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March 27th, 2013

On Climate Leadership, 15-year old trumps Average Yahoo; Tainted Apple

By Mike Bellamente Tim Cook Apple

This article first appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday, March 26.

A young girl with a unique name made headlines last week when 12,000 people signed her petition to keep climate change in the UK national curriculum.  For Esha Marwaha, a 15-year old west London student, climate change isn’t just an environmental cause; it is the unwelcomed burden of cleaning up after the crotchety old bastard who dumped trash on her lawn.   In her eyes, it would be illogical to leave the problem to fester unattended in hopes that her future children would one day properly dispose of it.

How is it that a teenager can be so clued in to a macro concept like climate change while government leaders and titans of industry remain blissfully impotent on the subject?

Last week, Apple applauded itself for reducing energy usage by 21.5 percent per dollar of revenue since 2008.  Meanwhile, the company’s absolute emissions rose 34 percent in 2012 alone.   As a wise man once said, if you’re heading toward a cliff and you reduce your speed from 100 km/h to 50 km/h, you haven’t done yourself much of a favor.

One might argue that Apple’s only sin is making investors incredibly wealthy by way of creating a universe of i-crazed gadget mongers.  Indeed, there is no crime in being profitable – the world needs stuff, just as people need jobs; Apple provides a great deal of both.

But the world also needs its most recognizable brand and modern-day mecca of innovation to demonstrate at least token leadership on a daunting societal challenge like climate change.

Four years after resisting initial shareholder calls to develop a company-wide sustainability report, Apple continues to defy trends toward transparency and corporate climate leadership by:

1) Refusing to disclose emissions performance to CDP (more than 80 percent of Global 500 companies currently disclose voluntarily);

2) Replacing its founding CEO Steve Jobs with Tim Cook who pledges eco-responsibility, yet remains mute in calling for federal carbon policy, and

3) Coming in last out of 15 technology companies on the 2012-13 Climate Counts company scorecard for having a less-than-stellar, company-wide carbon strategy

Leadership is a 15-year old who petitions her government, not a global behemoth that slinks down the hallway with his hands in his pockets.

So how does Apple compare to, say, the likes of Yahoo Inc. when it comes to addressing climate change?   Last year Yahoo made impressive strides on their 2014 goal to reduce the carbon intensity of their data centers 40 percent from 2009 levels.  The company also stood alongside Nike, Stonyfield Farm, and Levi Strauss, among others, to support the extension of a federal wind energy production tax credit in the U.S.

But Yahoo’s recent announcement to ban the practice of employee teleworking drew the ire of working mothers, pajama-wearing tech geeks and environmentalists alike.  Isn’t it considered a step backward for a hip, leading-edge internet company to force employees to endure rush hour twice a day?  Isn’t Yahoo’s own chief, Marissa Mayer, a freshly minted working mother?

To be fair, greenhouse gas emissions from employee commuting and business travel only accounts for about 55,000 metric tonnes of Yahoo’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the 370,000 metric tonnes needed to power Yahoo’s data centers (according to the most recent emissions data on CDP).  However, the move to eradicate employee telecommuting flies directly in the face of rational decision-making from both a cost and carbon management perspective.

Depending on the study, employee productivity is said to increase 10 – 50 percent from teleworking while companies save $10,000 per employee per year from reduced energy and office management expenses.  On the emissions side, with 3.9 million Americans working from home at least once a week, teleworking leads to nearly 840 million gallons in reduced fuel consumption – the equivalent of taking two million cars of the road each year.

But none of these numbers matter if the CEO lacks perspective, and, somewhere along the line, perspective on our little climate debacle became muddied by politics and abstraction.  Today, it isn’t enough to say that the burning of fossil fuels is disrupting the natural balance of our atmosphere and we need all leaders on deck – corporate leaders, government leaders, movies stars, porn stars, sports heroes, music icons and leaders of the Esha Marwaha variety– to stop it.  How can that be?  This isn’t about some no-name species of fish heading for extinction; this is about a massive upheaval of our earth’s ecosystem.

