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July, 2012

July 31st, 2012

Apple’s Missteps Shine Light on Consumer Clout and Power of Ratings

The first half of 2012 has proven to be somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Apple Inc., — well, as much of a rollercoaster as you can have with a stock price of $585 a share, up 27 percent since January 1. Of course, the company remains on solid ground as one of the most revered companies in history, with its freakishly loyal following and uncanny knack for out-innovating the competition. But, on at least a few occasions this year, Apple has fallen short of consumer expectations on one critical aspect of their game: commitment to sustainability.

On July 10, Environmentalleader.com released an announcement of the official withdrawal of 39 Apple products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, a highly recognized electronics-rating registry run by non-profit Zero Waste Alliance. Robert Frisbee, CEO of EPEAT reported to the Wall Street Journal that Apple had decided its “design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements.” According to InfoWorld Tech Watch, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display may have been a factor in this decision to pull out of EPEAT, due to the difficulty to disassemble and therefore recycle batteries, which resulted in an incredibly low score of the product.

Consumer outrage and criticism quickly followed Apple’s decision to depart from the EPEAT registry. Just days after the decision from Apple hit the web, the city of San Francisco announced that its government will no longer purchase laptops, desktops, or monitors, leaving out iPhones or iPads. And the recoil would not stop there; many universities and government bodies abide by the EPEAT standard, having potentially a significant impact on the company. The most startling contradiction to most was that Apple helped start EPEAT.

The response to Apple’s decision was so audibly fierce, that within just days of the turmoil and backlash from San Francisco, Apple rejoined EPEAT, with the controversial MacBook Pro receiving the highest rating, gold. In a letter from Bob Mansfield, Senior Vice President of hardware engineering, the mistake was recognized, and commitment to EPEAT remade. Mansfield pronounces, “Our relationship with EPEAT has become stronger as a result of this experience, and we look forward to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve.”

The EPEAT debacle is not the first of the year for Apple. Earlier in 2012, Greenpeace heavily criticized the company for their use of coal to power 50-60% of two of three current data centers, according to Gary Cook, senior policy analyst at Greenpeace. Coal-powered energy contributed to the fifth-lowest score Apple received in Greenpeace’s How Clean Is Your Cloud? report, comparing global IT and Internet companies on energy choices. In response to this, in May Apple announced intentions to power its Maiden, NC center entirely on renewable energy by the end of the year.

The lesson here is simple: the customer is still king and the power of the purse still matters. If enough people yell loud enough and demand products that satiate our needs for gadgetry, WHILE exhibiting a certain level of environmental integrity, it may be possible to have our cake and eat it too.

July 24th, 2012

Introducing…. the Climate Counts Data API!

Ok… for those of you who aren’t “tech people”, this may not sound like your idea of fun, but perhaps you can still be happy for us.  Our new Application Programming Interface (or API) is intended for developers who want to help us explore new applications for our company ratings.  API

At Climate Counts, we are big fans of Open Data.  In fact, we pride ourselves on transparency and the accessibility of our data to the point that we want to make it freely available to anyone wanting to use it.  By making our scores available in a standard, unrestricted way, we can open the doors of creativity for the wider community to help us succeed in our mission of inspiring corporate and consumer climate action.

So today we’re excited to announce that our new RESTful API (that’s programming speak!) is now open to the public, and free to experiment with and use in any application imaginable.

We already use our open API to power our iPhone app and our mobile website. In the coming months we hope to make new apps available that engage, excite and educate a broader audience.

If you’re a developer and you care about the environment, and what companies are doing to reduce their impact, then take the challenge and build a Climate Counts app of your own. It could be a mobile app, a browser plugin, a widget, a Facebook game. If you know a programmer or designer, please let them know about this, give them ideas and most importantly, encouragement.

We want our community to come up with creative ways of using the data and scores, so if you have any ideas, please comment or email us .

Documentation for our API is online at http://api.climatecounts.org/docs/. Currently the API allows access to our latest, 2011 data, but as our data is released in the coming years, we will retain past scores as well as always include the most recent years data.

Happy Developing!

Regards,

The Climate Counts Team

July 16th, 2012

To bring “Sustainability” to the Masses, it needs to be Easy, Cheap and Hip

It’s no secret to any consumer that purchasing based solely on a product or company’s environmental performance is not always easy. Running to the store after a long day of work, itching to get home to your family, one doesn’t always stop to think which brands rate higher on their Climate Counts scorecard. Especially with “green marketing” becoming the norm as opposed to the exception, consumers are just as likely to tune out the merits of eco-packaging and eco-labeling if the product isn’t a) cost competitive and b) of equal or higher quality. The challenge for companies with bold environmental targets therefore becomes how to make sustainability easy, cheap and hip.

Obviously, some companies are better at this than others. The popular shoe brand Toms, for example, was highly successful in their efforts dubbed “radical sustainablility”, by Co.Exist authors Raphael Bomporad and Jeffery Hollender. Toms “one-for-one” business strategy, giving one pair of shoes or glasses to an underprivileged person for every pair purchased, swayed consumer decision making toward a humanity-friendly purchase. Now, whether or not providing shoes for the needy does anything about the global issue of poverty is one argument, but the point is this radical new idea caught consumer attention, and sold shoes.

