts PUBLIC and TRANSPARENT

Why are these metrics important? Because they represent critical components of a comprehensive climate protection strategy that relies on three pillars: government regulation, business innovation, and consumer activation. Only companies that are measuring their impact on climate change can develop innovations that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their operations and their products. True business innovation occurs when corporations embrace a collaborative relationship with policy makers and with consumers. Corporate climate leaders are not hiding from what most assume is the future legislative and regulatory framework for climate protection; they’re helping shape it to make it stronger.

Accepting accountability. Achieving real reductions. Supporting good public policy. Being increasingly open and transparency about climate action. We believe these are the measures of great, forward-thinking, future-friendly companies. At Climate Counts, we hope that next generation of great companies is not only comprised of those not yet thought of, but that it is anchored by the kinds of great companies and beloved brands that have been so much a part of all of our lives already. Join us in letting those companies know that climate change is an issue that matters deeply – to all of us.

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