As with Apple’s Tim Cook, Marissa Mayer has a job to do that dictates her priorities as a leader; a job that is more apt to carry with it the mantra “stop the bleeding, right the ship” than the more utilitarian “move mountains, save the world.”

If Mayer is to fare better in her role as CEO than her predecessors (since 2005, Yahoo has had seven different CEOs), she’s faced with a short runway to gain the respect of employees and the confidence of shareholders.  Similarly for Apple, Tim Cook wants to show that a Steve Jobs-less Apple can make the same hay as its founder.  But should that preclude these highly visible members of society from personifying top-down leadership on climate change and sustainability?  Not in the least. In fact, it might be a welcome differentiator when it comes time to assess their legacies.

In our hyper-paced world, constant noise provides good cover for those who aren’t willing to stand and be counted.   Perhaps someday, when Esha Marwaha is CEO, this will no longer be the case.

March 6th, 2013

Industry Innovator LG Electronics Named as EPA Energy Star 2013 Partner of the Year

LG ElectronicsMarch 6, 2013 /3BL Media/ - LG Electronics, a global technology leader in consumer electronics and home appliances and member of the Climate Counts Industry Innovator program, has been named 2013 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This is the second year in a row that LG has earned this coveted award for its efforts to manufacture and promote energy-efficient products to consumers.

“Environmental sustainability is a core principle for LG. As a long-time ENERGY STAR partner, LG is committed to delivering innovative energy efficient products to the market as quickly as possible and helping educate consumers on how ENERGY STAR products can save them both energy and money,” said Wayne Park, president and CEO of LG Electronics USA. “We are extremely honored to be recognized by the EPA as an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year and look forward to continuing our industry leadership role through our environmental initiatives.”

The 2013 Partner of the Year Awards are given to manufacturers and retailers that successfully promote and deliver ENERGY STAR qualified products, saving consumers money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Award winners are selected from the nearly 20,000 organizations that participate in the ENERGY STAR program. LG’s accomplishments will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on March 26.

2012 LG ENERGY STAR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Over the last 20 years, with help from ENERGY STAR, American families and businesses have saved more than $230 billion on utility bills and prevented more than 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.

In 2012, LG increased its total number of products available for sale in the United States that earned the ENERGY STAR Label – the government-backed symbol of energy efficiency – by more than 140 percent and increased its total sales of ENERGY STAR qualified products by more than 15 percent, compared with 2011.

LG also embraced the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient program, the groundbreaking new EPA initiative that recognizes the most energy-efficient products in their categories among those that have earned the ENERGY STAR label. More than 60 LG products – including the most refrigerators and washing machines in the industry – earned this coveted recognition for 2012. American consumers purchased more than 1 million LG products awarded the 2012 Most Efficient designation.

LG also invested in programs designed to change consumer behaviors, activities driving increased sales of ENERGY STAR-qualified products and enhanced employee and sales training, and technology leadership.

In 2012, LG reached more than a billion consumers with a nationwide public education and community outreach campaign about ENERGY STAR, designed to help consumers change behaviors.  A key component of this effort was LG’s support of EPA’s new Team ENERGY STAR campaign — a Lorax-themed educational initiative designed to engage youth to get involved in cutting their energy use at home. The company collaborated with EPA and DoSomething.org on the “Team ENERGY STAR Challenge,” in which nearly 500 youth submitted energy-saving stories for a chance to win prizes from LG.

SAVING ENERGY THROUGH INNOVATION

LG offered consumers nearly 1,000 ENERGY STAR qualified models in 2012 across consumer electronics, home appliances and commercial air conditioning systems.

As a company that thrives on innovation and is committed to enhancing consumers’ lives, LG strives to develop the most energy efficient products possible, while ensuring that consumers don’t have to sacrifice performance or style. Examples of energy efficient products that LG introduced in 2012 include:

  • Mega-Capacity TurboWash™ Washer: Recognized as ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2012, this washer is the industry’s largest capacity washing machine* designed to save consumers a full 20 minutes per load** – addressing American consumers’ desires for saving time and energy.
  • French-Door Refrigerator: Received the top rating by a leading consumer magazine for its features as well as being recognized as ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2012 due to the design of its linear compressor.
  • 3D Smart TVs: Earned the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2012 designation by combining smart energy-saving features such as Intelligent Sensors and power-saving modes with a cinema-quality 3D experience and the advanced interactivity of LG Smart TV.

BRINGING ENERGY EFFICIENCY TO LG’S OPERATIONS

LG’s ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year recognition is in line with other LG sustainability initiatives, including LG’s corporate campus project in Englewood Cliffs as its new state-of-the-art North American headquarters designed to be a showcase for environmentally friendly design, promoting energy efficiency, water conservation and reducing carbon emissions.

The new green corporate campus is expected to be certified under the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings Program, and LG is aspiring to achieve LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The new headquarters is also integral to helping LG achieve its industry-leading pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its U.S. operations by 50 percent by 2020 (from a 2007 baseline).

About LG Electronics USA

LG Electronics USA, Inc., based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics, Inc., a $49 billion global force and technology leader in consumer electronics, home appliances and mobile communications. LG Electronics, a proud 2013 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year, sells a range of stylish and innovative home entertainment products, mobile phones, home appliances, commercial displays, air conditioning systems and solar energy solutions in the United States, all under LG’s “Life’s Good” marketing theme. For more information, please visit www.lg.com.

About ENERGY STAR

ENERGY STAR was introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 as a voluntary market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through increased energy efficiency. Today, ENERGY STAR offers businesses and consumers energy-efficient solutions to save energy, money, and help protect the environment for future generations. Nearly 20,000 organizations are ENERGY STAR partners committed to improving the energy efficiency of products, homes, and buildings. For more information about ENERGY STAR, visit www.energystar.gov or call toll-free 1-888-STAR-YES (1-888-782-7937).

*Model WM8000. Based on ENERGY STAR qualified, front load residential washers as published by the DOE January 30, 2013 and manufacturers’ published specifications.

**20 minute savings based on AHAM HLW-1-2010 test protocol, Cotton / Normal or comparable cycle at default settings, 8lb load, front load washer only. Excludes other LG manufactured products. Excludes quick wash or other comparable cycles intended for small lightly soiled loads only.

SOURCE LG Electronics USA, Inc.

March 4th, 2013

NASDAQ and Walmart offer a Dose of Reality at the New York GreenBiz Forum

Mike Bellamente- Climate Counts DirectorThis article first appeared February 26th on Huffington Post

If you’re an optimist about the state of green business, don’t read this.

Shit. You’re still here.

To put it bluntly: it’s not working. That’s the rose-colored takeaway of last week’s GreenBiz Forum in New York City.

We’ve succeeded in building an entire industry of sustainability professionals, individually doing yeoman’s work to further the cause, but collectively falling short in how we validate our work beyond our bubble. When Sandy Frucher, Vice Chairman of NASDAQ, says that adopting sustainability reporting standards by the world’s stock exchanges is the “right thing to do,” it insinuates that such practices don’t lead to higher returns. Mr. Frucher admits as much when he notes that, until one investment analyst poses a single question about a company’s sustainability performance, we should be content with relying on corporate goodwill as a driver of sustainability – not because operating sustainably mitigates risk, but because of the warm fuzziness of taking the moral high road.

When Jeff Rice, Senior Director of Sustainability at Wal-Mart, confesses that consumer response to their progressive environmental strategy is virtually non-existent, the reality becomes clear that, more than 10 years into the modern sustainability movement, we are pedaling uphill, against the wind.

To echo the thoughts of another conference goer, “We’re all getting really good at operationalizing sustainability and filling out surveys, but at the end of the day, we’re just a small universe, talking amongst ourselves.” What really drove this home is when, upon my return to the office, I discovered a flyer for the upcoming FUSE event in Chicago on brand strategy and packaging. The word ‘sustainability’ appeared not once on the agenda. In fact, I would bet my mule that sustainability doesn’t even get uttered at FUSE.

So, where do we go from here? To borrow from Timothy Westbrook, the quirky, undeniably talented low-impact artist-in-resident at the posh Pfister Hotel, we need to turn our paradigm on its head. More so than looking at a Coke can and seeing a pair of aluminum shoes, we need to blow up our tidy little world of “green bizzers” and explore more effective ways of becoming inclusive of the everyday Joe. Joe Marketer, Joe Consumer, Joe Investor, Joe the Plumber… all the Joe’s and all their female, inter-racial, socially-conservative, LGBT counterparts.

To start, we need to take Amy Harzler’s advice from Free Range Studios and become sustainability “mythmakers.” If we’re spending millions of the company’s money on low-carbon energy solutions, we need to be a hell of a lot better at framing it with a compelling story, replete with sexy men and women, little puppies and all the other surefire ways of getting people’s attention. It needs to go beyond the enterprise, down to the brand and product level. And, as much as we enjoy seeing our initiatives represented in the traditional CSR media outlets, these things need to be Super Bowl ad-worthy.

During their sneak preview of the latest Ernst & Young/GreenBiz Group survey results on sustainability risk management, Brendan LeBlanc and his band of EY consulting dudes contended that the increasing materiality of resource scarcity and extreme weather is steadily growing the demand for environmental risk management, which, in turn, is driving the inclusion of the CFO as a stakeholder in the sustainability discussion. This is good because it helps to sell upper management on the business case for the next solar project, but it does little to get consumers to join us as a dance partner in saving the world.

Outside the fraction of light and dark green consumers who shop on eco-values, the rest of society still shops on price, quality, fashion, taste, etc. Understanding this to be true, it’s time we up our game, pool our resources and begin telling people the story of not just how green we are, but what’s in it for the consumer, what they should do about it (see Amy Harzler’s piece on empowerment marketing).

It can be argued that a corporate sustainability program will only go as far as its meager budget allows. How can we be asked to change how consumers behave and investors invest? Compared to the folks in marketing, the annual corporate spend on sustainability is a mere drop in the bucket. But as someone so wisely quoted of David Mitchell at the forum, “What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

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. In February 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere’s 2011 list of 100 most influential people in business ethics.


February 5th, 2013

All it Takes is Two Wheels

By Climate Counts Intern Ben Trolio

Two wheels, moist gallons of sweat, thousands of calories, open road, and limitless energy to fight climate change—all things required by biking.    Before my internship at Climate Counts, I spent consecutive summers biking to build the movement away from fossil fuels. Pedaling for the planet connected to my values while allowing me to meet leaders solving our crisis in New England and the Gulf Coast.  These nomadic summers instilled in me the values I embody in my work with Climate Counts.

After traveling through the Gulf Coast and the state of New Hampshire, I reached another intersection of climate biking in my work with Climate Counts.  The latest development related to this two wheeled hobby is the Climate Ride.    The nonprofit puts on two rides in the East and West Coast to grant resources to organizations fighting climate change.  Climate Counts is privileged to fall into the category of beneficiary organizations for this event.

While I won’t be straining my quads from New York City to D.C. this coming fall, I want to chip in my two cents on why biking for the climate is a worthy use of time.  The Climate Ride funnels money to organizations including Climate Counts that fight for a low carbon future. The journey through California or New York to DC reaped $300,000 for climate organizations last year.  Without the support of this effort, Climate Counts would not be able to produce scorecards or leverage the power of the consumer. The East Coast ride ends at Capitol Hill giving riders the opportunity to meet with their elected officials.  The riders arrive at a centerpiece to advocacy work that attracts millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry.  The fundraising potential of this ride is a counterbalance to the influence of vested interests in DC. 

Financing the movement away from fossil fuels can start from fundraising on two wheels.  The money created by the Climate Ride effort builds people power by giving nonprofits the resources to win the climate fight.  Consider supporting our efforts here at Climate Counts by checking out the ride http://www.climateride.org/.

January 16th, 2013

5 Tips for Handling Skeptics in 2013

By Mike Bellamente - Director, Climate Counts

While the New Year brings with it a sense of optimism, for those of us in the climate change business it means another year competing against any schnook with money and a billboard to address the American people (see the Heartland Institute).

When it comes to the climate debate, those who invoke socialism and scientific conspiracy (see Fox News) have demonstrated the highest degree of effectiveness.  At the very least, they have succeeded in clouding people’s common sense on the climate issue.  At most, they’ve upped the ante on a game of chicken that pits the long-term best interests of humanity against an unforgiving Mother Nature.

So this year, when someone says that the science is inconclusive about whether humans are causing climate change, or that carbon dioxide is a “harmless gas” (see Congresswoman Bachmann), take the following five steps before nodding in agreement and moving along with your day:

1) Consider the Source:  If someone decries climate change as a hoax, they tend to base their information on distorted facts cherry-picked from the press rather than their own experience, say, as a trained scientist who has spent their career analyzing climate data.  As Dr. Cameron Wake, climate researcher at the University of New Hampshire states, “because of the complex nature of climate change, it is much easier to sell the lie than it is to sell the truth.”

Sources commonly cited by skeptics in support of their stance include: “Climategate” – a series of emails between scientists taken woefully out of context (several independent investigations have since been conducted – all have absolved those involved of any scientific misconduct); the Oregon Petition – a collection of 30,000 signatories claiming that there is no scientific evidence to support human induced climate change (apparently all you need is a degree in basic science to sign on); and anything supported by the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have spent billions on climate denial to protect their investment in the oil industry.

For more on this, see Media Matters November 2012 piece: Meet the Climate Denial Machine.

2) Know Your Stuff:  It’s true; climate science doesn’t exactly lend itself to a quick study on the bus ride to work, but there are basic components of climate change even the least scientifically-inclined person should have in their back pocket:

· The Greenhouse Effect – the primary reason that temperatures on earth remain livable, the greenhouse effect is responsible for trapping heat from the sun in a way that keeps conditions comfortable for all living things.  This natural phenomenon has been thrown wildly out of balance by the steady output of greenhouse gas emissions to support our society (for example: electricity from coal-fired power plants to heat and cool our homes, and gasoline to power our cars).   For an interactive crash course on the greenhouse effect, visit National Geographic.

· Natural versus Human-Caused Climate Change – It is 100% true that the earth’s climate shifts naturally between warming and cooling periods (think Ice Age).   However, when looking at climate patterns over several thousand years, it has been the drastic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) since the industrial revolution 300 years ago that is now causing man to play a role in this process.  For a slightly more involved understanding of the science at play here visit the OSS Foundation website on the natural cycle of global warming.

3) Look around You:  climate change is cool because everyone is talking about it.   Well, not everyone.  In fact, few people beyond Bill McKibben seem to be talking about it with any degree of regularity.  The fact is, though, a vast majority of Fortune 500 companies (oil and gas companies included) admit that society is contributing to global warming and agree that the best course of action is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  What follows is a mere smattering of companies that publicly address human-induced climate change on their website (caveat – even though these companies admit the importance of reducing emissions, it is not in any way meant to indicate they are faultless champions for the environment):  Shell Oil; ExxonMobil; Hess; ConocoPhillipsThe Clorox Company; Bank of America; PepsiCo; Citi; IBM; AstraZeneca; Unilever; LEGO; and Nike.

4) Don’t let politics and religion cloud the issue: As the adage goes, three subjects never to broach at the dinner table are money, religion and politics.   Not so discreetly, climate change is woven into all three, only adding to the taboo nature of the problem.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 16% of conservative republicans think that global warming is caused by human activity.   Two things that make this moderately intuitive:  1) the face of climate change in the U.S. since 2006 has been a very polarizing Al Gore; and 2) at the very foundation of religion is the belief that God, not man, controls the fate of humanity and the planet we inhabit.   In many ways, this line of reasoning automatically hamstrings the level of accountability we have as a species to manage our destiny.

