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Climate Counts News

September 20th, 2012

Interview with Mike Bellamente- Director of Climate Counts

This interview first appeared on IdeaMensch on Thursday, September 20th.

Mike Bellamente is the director of Climate Counts, a national organization that rates major consumer brands on their commitment to addressing climate change. Prior to joining the organization, Mike established his career with Level 3 Communications in Broomfield, Colorado, before serving as primary environmental liaison for NADO, an economic development public-interest group in Washington, DC. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Mike was named to the economic solutions team—which was led by the White House—to conduct impact analyses for oil-impacted communities.

Bellamente has written extensively on the role of the private sector in combating climate change. His work has appeared in Huffington Post, GreenBiz.com, and Corporate Responsibility Magazine. In February of 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere’s list of 100 most influential people in business ethics. Mike received an MBA in international business from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Plymouth State University.

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to figure out how to repackage climate change in a way that inspires people. When Climate Counts first began rating companies in 2007, climate change wasn’t so politically polarizing like it is today. Instead of coming together as a society to address the issue, politicians have turned this into a Right v. Left issue, which has caused people to tune it out altogether. The science hasn’t changed—just people’s perceptions of the science. It now falls to me and the people in the “outreach” business to tell the story in a way that’s compelling, guilt-free and non-partisan. Most major companies have a climate and energy strategy that’s tied to risk avoidance; for them it just makes business sense to protect their assets. These are the stories we need to tell.

Where did the idea for Climate Counts come from?

Climate Counts was actually the brainchild of Gary Hirshberg, chairman and former CEO of Stonyfield Farm, a New Hampshire-based organic yogurt producer. The original idea was to give consumers the information they needed to make purchasing and investment decisions in a way that would drive sweeping changes in how companies measured and managed their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Similar to the disinvestment movement in South Africa that eventually led to the end of apartheid, Gary saw the potential to get the public motivated in a way that would drive the private sector to act on climate change. Then, of course, the financial crisis came and people stopped worrying about climate change.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Similar to a stand-up comic, I first test my material with people who are close to me. If they tell me the idea sucks, I’ll ask a bunch of people I don’t know until someone’s says they like it. Then I’ll focus on how I can get the most out of the idea quickly, without spending a great deal of time or money. I’ve found, through running a nonprofit, that time and money are very difficult to come by.

What does your typical day look like?

It’s all over the map, really. One day I’m writing articles on climate change and guest lecturing to business students, and the next I’m out fundraising and planning peer learning events for our corporate partners who are interested in driving this issue forward.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The fact that the concept of “sustainability” is steadily gaining traction in the private sector is something to be positive about. Politicians will always be morons. What we really need is for good ol’ American business to lead the clean technology revolution in a direction that will put the U.S. back on top. I honestly think we can get to a point where no one has to sacrifice their Ford F-150 for the good of the environment—cars and trucks will eventually run on magical fuels made from plastic. Mark my words.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I had a job at a startup company in Denver, where I had to cold-call builders, plumbers and electricians to buy our service. That was the worst job ever. I don’t think I made one deal. I learned that no one should ever call someone unsolicited unless they’re notifying them that they’ve won a lot of money or that there’s a bomb in the building.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Not to diminish the importance of things like abortion, gun control and poverty, but I think we need to begin viewing climate change as its own separate thing. It disturbs me to see how politicized the issue has become and how people are just linking it to their existing ideologies, thinking, “Oh, you’re environmentalist, so you must be a democrat.” When scientists tell me that smoking causes cancer or that the earth revolves around the sun, I tend to take their word for it, as I, myself, am not a scientist. I wish more folks would do that too, and I’ve made it my mission in life to help those poor scientists get their words out to us normal folk about climate change.

Tell us a secret.

Polar bears are pissed that they’ve become the face of climate change. In fact, most of them are invested in big oil. (Don’t ask me how I know).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A Brave New World. It’s a classic and everyone should read it. Also, it illustrates the power of uniqueness and individual thought. Today, it seems like people are very okay with being told what to think by the folks at Fox.

Who is your hero?

Peter Forsberg. He’s retired now, but he was the greatest hockey player to ever live.

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

February 27th, 2012

Ditching Green Marketing in favor of Leading by Example through Corporate Sustainability

Last month, GreenBiz.com released its annual State of Green Business report which observed the widening gap between corporate sustainability trends and a growing sense of indifference on the part of the consumer. To borrow from the report: consumers are more preoccupied with saving their jobs and homes than with “saving the planet.” Indeed, in tough times few have the capacity to care about social issues.

Last year a report entitled Mainstream Green found that 85% of Americans would rather be given guidelines on how to live a green and sustainable life and do it themselves, rather than have it legislated through government regulations and policies.

So why is there a gap between consumer intentions and their actions when it comes to sustainability? The answer lies in the unintended consequences of green marketing. This niche marketing has bumbled its way into the mainstream where the consumer audience is largely uninterested in being lectured on the importance of sustainability. Human nature inclines us to resist change in favor of the status quo, whereas sustainability means buying less and re-using more. Sustainability is edgy and different and generally not something John Q Public is clamoring for. Marketers of environmentally responsible products and services must come to the realization that “normal” is not a dirty word, but rather that it is the key to true sustainability.

One way to close this gap between unbridled consumerism and conscious consumption is to provide high performing sustainable choices. Some companies who are embracing this version of the new normal are Unilever and Levis.

Under their Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever’s Persil Small & Mighty concentrated laundry detergent saves 35 million liters of water a year in Europe. Similarly, Levi is now promoting Water>Less jeans collection, which reduces Levi’s water usage by an average of 28% per pair. Both companies are known and trusted; therefore consumers are not sacrificing quality for sustainable options.

So how do these companies rank according to Climate Counts? Unilever improved five points in 2011 to become the highest scored of nearly 150 major corporations. By embedding resource efficiency and emissions reduction targets into every layer of their value chain, Unilever has proven that true sustainability can only come from getting everyone involved from product development to product disposal.

Levi Strauss is up thirteen points from 2010 and is now striding at 74 points with a gold star*. Climate Count’s 2011Scoring Report notes two of Levi’s best practices regarding consumer engagement: Care Tag for the Environment and their Water>Less Jeans product.

Although Unilever and Levi Strauss are among the leaders in shifting consumer perceptions on sustainability, not enough consumer-facing companies are following suit. Consumers are looking for a normal and mainstream approach to “going green” without having to expend much effort to get it. It is up to the companies they buy from to better convey the importance of sustainability and nudge consumers in the right direction by offering green alternatives that don’t compromise cost or performance. To this end, perhaps it is better for companies to ditch green niche marketing and incorporate sustainability into their corporate strategy from the ground up.

- Susan Torman, Communications Intern- Climate Counts

*Gold star represents companies showing strong support for comprehensive climate energy policy.

February 10th, 2012

Sustainability Runs Deep in Ethics Ranking; Leaders at PepsiCo, Climate Counts, and PAX named to 2011 List

Of those named to Ethisphere’s “2011 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics” last month, readily apparent is the occupational diversity of the field.  Rare is the occasion that one sees the likes of Michelle Obama (#53) and Stephen Colbert (#48) listed alongside the Annie Kishens (#36 - Director of CSR for PepsiCo India) and Mike Bellamentes (#45 – Director of nonprofit Climate Counts) of the world.

The more subtle point to be drawn, however, is the unique cross-section of environmental thought leaders represented in the rankings.  A sign that eco-consciousness has become a mainstay in what is deemed ethical business practices, the 2011 list included several professionals either loosely or intricately tied to corporate sustainability trends.

While former Timberland CEO, Jeff Swartz (#24) made it his mission to embed resource conservation into his company’s psyche, sustainability blogger Marc Gunther (#66) was keeping companies honest through the written word.  Joe Keefe (#82), President and CEO of Pax World Investments, made his mark by way of innovative sustainable investing solutions, while Annie Kishen pioneered a pledge to make Pepsi’s operations in India water positive by replenishing more water than is consumed.

Although few operatives of environmental stewardship penetrated the top-quartile of the list of 100 –not surprising when up against the likes of corruption activist and hunger striker Anna Hazare- the increasing visibility environmental movers and shakers is cause enough for optimism.

Below is a list of honorees recognized for ethical contributions related to the environment.  To view the complete list of the 2011 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics, click here.

The Ethisphere Institute is a leading international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability.

·      #24 Jeffrey Swartz – CEO, Timberland
Category: Business Leadership

·         #36 Annie Kishen – Director of CSR, PepsiCo India
Category: Business Leadership

·         #45 Mike Bellamente – Project Director, Climate Counts
Category: Thought Leadership

·         #50 (tie) Yalmaz Siddiqui – Director, Environmental Strategy, Office Depot
Category: Design and Sustainability

·         #50 (tie) Leo Bonanni – CEO, Sourcemap
Category: Design and Sustainability

·         #66 Marc Gunther – Blogger, MarcGunther.com
Category: Media and Whistleblowers

·         #82 (tie) Joseph Keefe – President and CEO, Pax World Investments
Category: Investment and Research

·         #92 Jacquelynn Henke – Real Estate Green Strategy Officer, TD Bank
Category: Design and Sustainability

·         #94 Dennis Smith – National Clean Cities Director, Department of Energy
Category: Government and Regulatory

·         #100 Dan Phillips – Contractor and Home Builder, Independent
Category: Design and Sustainability

-Mike Bellamente, Project Director - Climate Counts

January 30th, 2012

Calling all Cyclists - Sign up today for Climate Ride 2012!

How better to while away the doldrums of winter than by training for a springtime New York to DC cycling adventure?

Climate Counts is once again honored to be a beneficiary of TWO amazing climate rides – Climate Ride NYC to DC (May 19 - 23) and Climate Ride California (September 9 - 13).Climate Ride

This year, not only is it possible to donate and commit to fundraising on behalf of your favorite environmental organizations, but you can also sign up to RIDE for the Climate Counts Team.

For more details on how you can help support Climate Counts, contact project director Mike Bellamente at 603.862.0121 or mbellamente@climatecounts.org.

Thank you for in advance for supporting the cause!

-The Climate Counts Team

January 10th, 2012

In New Hampshire, a Primary Need for Climate Discussion

NH PrimaryIn the lead up to the GOP New Hampshire primary, one thing has become abundantly clear:  climate change has few friends in this field of candidates.

So visibly absent is the subject of climate change from ongoing stump speeches that New Hampshire scientists –representing institutions such as the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth–have banded together in a plea for republican candidates to, at the very least, accept the reality of shifting global temperatures.

In reviewing the front-running republican websites, not one even mentions climate change, let alone sets out a plan to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) we emit as a nation (U.S. being the second largest emitter of GHGs worldwide).

This signals a prime opportunity for leading-edge U.S. corporations to ordain themselves as the voice of reason.   While iconic symbols of American industry (IBM, Bank of America, Nike, and Levi’s for starters) are taking progressive action on climate change, candidates who purport themselves as 21st century businessmen refuse to even acknowledge the science of humanity’s biggest challenge.  This leaves one to wonder just how much of a lagging indicator politicians truly are to the status quo.

Major corporations are no longer just playing to the green crowd because of its popularity.  Climate change is being addressed at the highest levels of business because it poses an immediate risk to operations, supply chains and future investments.  A look at the 2011 Carbon Disclosure Project Global 500 report reveals that 85% of respondents to last year’s survey reported business risks associated with climate change.

So why isn’t there more coordinated vocalization from the private sector demanding that presidential candidates address the issue?

To be sure, groups such as Ceres’ Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) are valiantly attempting to move the needle on Capitol Hill, but perhaps it is time to bring corporate activism to the level of campaign contributions.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court removed the ceiling in 2010 on the amount corporations are legally allowed to spend on campaign donations, the next logical step, it would seem, is for businesses affected by climate change risk to invest in presidential candidates who reflect those interests.

It is well understood that this country is in need of an economic kick-start, and that any plans for job creation will appeal equally to the left, the right and the coveted independent swing vote in this year’s election.   What has become less clear, however, is why the quest for clean energy and a low-carbon future has become such a source of vitriol for the conservative agenda.

Climate change is no longer an issue of activism or alarmism.  It is a simple fact that deserves the attention of anyone vying for the position of Commander in Chief.

Mike Bellamente is the project director of Climate Counts, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that annually ranks major corporations on their climate leadership.

November 6th, 2011

Climate Counts teams up with Practically Green

Do you crave a fun, easy way to adopt healthy green choices and share your accomplishments withSuperbly Green friends and colleagues?

Practically Green is a unique way for people to set targets for themselves and achieve those targets through point-based actions (e.g. 50 points for installing CFL bulbs in your home). Users can also recommend and rate products, and compare progress.

Climate Counts has teamed up with Practically Green to give our supporters the encouragement they need to eat local and organic, to adopt climate-minded spending habits, and to embrace energy-efficient home improvements such as window replacements and installing attic insulation.

We’ve also created a conscious consumer badge on Practically Green that rewards you for modifying your daily routine to make it more eco-minded, including supporting corporations that are committed to reducing their climate impact. How you travel, shop, eat, and more can drastically reduce your footprint and inspire your friends to do the same.

Take the quiz on Practically Green today!

Enjoy,

Practically Green and

The Climate Counts Team

October 18th, 2011

Corporate Climate Responsibility - Beyond the Bottom Line?

Corporate Climate ResponsibilityOne of the most interesting aspects of working in the field of corporate climate responsibility (CCR) is how the debates surrounding climate are generally grounded in reality.  In politics, the conversation is still too often focused on whether or not climate change is real, while in the business world–even within the energy sector–debate is more often centered on questions related to climate risk, reward and return on investment.

A perfect example of the issues facing corporations arose out of a debate that took place during the COMMIT! Forum earlier this month in New York City.  Dr. Aneel Karnani, PhD at the University of Michigan, and Gerald Sullivan, President of the Vice Fund, argued that companies expending resources on corporate responsibility and sustainability destroy economic value.  Defending corporate responsibility were Paul Herman, CEO of HIP investors and Dr. Vinay Nair, PhD at Columbia Business School, who offered empirical insight on how companies that invest in environmental and social initiatives typically perform better in the market than industry averages.

COMMIT! ForumFor Climate Counts, an organization founded on the idea that corporations need to be seen as allies in addressing climate change, it was like being on trial.  It was a fascinating conversation, but it also seemed to miss the point.

To us it has always been clear that corporations, like consumers, have a vital role to play in protecting people and the planet.  Following another summer with record breaking heat, droughts, storms and flooding, it is clear that all members of society-corporations included-have an obligation to be a part of the climate solution.

Although it would be altruistic to think that companies would put sustainability above profit, our experience has shown that actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can often benefit the bottom line as well.

How?

-          The customer is always right. The average consumer is becoming increasingly aware of global warming and the corresponding impacts on weather patterns, agriculture and human health. It may not be enough to force political action yet, but it’s much too large a segment of the population to ignore as a company. The growth of corporate sustainability ratings and sustainability indexes enable consumers to more readily identify which companies are adopting comprehensive approaches to sustainability, and which are simply using “green” as fortuitous marketing fodder.  In essence, the customer is still king, and environmentalism is fast becoming the mainstream for consumer purchasing.  Companies that fail to adapt will soon find themselves vulnerable to eroding market share.

-          CCR investments save money. As Dr. Karnani was quick to point out during the debate, corporate commitment to increasing operational efficiency, reducing waste and engaging employees are all elements of good business, whether it’s called corporate social responsibility or not.  Similarly, assessing and managing risks associated with climate change is also an element of good business.  In 2010, Levi Strauss & Company acknowledged in their Carbon Disclosure Project survey that 95% of their products are made from cotton which is sourced from over 110 different countries, some of which are starting to feel the impacts of climate change.  Realizing this risk and adapting to it has not only made Levi’s a pioneer in sustainable cotton harvesting and responsible water management, but it has provided a way for the company to better manage long-term costs associated with a primary input material. More simply put, Levi’s approach to climate leadership in this case benefits not only the environment, but also their long term ability to remain profitable.

-          Long-term brand protection is key.  Brand image can take years to develop and hours to destroy, as was evidenced by BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico last year.  As sustainable business practices become the norm across industry sectors, companies are increasingly enticed to adopt eco-marketing strategies without having internal sustainability goals to support them.  Consumers react well to companies on the leading edge of innovation, but tend to respond negatively to false advertising and being duped into something they thought to be true.  When New Scientist released a report last year on brand perception, it was of little surprise that some companies were perceived to be strong environmental performers, but actually weren’t.  Del Monte for example was ranked 2nd out of 22 companies in ‘green’ perception, while ranking dead last in actual environmental performance.  As consumer and investor demand continues to grow for environmental reporting and operational transparency, companies that exhibit a false front to being green risk exposure and backlash that can drastically affect their brand integrity.

All three points are critical to understanding that CCR investments are just that-investments-and they pay dividends in increased efficiency, brand value and customer connection.

Perhaps this is why most major corporations have moved onto the bigger and more interesting questions, such as: how can our company best measure its corporate climate impact?  What are the best strategies for reducing that impact? How should our corporation be supportive of climate and energy policy? How can our company best disclose and communicate corporate actions to our customers?

-Mike Bellamente, Project Director - Climate Counts

July 27th, 2011

More Demand Will Drive Greater Quality and Transparency of Ratings

The following was originally posted by Michael Sadowski, VP of SustainAbility.  To view the original blog-post, click here.

SustainAbility

A question and answer with Wood Turner and Mike Bellamente of Climate Counts, one of the ratings profiled in SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters research series.

1) Looking at the Phase Four paper of Rate the Raters, what resonates most with you?

Now that corporate sustainability ratings have been around awhile, SustainAbility’s Rate the Raters project helps us gauge what the future holds. The phase four paper establishes that rating standards will require greater differentiation moving forward, and that raters will need to distance themselves from the overly saturated data compilation side of the business in order to remain competitive. We at Climate Counts certainly believe this to be true; indeed, if our goal is to point the business community in the direction of climate change awareness and leadership, it should be done with clarity and efficiency, not complexity and duplication.

The report also touches on a number of themes to which no rating organization is immune, including financial viability, consistency, transparency and strategic focus. Profiling the industry on these topics allows organizations like ours to recognize how we stand in relation to the competition. This is never a bad thing. In fact, identifying where the ratings world has been and where it’s going is paramount to our continued success as an organization. Just as the companies we rate are beholden to their customers and shareholders, we too need to observe and adapt to the changes in the marketplace.

As RTR Phase Four suggests, “almost every rating system has at its core a mission to help businesses inch toward sustainability.” Big business has the reach, resources and marketing dollars to make it understood that climate change is a real issue facing today’s generations, more so than all the nonprofit climate advocacy groups combined. Having a collective partnership with raters and industry sectors alike allows for greater idea generation and less finger pointing when it comes to achieving results toward a healthier environment and a healthier, more efficient economy.

2) What makes you uncomfortable/uneasy?

We’re not sure uncomfortable is the right word, but it is interesting to see that so few raters (including CC) have been able to create a financially viable model for what is seemingly bulletproof consumer demand. As SustainAbility asserts: “Companies are linking executive compensation to performance on ratings. Asset managers are leveraging sustainability ratings and research in their investment decision making.” With indicators like this illustrating the degree to which companies are taking corporate responsibility ratings seriously, it is alarming to think how few have been able to arrive at a model that institutionalizes rating systems with consumers in a way that can be self-sustaining.

Inherent in a credible rating system that shows great promise and value, it seems, is the paradox that any judge of others would be morally compromised by generating revenue through the ratings process. Somehow, this needs to change, and hopefully Climate Counts can be a catalyst.

3) In the Washington DC workshop, we had a vigorous conversation about the need for the ratings agenda to take a closer look at quality and standards. Yet you shared perhaps a different slant on this – can you elaborate here?

Wood’s quote from the workshop:

“Rather than perseverating over the need for common criteria, quality standards, etc., we (raters, companies, consultants and others) should join together to dramatically boost demand for ratings. Greater demand will help resolve many of the issues we’re talking about today.”

If the quality of a rating standard is derived from the rating’s simplicity, transparency and consistency, we think it is those ratings that will continue to be marketable regardless of the “common criteria” that exist across multiple rating systems. Our work as raters is only as important as the companies and consumers who pay attention to them. Put another way, whether the value our industry provides is perceived or actual, companies will only continue allocating resources to sustainability if it remains in some way relevant to their bottom line. At Climate Counts, we would like to think that as awareness of climate change grows, our rating systems will become more, not less, important. That said, we continue to operate in an ever-evolving discipline that demands constant attention to the interests of consumers and businesses alike.

In many ways, our goals as a rating organization run parallel to those of the companies we rate. If Company A has gone to great lengths to reduce their carbon footprint and report their successes, they want to let customers know this. What better way to publicize your achievements than by being rated ahead of a competitor through an independent, credible third-party ranking system. Climate Counts wants to be THE ranking system that companies consider especially relevant and useful, not just the ones who score well in our rating system.

4) You also have a practical view on whether and how raters can also be consultants. Can you explain?

As with the ratings themselves, transparency is at the heart of whether a ratings organization can make the successful leap into the role of advisor or consultant. The goal is to provide outward-facing, clearly defined and delineated operational guidelines that can withstand the most profound levels of scrutiny, guidelines that adhere to the mission of the organization while maintaining operational integrity.

At Climate Counts, we perform annual rankings of 150 of the world’s largest companies based on their efforts to measure, reduce and report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in addition to whether they take a formal stance in support of climate change legislation. Because there are several companies that recognize the value of this service, but don’t represent one of the 150 largest companies, we have developed the Industry Innovators (I2) program. Our I2 service offering allows businesses to: 1) employ our industry-proven ratings criteria to complete self-assessments; 2) engage with our project team directly to outline a plan for improved performance; 3) access membership privileges such as marketing assistance, peer networking and consumer-facing media opportunities.

We accomplish the balance between our annual Climate Counts rating process and our revenue-generating I2 program through full disclosure of our rating methodologies, use of publicly reported information in our evaluations and a set of strict internal governance procedures to avoid conflicts of interest.

April 15th, 2010

The Perils of ‘Green Watching’

Earth Day is coming, and with it, hours and hours of “green” television programming and print media coverage. People who hardly give the environment a thought all year will be “Green Watching” programs – and advertisements – about how to be more environmentally responsible. In the past, I always thought of this heightened awareness as a good thing. The added programming draws broader attention to serious environmental problems like the climate crisis, and I firmly believe an educated public is critical to generating strong climate action throughout society.

However this Earth Day I think it’s important to ask: At what point does “Green Watching” become a form of greenwashing? Should media companies lead by example on corporate climate and environmental action or because of their importance in educating the public is talk enough?

Green Watching can get complicated.

Obviously, media companies (like all companies) are in business to make money. In 2009, the six major media companies Climate Counts scored brought in well over $300 billion dollars in revenue. It’s safe to assume that making money is somewhere behind the creation of all Earth Day, Week, and Month programming; if it was all altruism, there wouldn’t be hours of mostly-mindless commercials. Second, I think we all understand that a network’s brand is a critical part of how it builds an audience (and increases ad revenue). Network brands are becoming increasingly important as people have more information and entertainment options. A network that does environmental programming during Earth Week is trying to brand itself in a certain way.  Yet even if the motivation is profit and the strength of a brand, media companies do have a big impact on both the political debate and in setting cultural and societal norms.

So, how can we as consumers be informed Green Watchers?

The first is to know what commitment these companies have made to addressing climate change. But the facts will blow your mind.

Based on our latest round of scoring (released in November 2009), notoriously conservative News Corporation was near the top of green-committed media companies, with 68 points out of a possible 100. Notoriously hip Viacom (the parent of MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and VH1), however, was not only among the lowest in the media sector with just  three points, but among the lowest of nearly 150 companies scored in 16 major sectors.

You read that right. The company that owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal is doing more to reduce its own climate impact than the company that is watched by the young, edgy, and culturally dialed-in. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity work for the company doing more on the corporate side to address the climate crisis than the company that gives John Stewart and Stephen Colbert their megaphones. And perhaps what’s most striking is how little improvement Viacom and other low-scoring media companies like CBS and Time Warner have shown in the more than three years since Climate Counts began tracking their performance.

While Rupert Murdoch, the CEO and major shareholder of News Corporation, has been subtly stepping out as a mover on climate change for several years, his counterpart Philippe P. Dauman of Viacom has shown little to no concern regarding Viacom’s lack of even the most basic climate action. It’s hard for a company to score 68 points on our scorecard, but frankly, it’s even harder—almost laughable for any self respecting, well managed company—to score just three.

However, in terms of influencing political debates, News Corporation has done as much as anyone to confuse the public on the climate crisis, while Viacom programs like “The Daily Show” and CBS programs like Letterman’s “Late Show” have done much to educate viewers on the dangers of climate change.

But wait, there’s more.

While some of its shows may add depth to the public conversation about climate change, CBS launched an entire “Green Campaign” with the tag line “putting our green where it counts” to do nothing more than promote its Emmy nominated shows. With a score of 13 on our most recent scorecard, CBS has not demonstrated action to match its programming or its self promotion.

Time Warner, known best for news and entertainment divisions like CNN, Time Magazine, and HBO, earns less than a third of the points available on the Climate Counts scorecard for making real efforts to reduce climate pollution. And what is the contribution of media companies to climate change? Let’s start with the sheer number of people who work for or contract with these companies. Indeed, whole cities exist to support the media business. And then consider the energy their equipment, data centers, and facilities use. They’re not refining oil or mining coal, but their impact is not insignificant.

Even Disney, parent company of ABC, ESPN, Pixar and others, while relatively better overall than most of its competitors (47 out of 100 points, up 22 from the previous year), still has a very low score on its efforts to measure its climate pollution (one of the areas we track) and to take responsibility for its enormous supply chain, a massive sphere of influence.

The truth is that “Green Watching” actually isn’t that complicated. People just need to know where these companies stand in all areas of their business—and urge them to improve. If you’re interested in becoming a more active and informed Green Watcher, follow Climate Counts’ new “Green Watching” campaign on Facebook and Twitter.  Next week on and around Earth Day, when all eyes are on the environmental programming of major media companies, help us urge big media companies to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Or are you just going to watch?

Wood Turner is the executive director of the non-profit organization Climate Counts.


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