Successful sustainability also tends to have one main factor in common: transparency. If a company is unwilling to report on the environmental performance of their supply chains and production methods, they’re most likely hiding something. With resources available to consumers today such as sourcemap.com–a website allowing consumers to trace a purchased product’s origins and carbon footprint–consumers can follow the production of their favorite food, technology, clothing brands or more.

Several brands have taken the same idea of sourcemap.com on themselves, such as Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles, an effort to communicate the lives of their products to consumers. These videos, available on their website, “discuss what is good about the product and what sucks. It’s the good and the bad. It’s total transparency”, according to Rick Ridgeway, the VP of environmental initiatives.

The common theme in success stories of global companies that make it easy, cheap and hip for consumer to make choices based off sustainability, are to think big, to be transparent, and to be unique. To quote Bemporad and Hollender “First, we need a revolution in innovation, focused on designing products, services, and experiences that cost less, deliver more, and drive net-positive impact. Second, we need to re-define the relationship between people and the things they buy so it’s less about stuff and more about relationships, participation, community, and fulfillment.”

Marlayne Saidnawey - Communications Assistant - Climate Counts

July 13th, 2012

If Climate Counts, Why is Big Oil Gaming the System?

This article first appeared in Huffington Post, Friday July 13, under the title: Protecting the Business: Why Conoco, Caterpillar and Exxon resort to Double-Talk on Climate Change

When Galileo promoted the idea that the earth revolves around the sun in the 1600s, the church rejected his claims as heresy and subjected him to a lifetime of house arrest. Understandably, such theories could contaminate the minds of good Christians, and would therefore be bad for business.

Four hundred years later history is repeating itself, albeit with corporations (mostly those deeply invested in fossil fuels) as the ones seeking to discredit the scientific community in hopes of protecting their economic self-interests.

In the recent study A Climate of Corporate Control, the Union of Concerned Scientists uncovered several S&P 500 companies that had “made statements in support of climate science and policy in some public venues, while spreading misinformation on climate science or hindering science-based policy elsewhere.” In fact, of the 28 companies researched, 21 of them acted in direct contradiction to their stated positions on climate change, largely employing methods that skirted direct accountability (e.g. sizeable political contributions, lobbying expenditures and the funding of trade groups and think tanks). Of the most egregious offenders are companies such as Conoco Phillips, Caterpillar Inc., Exxon Mobil and Peabody Energy Corporation.

In large part, these companies are doing exactly what’s expected of them by their investors: mitigating risk and maximizing profit. By outwardly appearing as stewards of the environment, these companies retain a respected brand image (see Conoco’s webpage on climate change). If these companies can simultaneously funnel money through conservative think tanks to muddy the waters of climate science — thereby stalling Big Brother’s efforts to levy a carbon tax — all the better.

The practice of shining an undeserved halo around a company’s environmental integrity is hardly uncommon. BP, as a low-hanging example, spent years and billions of dollars re-imaging the company brand as Beyond Petroleum prior to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. As the scientific evidence mounts that climate change is caused from greenhouse gases like CO2, however, a tough reality comes into focus for corporations that depend so heavily on fossil fuels: either prepare for a world of new rules, or adopt whatever means necessary to maintain the status quo.

Earlier this year, Tom Horton, CEO of American Airlines, trumpeted the airline’s position as the “Greenest” U.S. airline rated in Newsweek’s Green Rankings. “We remain devoted to the highest standards of energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reduction” Horton said. Yet, at the time his message was posted, American Airlines was one of several airlines engaged in litigationagainst the European Union regarding a carbon tax for airlines flying over European airspace.

Similarly, the multi-media conglomerate News Corp, parent of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, has gone to great lengths as a company to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and instill sustainability into its corporate culture. News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch even stated at one point, “Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.” Even with this type of admission, Fox and WSJ continue to fill American minds with doubt on the reality of climate change as part of their programming.

For many decades the tobacco industry was successful in casting doubt about the adverse health effects of cigarettes simply because to say otherwise would have been a threat to their business. Today, companies are using this same tactic as a way of avoiding increased regulation on greenhouse gas emissions, even if those regulations are market-based versus “command and control.”

The risk of this approach lies in the fact that, unlike tobacco, which primarily affects the individual, long-term climate disruption impacts entire ecosystems, food supplies and access to fresh water for all living species. What’s more, is that by casting doubt on the science and creating an atmosphere of divisive “us vs. them” political rhetoric, the U.S. as a nation is essentially hamstringing its potential to rise above the problem collectively, proactively and with the respect of foreign countries that see us as a leader.

Suffice it to say, admitting there is a problem is the first step in breaking society’s addiction to fossil fuels. Depending on which day you talk to some of these companies though, you may remain undecided as to whether we have a problem or not.

Mike Bellamente is the director of Climate Counts, a consumer outreach organization that rates corporations on how well they measure, reduce and report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Prior to joining Climate Counts, Mike served four years as primary environmental liaison for a national economic development nonprofit in Washington DC.   In February 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere’s 2011 list of 100 most influential people in business ethics.

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