June, 2009

June 22nd, 2009

Child Safety? A Father’s Day Call for a Longer View

By Wood Turner, Climate Counts Executive Director

Every year around this time, the father in me starts thinking deep thoughts about why I’ve dedicated my career to environmental awareness and, in particular, helping people who don’t consider themselves activists understand why environmental issues should matter to them. In more recent years, it’s morphed into an almost singular focus for me on why global climate change should matter to all of us.

For me, it’s simple. It’s the kids.

As a parent, I am firmly in the camp of those who want to do everything they can to make sure their kids are exposed to fewer potential hazards than they were. I always laugh when my own mom says, “Well, we fed you [some processed food I could never imagine giving my kids] and you turned out OK,” or “We didn’t even have carseats when you were growing up and you’re just fine.” Yeah, yeah, yeah – I for one feel completely free of nostalgia for the “good old days” of the polluted 1970s or blissfully ignorant 1950s. We’ve evolved in many ways, and that’s a good thing.

What’s not evolving is the point of view of many of the companies that are making the products we parents are buying to protect our kids. In many ways, companies that make children’s safety equipment are incessantly frightening us into an upgrade: “Hey concerned parent, remember that carseat you used for your newborn in 2006? Well, nothing could be more dangerous for your newborn with a 2009 birthday. You’ve got to buy this year’s model in order to keep you kid safe!” Most of us hear the call and do just as we’re told, stretching our own wallets way too often to support a business model fueled by planned obsolescence.

Look, I’m not really out to pick apart a business model, regardless of whether it relegates lightly-used carseats to landfills. Indeed, we parents – we consumers – have to make our own choices. If it boosts the revenues the companies we buy from, I guess that is what it is.

But here’s the problem I do have – and it all gets back to climate change.

Children’s equipment companies know we want to keep our kids safe. And that’s not just today or this week or this year. I think about the safety of my kids long after they’ll have left my house, long after I’m gone. I want their entire lives to be safe and secure. I want to take every precaution possible in the way I treat the world I leave them. I’m not trying to anticipate what could result from global climate change. I don’t want to know – and not because I’m trying to avoid thinking about it. I don’t want to know because I don’t want it to happen.

So that affects the way I think about the products I buy ostensibly to keep my kids safe. I think those choices have to extend far beyond the catastrophic car accident I hope will never happen, far beyond the tiny fingers that might get slammed in the bedroom door (which has happened, despite my precautions), far beyond the potential toxic chemicals that may be in the food we feed them. They have to extend to climate change.

It concerns me as a parent and as an advocate for climate change that many of the most well-known companies making children’s equipment are not actively involved in reducing their global warming pollution. When Climate Counts (which I direct) announced scores on the climate action of the toys and children’s equipment sector a couple of months back, results were dismal. At the request of consumers who were interested in this sector, we scored 13 of the biggest companies – companies who make familiar family brands like Graco, Safety 1st, Instep, Evenflo, Chicco, One Step Ahead, Britax, Peg Perego, and more – and TEN scored less than five points out of a possible 100 on climate. No understanding of the overall impact of their companies’ energy use, waste, distribution, and sales on climate. No evidence of any efforts to reduce energy use or greenhouse gas emissions. No support for good climate policy. And no conversation at all with the legions of parents who buy from these companies because they help to ensure the safety of their kids – no conversation about climate change, something that could have a greater impact on the safety and well- being of the current generation of children than maybe anything else.

Sure, the toys and children’s equipment sector has a tiny impact on climate change when compared to the oil industry or the automobile industry. But that’s shouldn’t matter. Each of our families and our communities is thinking about how we can have a smaller footprint. Every company should be trying to do the same thing – and doing it in such a way, frankly, that not only creates real value for the consumer but also results in the long-term viability – and credibility – of the company itself. We parents have demonstrated our consumer power by greatly expanding the market for organic food in recent years. We can also shape the market in favor of those companies that care as much about climate change – and the long-term safety of our kids – as we do. To not to be thinking in these terms is to be completely diminishing our parental role as protectors and nurturers of our kids.

Some of the deniers out there will say, maybe not. Maybe, just maybe there will be no measurable negative impact on our children’s lives because of climate change. You know what? I don’t believe in maybe. I simply don’t want to know what will happen if we don’t demand more from the companies we trust.

June 5th, 2009

Big Pharma: The Case for Corporate Climate Responsibility

Today, Climate Counts is releasing our review of the pharmaceutical industry, and they’ve made for an interesting case: they are both extraordinarily profitable and have received the highest scores yet of any of the 14 industries on our Climate Counts Company Scorecard. But in spite of good scores on measurement and reporting, they’ve been weak on reducing their emissions and have, for the most part, failed to use their formidable collective lobbying muscle to help pass strong climate legislation. 

That’s quite a mixed bag–what does it all mean?


Profits and Climate Action are (of course) Compatible

14 of 16 pharmaceutical companies we scored fell into our “striding” class—the highest level in the Climate Counts ranking system (typically at least 50 points out of a possible 100)—and two companies (AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson) scored over 75 points. These are all companies from an industry (pending mergers notwithstanding) that is one of the most profitable in the world. So the good news is we have yet more proof that climate action is compatible with good business. 


Why Not Do More?

We evaluate climate performance in terms of impact measurement, reductions achieved (including management accountability for reductions); public policy engagement; and openness and transparency in reporting. Pharmaceutical companies are proving to be consistently good at getting their houses in order; greenhouse emissions tracking is a sector strength, as is acknowledging and showing public support for a collective societal approach to addressing climate change.


The majority of companies in the sector, however, have not set aggressive or specific goals to reduce their emissions. They are also falling short at taking real steps to cut emissions. Many pharmaceutical companies rely on lengthy and antiquated supply chains, so logistical efficiency improvements could be a priority that would result in reductions (some, like GlaxoSmithKline, seem to recognize this opportunity). Additionally, those big pharma companies that don’t actually manufacture their products could play a market-leading role in encouraging climate action and climate leadership throughout the value chain.


Invest in Climate

The prescription drug business is overflowing with profits. Despite a widely held perception that companies sacrifice much profit to drug research and development costs, the margin they enjoy on most drugs is on the order of 91-95%. The industry has the added economic benefit of having a locked-in market (the government represents the three largest purchasers of pharmaceuticals: Medicare, the VA, and Medicaid) and limited competition between companies since most are highly specialized. The upshot? The industry can afford to be – and by many accounts, is – notoriously inefficient at manufacturing.


The pharmaceutical giants could be investing significant amounts of money in the kinds of renewable energy and energy-efficiency technology that most companies and sectors can only dream about right now. In other words, the kind of ROI evidence that less profitable, less successful companies say they need in order to truly prioritize climate protection? Big pharma could really be the test case.


Speak-Up in Congress

Notably, the pharmaceutical sector–which pays big dollars for lobbying support in Washington DC on issues related to healthcare–is conspicuously absent (or obscured) when it comes to advocating for strong legislation to fight climate change. Johnson & Johnson, a member of the US Climate Action Partnership, is an exception, but what if the sector presented a coordinated voice to lawmakers? It’s time to move behind a small and select group of companies willing to speak out on climate change. It’s time for entire sectors to step forward, armed with a compelling narrative about how climate action and energy-efficiency investments have changed their businesses in extraordinarily positive ways.


Actually, the overarching question really is, why isn’t the sector demonstrating explicitly that strong, voluntary corporate climate action is consistent with good business? That’s the message the marketplace needs, now more than ever with a possible climate law on the horizon that many have argued wouldn’t in its current form go far enough to address the scientific realities of climate change.


Regardless of their high scores, there is much more that the pharma industry could and should be doing on climate, and that’s true of every company and every major company we’ve scored so far.  To be perfectly clear, though, big pharma is better than most industry sectors in embracing corporate climate responsibility. Better, though, is not good enough. If money is what’s needed to address climate change with the kind of technology and logistical improvements worthy of 21st-century, future-friendly companies, then the pharmaceutical companies certainly have it to spend. Whether they will show they’re serious about being climate innovators depends on whether we hold them to a standard worthy of the profits they’ve earned in the name of innovating for our health.

June 2nd, 2009

BK billboards: “global warming is ‘baloney’”

The line: “Global warming is baloney” was seen posted on several Burger King billboards in Memphis, Tenn. According to a number of news outlets, including a Fox report, Burger King ultimately denounced the signs as being representative of their corporate stance on the issue and the signs have since been taken down.  But, while the top tier of the company may not be denying global warming outright, they have yet to acknowledge or address their company’s climate impact. Take a minute and let them know you want to see signs of climate action, click here to go to their Climate Counts company scorecard and send them an e-mail about their position on climate change.

More articles: [UPDATED June 3, 2009]

The Memphis Flyer

The Renewable Planet

Nashville Scene

  • Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge