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October 17th, 2013

Climate Counts Heads North in Search of Great White Hope

by Mike Bellamente, executive director

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For years, whenever the topic of climate change arises, it is seemingly always juxtaposed with an image of a polar bear; usually a starving one, or one that is clinging to the very last outcropping of sea ice on the North Pole as an unwitting poster child of man’s greatest pitfall. So often is this the case, that when I joined Climate Counts in the summer of 2011, my mantra became, “We need to make this less about the polar bears.”

Well, here I am, 10 days out from joining my friends at Polar Bears International on a 5-day excursion of the frozen tundra to broadcast about climate change in Churchill, Manitoba (polar bear capital of the world) and I’m hoping against hope the great white beasts haven’t been listening. Drip, goes the irony.

Truth be told, while the primary goal of the trip is to conduct a series of climate change web events targeted at university students, corporate sustainability folks and the zoo and aquarium community, for me it’s become a soul-searching mission.

The longer I sit on the front lines of the climate issue, the more I understand the elements at play:

1) While the greenhouse effect is a seemingly elementary concept, human-caused climate change is abstract to the point that is completely depersonalized. Unless you’re living in the Maldives and your island is sinking, it is difficult for subtle changes in weather to motivate people to modify their consumption habits or to vote in a way that may address the problem;

2) Journalistic integrity is dead (or dying at least) and we’ve become victims of a fractured, hyper-partisan media space; one where years of peer-reviewed, scientific research can be discounted with distorted facts and amplified mightily with a few strokes of the keyboard and the right media partner (see the Daily Mail with nearly 200,000 shares on “arctic cooling”);

And, 3) In the U.S., as Monty Python’s Eric Idle so rightly points out, half of our country has gone to ideological loo-loo birds who would rather take the other half of the country hostage, instead of governing toward a set of compromises that best represent the sentiments of the entire country, let alone the global community writ large.

Alas, I’m not heading to the sunny, expansive tundra of Churchill, Manitoba to gripe about any of the above issues. To the contrary, I’m going in search of hope: a great, white, furry hope that can set me down the path of enlightenment.

I’m convinced that environmentalists (a term that has become a four-letter word in many circles) can bring a better game to how we’re getting the message across to the masses. The thinking needs to change, and it needs to embrace a broader audience with revolutionary, solutions-oriented concepts like zero wasteedible packaging and flying, hydro-powered cars.

As a movement, we need to get past trying to change people’s beliefs, and focus our energy on trying to shape people’s behaviors. We need to work more openly to inspire, motivate and challenge the average Joe and Jolene to think critically about what they’re hearing and from whom. And finally, we need to make climate change less about extreme weather, the Koch brothers, and battling an inept Congress.

Perhaps, in the end, it’s not so bad to make this about our fuzzy, black-nosed friends in the Arctic after all. See you in Manitoba!

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post

October 22nd, 2012

Levi’s quietly announces Climate Change Strategy

This article was originally published on Triple Pundit on Monday Oct 22

When an iconic figure makes a bold statement, conventional wisdom suggests that the statement is meant to be heard. Lady Gaga didn’t don a meat dress to the 2010 MTV music awards because it was high fashion, just as Iran isn’t necessarily enriching uranium to advance their stock in nuclear energy.

So earlier this month when Levi Strauss & Company (LS&CO) released their 2012 Climate Change Strategy (view announcement or download the PDF), it seems counter-intuitive that so little media fanfare accompanied the launch. Shouldn’t Chip Bergh, LS&CO’s CEO, be out seeking airtime with Good Morning America and the talk show circuit for recognition?

The unfortunate reality is that climate change remains such a high voltage issue for people that addressing it as a corporation can no longer be effectively marketed as a benefit to consumers. If “green” is the darling of eco-marketing, then “climate-friendly” is the egghead sister that no one wants to date. People don’t want to be saddled with the world’s problems when they are out buying jeans. In fact, consumer brands are more likely to risk alienating politically conservative consumers (53% of whom deny global warming) than they stand to gain in boosting sales for demonstrating leadership in corporate responsibility.

Why then, if not for publicity, would an iconic American denim company even bother to publish a climate change strategy? As Chip points out in his opening message, LS&CO. faces “significant business risks, ranging from disruptions to our operations, to the availability of water, and to potential impacts to cotton supply, our core raw material.” This sounds very little like leftist hippie hyper-alarmism and more like an even-tempered, inward-facing business decision aimed at protecting the long-term interests of the company.

But wait; isn’t sound corporate management generally aligned with conservative values? Ironically, the country has become so intensely blinded by political ideals as to recognize that the business community –which drives more than a few of the big ticket items central to the November elections (jobs, economic prosperity, etc.)–has already moved on to the solutions piece of the climate change puzzle, while more than a third of the country continues to denounce climate science altogether.

For its part, Levi Strauss and Co aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tied to offices, retail stores and distribution centers 25% by 2020, while increasing renewable energy purchases by 20% during that same time frame. Similarly, consumer products giant Reckitt-Benckiser, with over a 100 brands including Clearasil, Frank’s Red Hot and Lysol, has committed to reducing its overall carbon impact by one-third by 2020 as part of its “better business” initiative.

Even companies normally seen as competitors (Nike, Adidas, and Puma for starters) are banding together to form alliances like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, or, in the case of the beverage industry, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER). More explicitly related to climate change is the BICEP coalition – Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy – led by Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit. And, just to drive the point home, major oil companies like Shell and Conoco Phillips are even developing corporate strategies tied to climate change.

Companies the world over are assessing climate change risks and costs in manners that are material to their business. If severe weather threatens to disrupt distribution channels, companies need to ensure against such risks in the same manner that rising energy costs would drive the business case for maximizing energy efficiency.

But again, while multi-billion dollar, multi-national players are increasingly addressing climate impacts that may affect their bottom line, there is little motivation to shout their progress from the rooftops. In a world where the customer is king, demand for low-carbon products and corporate climate leadership is trumped mightily by traditional demand drivers like price, product quality and brand image.

If climate change were considered hip, companies would be tripping over themselves to share their climate change strategies with consumers as a way to sell product. Until that happens, though, companies will rightfully go only as far as good business dictates, while we the consumer continue being spoon-fed a more marketable and more attractive version of eco-friendliness: more green.

Mike Bellamente is the director of Climate Counts, a national nonprofit aimed at bringing consumers and corporations together on climate change. Bellamente has written extensively on environmental sustainability in the private sector and has appeared on Huffington Post and GreenBiz.com. In February 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere’s list of 100 most influential people in business ethics.

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!


Practically Green and

The Climate Counts Team

  • Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge