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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

December 5th, 2012

NEW “Soaring” Tier Unveiled with Latest Climate Scores

Nike, UPS and Unilever lead charge to increase revenue, cut emissions; Apple continues to lag tech sector; Fast food companies fall flat

Durham, NH – The message coming from top name brands is clear: climate change poses a threat to business in the form of increased costs and risks associated with extreme weather.  As a result, companies are prioritizing the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and lower their carbon footprint.  TheSoaringfindings are gleaned from non-profit Climate Counts’ sixth annual scoring release which rates major consumer brands on their approach to climate change.

The latest scoring results show that 66% of companies rated have publicly available climate and energy strategies, compared to just 25% in 2007, the year the organization began rating companies.

“When the financial crisis hit, it was as if the climate discussion fell into a coma,” said Mike Bellamente, director of Climate Counts. “Now we’re seeing major consumer brands calling climate change by name and meeting aggressive targets to slash emissions—all while turning a profit and growing their business. It’s still dismally quiet on Capitol Hill, but it is promising to see signs of leadership emerging from the private sector.”

Five of the top six companies rated by Climate Counts—Unilever, Nike, UPS, Levi Strauss & Co. and L’Oreal—exhibited year-on-year revenue growth from 2010 to 2011 while reducing absolute emissions across some or all business units. Apple scored a respectable 62 points (out of 100), yet remained at the bottom of the 15-company Technology pack. Wendy’s and Burger King continue to record single-digit scores for the fifth straight year, five and two respectively.

Unilever, the top rated company for the second straight year, showed visible progress on their UnileverSustainable Living Plan, an initiative to double the size of their business by 2020 while reducing emissions by half in that same timeframe.

“Never before has it been so important for business to step up its leadership to address both the causes and the impacts of climate change,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. “Ordinary people are increasingly suffering the effects of extreme weather events and the associated food and water shortages. They are expecting us to be responsible in helping them to manage these challenges. Each of usgovernment, business and civil societyknow what we need to do.  It is time to take concerted action.  We welcome this acknowledgement by Climate Counts, we still have more to do and we encourage all of our stakeholders to accelerate their commitments to responsible growth since moving in concert is what is needed.”

UPS, a perennial top performer on the Climate Counts scorecard, continues to see emissions minimization as a key part of corporate citizenship. “UPS’s sustainability strategy is rooted in a commitment to transparency and responsibility,” said Scott Davis, UPS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.   “Being recognized as the top corporation in our industry is an honor and validates UPS’s efforts to act responsibly as a business, an employer, and as a corporate citizen. We continue to advance our efforts to measure, manage, and mitigate our carbon footprint while offering our global, socially conscious customers innovative products and services.”

Climate Counts scores the largest 145 companies (by revenue) in 16 industry sectors on their actions to address climate change. The companies are assessed on a 100-point scale based on 22 criteria. The criteria measure a company’s efforts to assess their climate footprint, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support progress on climate legislation, and communicate their efforts clearly and comprehensively to consumers.

With average scores having nearly doubled since 2007, Climate Counts found it necessary to create an additional tier for “Soaring” companies that earn 85 points and higher on the 100-point scorecard.  Fifteen companies hit the soaring mark this year.

“The new tier of ‘Soaring’ companies in the Climate Counts index is anything but an indication of mission accomplished. Far from it — it’s a two-pronged wake-up call,” said Wood Turner, Climate Counts board chair and VP of Sustainability Innovation at Stonyfield Farm (which spearheaded the launch of ClimateReportCounts in 2007).  “First, it should remind lagging companies exactly how far off the pace they actually are in tooling themselves for a very different future marketplace.  And second, it should tell U.S. lawmakers that many of the world’s biggest job creators consider climate leadership a winning and essential business strategy demanding serious and immediate public policy support.”

This year’s Climate Counts sector leaders are as follows:

  • Airlines: Lufthansa  (77)
  • Apparel/Accessories: Nike  (89)
  • Beer: Heineken  (79)
  • Banks: Bank of America (86)
  • Consumer Shipping: UPS  (89)
  • Food Products: Unilever  (91)
  • Food Services: Starbucks  (69)
  • Home and Office: Herman Miller  (66)
  • Hotels: Marriott  (70)
  • Household Products: L’Oreal  (87)
  • Internet/Software: Google  (64)
  • Large Appliances: AB Electrolux  (87)
  • Media: News Corporation  (67)
  • Pharmaceuticals: Johnson & Johnson  (82)
  • Technology (formerly Electronics): IBM  (86)
  • Toys & Children’s Equipment: Hasbro  (73)

April 23rd, 2009

Protecting Your Kids from Climate Change

Do toy manufacturers and kids equipment companies care about our children’s future? Based on new research just released by my organization, Climate Counts, the answer is no. I’m being overly harsh to make a point—climate change is toxic to our children’s future and is a safety issue as important as any we deal with as parents.

I believe there is no greater threat to my children’s future than the climate crisis, and I shudder to think about what their lives will be like if we all don’t start doing all we can to reducing the impact we have on carbon pollution now.  We’ve been evaluating corporate action on climate change for over two years now, and we simply haven’t seen the kind of widespread consumer awakening on this issue that’s going to be necessary to move companies to take urgent action.

Since our launch in 2007, we have scored 106 companies across 13 different sectors, and the sector we released yesterday — the toy and children’s equipment sector — scored the absolute lowest. None of this sector’s companies scored greater than 40 (out of 100), and eight companies scored zero.

Toy Sector

Certainly, the moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents who purchase most of the toys and kids equipment aren’t going to stand idly by and let their choices continue to support companies that are turning a blind eye to this issue. Perhaps some of these low scoring companies are tackling other issues that parents are concerned about. Shouldn’t they be able to also address the climate crisis?

As a parent, I’m constantly being targeted by child equipment companies with new and safer models to buy (And I must say I’m always shocked by news that the car seats I comfortably used four years ago for my older kids are no longer safe today for my youngest! The steady flow of parents’ dollars to these companies is mind-boggling.). Safety is the primary selling point for the companies that make things like car seats, strollers, high chairs, and the like—with good reason, safety comes first when it comes to your kids. But the fact that these companies seem so concerned about some of the issues that consumers have raised is exactly the reason why I was so surprised when it became clear that the climate actions for the sector were so limited and, as a result, the climate scores for the sector’s companies were so dismal.

Shouldn’t solving the climate crisis be considered a safety issue for our kids?

At Climate Counts we look at, and score, what companies themselves are doing to address the climate crisis. The companies are scored on a 0-to-100 point scale based on 22 criteria that measure companies’ efforts to assess their own climate footprint, reduce their emissions, support (or block) progress on major climate legislation, and communicate their efforts clearly and comprehensively to consumers.  You can view the detailed scores [http://www.climatecounts.org/scorecard_sectors.php?id=28].

We found that most of the big companies in the sector weren’t taking even the most basic step of measuring their own climate impact—but we do know there is innovation in the sector. Scores of smaller toy and children’s equipment makers are investing in green advances. Imagine if the largest companies – Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, Rubbermaid, Evenflo, Chicco, and more – were doing the same. There would be an extraordinary opportunity to educate consumers on the issue and build a long-term and lucrative relationship with the families who recognize that they must support companies that care about climate change.

As parents and consumers, we have the power to do something about the climate crisis. Most consumers by now understand that there are simple things we can do to reduce our own carbon footprint, many of us also understand our power to influence elected officials to pass strong climate policy—but we also have the power to influence companies to take action to reduce their climate impact.

We’ve found that companies are very responsive to consumers and I have no doubt that if these companies hear from parents and consumers that climate is a safety issue—they will respond by taking action.  Each of the toy and children’s equipment companies we have scored has its own page on our site, and each of those pages has a way that you can send e-mail directly to the company to let them know how you feel – positively or negatively – about their Climate Counts score. Make your voice heard. It makes a difference.

This was our first time scoring this sector, so they deserve some time to get their act together and the time to hear from consumers. We’ll score them next year again and expect to see some real improvement.

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.

May 13th, 2008

Apple Peeling

Since we announced our updated 2008 company scores last week, many have focused on Apple’s low score.

Frankly, there are many better stories coming out of our scores this year. In fact, we felt there were so many better stories that we didn’t even mention Apple in our press release about the new scores. What about the double-digit point improvements from 2007 to 2008 of 23 of the 56 companies we’ve scored so far? What about the fact that no companies now fall below the 12-point stuck threshold in either the household products sector or the food products sector when four companies did last year? What about the fact that 84% of the companies we’ve scored have improved their score from 2007 to 2008?  This is all big news as far as we’re concerned in the growing movement to fight global climate change. Companies are recognizing - for whatever reason - that it’s no longer OK to turn a blind eye to this issue.

But all that good news aside, what’s going on with Apple? 2 points in 2007, 11 points in 2008?

Very simply, in our review of Apple’s public (consumer-accessible) reporting, what we found in 2007 and continued to find to a somewhat lesser degree in 2008 (through March 2008) was the following:

1. Apple had never made any public statements about any effort it had made to comprehensively (or in a more limited way) measure the greenhouse gas emissions from its companywide activities, among them corporate and retail facilities, design and development of products, manufacture of products by leading suppliers, and product distribution. At Climate Counts, we evaluate whether companies have used a standard and accepted protocol for measuring companywide emissions, for example the World Resource Institute’s and World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol. As a result of last week’s press coverage of the release of our 2008 scores, Apple was finally quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “We measure the emissions from all of our company’s activities.” Up until then, however, there had been no public indication of that fact, despite our direct requests to the company. We’d be interested in hearing more specifics of what standard they’re using, and if they’re trying to evaluate overseas manufacturing in their review.  But it’s a start, and this public acknowledgement of measuring emissions will improve their score in coming years. 

2. Apple had not established any public goals or timelines for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from its companywide activities. Goal-setting is both a critical part of defining corporate intent to act on climate AND an incredibly business-friendly climate metric. Our scorecard is designed to allow us to look at all kinds of corporate goal-setting. Certainly, we hope all companies will set aggressive goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quickly and in absolute terms. Apple has set no public companywide climate protection goals, and as a result, there is no evidence that the company has achieved any greenhouse gas emissions reductions toward such a goal.

For that matter, there is no evidence of any goals by Apple to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from energy used in the use of its products. This is noteworthy because the company has clearly undergone considerable effort to make its products more energy efficient, suggesting that nearly two-thirds of the company’s impact on climate change occurs during the use of its products. How Apple arrives at that number would certainly be interesting to know. Studies on the sector as a whole reveal that as much as 70% of the energy and environmental impact of a personal computer occurs before it is purchased by the consumer. By all accounts, the manufacturing of computers and other high-tech equipment is incredibly energy intensive, and that’s what we’re concerned about at Climate Counts. Consumers can certainly decide to purchase the most energy-efficient, “greenest” products they can (although we question the positive impact of replacing last year’s model with this year’s “greener” one; the issue of “embodied energy” presents one of the reasons why we should think differently about buying green), but that’s the consumer’s responsibility in all of this. When companies understand their impact and set clear, public goals to reduce the energy they use in producing gadgets and getting them to consumers, it sends a critical message to consumers that this kind of accountability is important. It’s important that governments, consumers, AND companies accept that kind of accountability.

We applaud Apple’s efforts to understand the life-cycle impact of its products, and we awarded full points (4 points) to the company for those activities. We also acknowledged with 3 of a possible 4 points the company’s efforts to educate consumers in a general way about environmental action and to engage with other companies on energy efficiency as part of the California Green Power Group (along with the company’s green power investments, which also earned a point). There a range of environmental activities that Apple has underway that we did not award points for using our narrow-by-design lens that looks at corporate climate activities. We certainly agree that product recycling efforts and other related initiatives can have a tremendous impact on energy use and, as such, greenhouse gas emissions, but we believe it is important for companies to demonstrate that those activities are connected to a broader climate action strategy before we consider them as actions that merit points on a climate-focused scorecard.

3. Apple has not actively or publicly engaged on the climate policy front. Apple has made no public statements in support climate protection policy at the local, state, federal or international level.

4. Apple’s reporting on all of its climate activities in considerably less detailed than any of its major competitors. Climate Counts has reviewed all the information available on Apple’s climate performance on its website and elsewhere. We’ve read A Greener Apple posted last May to the Apple website, as well as the “Environment” and the “Energy Efficiency” pages on the site - and much more. Compare, just as an example, Apple’s reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project with that of IBM (this year’s sector score leader). The information simply doesn’t shed any light - as much as we would like it to - on what Apple is doing or plans to do to address greenhouse gas emissions companywide.

Climate Counts utilizes a team of independent researchers to gather publicly available information on the companies we have scored. They are a very well-trained team, representing many important slices of the consumer marketplace. They’re environmental researchers, they’re communications professionals, they’re business analysts. In many ways, they’re people just like you. They’re people who want to know what companies are doing to address climate change, and they’re charged with helping you get answers.

To score well, companies must be up front with consumers on their stance on climate.   Some have described this as a flaw of our scoring system-implying that companies that aren’t marketing their “green credentials” suffer and that we reward talk over action. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our experience is that if companies aren’t willing to be transparent, aren’t willing to face scrutiny from an increasingly sophisticated marketplace, they’re obstructing the issue. They’re not part of a solution that requires action from multiple fronts. The time for companies to just say “trust us, we’re good on climate” has passed. Consumers want to see - and follow - companies committed to real substantive action.

Even in the wake of so much cyber-attention to Apple’s low Climate Counts score for a second year running, we’re still focused on the positive stories coming out of this year’s scores. Many companies (and their consumers) are realizing that meaningful climate action is a crucial part of the future of any company that is focused on the 21st century. We continue our quest as an organization to find the true corporate leaders on climate protection who embrace the opportunity to lock arms with their consumers and stand unified in the fight to stop global warming.


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