Exacerbating these two issues is the fact that conservatives tend to favor limited government and the ability of the free market to determine what is best for society – a notion not altogether unsound, save that the free market doesn’t account for environmental costs unless it is regulated to do so.

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle (as well as extremely powerful oil, coal and gas lobbies) realize that curbing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change won’t come from voluntary carbon reductions, but rather from a government-imposed carbon tax.  To even hint at a tax in Congress, as was seen with the fiscal cliff negotiations, is the equivalent of jumping off the political career cliff, but that shouldn’t preclude us from understanding that a carbon tax is a viable solution.

5) Embrace Common Sense:  If it looks like caca and smells like caca, it probably is caca.  There is little doubt that no matter how perfect the science is, or how many celebrities work to advance the issue, or how many extreme weather events occur, there will always be a passionate contingent of climate skeptics ready to cast doubt and muddy the “debate” on climate.   When confronted by these folks, it is important to take this and the preceding four steps as a guide to disarming (not literally!) and educating people who remain skeptical about the causes of climate change.

A word to the wise: whatever you do, don’t go running around, arms flailing, screaming “Sound the alarms!  Climate change is going to kill us all!” — people tend to respond negatively to this type of behavior.  

As social issues go, climate change is about as sexy as a lesson in physics.  We have no fancy pink ribbons and there are no cuddly puppies to hand out as a reward for paying the problem any mind.   Evidence suggests, though, that the tides are changing in the forum of public opinion, and that people are recognizing that it will take a village to deal with the climate issue.

A recent survey from Yale found that one in three consumers rewarded companies taking steps to cut global warming by buying their products.  On the flip side, the latest results from Climate Counts ratings indicate that 66% of companies scored have a climate and energy strategy in place, up from 25% in 2007.

Of course there will always be schnooks to contend with when it comes to communicating a complex issue like climate change.  One hopes that the competition when next New Year rolls around will just be slightly less intense, and that we’ll have moved the needle slightly closer to the solutions piece of the puzzle.

October 5th, 2012

Adding Perspective: Climate Counts To Pilot Context-Based Sustainability Approach

This article authored by executive director Mike Bellamente was first published by Sustainable Brands September 25, 2012. Sustainable Brands encourages companies to incorporate sustainability into their business and brand strategy.

This month Sustainable Brands has showcased a wide spectrum of innovative sustainability metrics that drive corporate profitability. Among others, we’ve seen balanced scorecards, the pursuit of zero waste, and the merits of sustainability ROI.

At the heart of these metrics lies the connected goal of creating value at once for the organization and for the environment. The general idea is that if we can get enough of the brightest minds in business to turn the production/consumption paradigm on its ear, we may one day be able to harmonize society’s appetite for goods within the limits of the natural world, even as population continues to soar.

But how far have we come and how far have we left to go? For those of us at Climate Counts, an organization that rates major consumer brands on their commitment to climate leadership (or, more precisely, on how well companies are measuring, reducing and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions), the question becomes, “What does a good score really mean?”

In 2011, Unilever, Climate Counts’ top-scoring company, was awarded an unprecedented 88 out of a possible 100 points for GHG targets set forth in their Sustainable Living Plan. By 2020, Unilever aspires to double the size of its operations while reducing by half the GHG impacts of its products — a daunting if not awe-inspiring target. If the company were to achieve its goal of halving its emissions, the result would be an output of 2,785,882 metric tons of GHG emissions for the year 2020 alone. Compared to where Unilever’s emissions would otherwise be without these reductions, 2.7 million metric tons seems attractive — but compared to, say, zero, it’s still a considerable amount.

Similarly, Bank of America has demonstrated great progress in reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 9.7 percent to 1.7 million metric tons from 2010 to 2011 — a feat that garnered recent praise from the Carbon Disclosure Project in the form of being named to the Carbon Performance Leadership Index (CPLI) for a third straight year.  But if every emissions-producing entity on the planet achieved such reductions, over time would it be enough to prevent further climate change?

Herein lies the problem. Although ratings organizations such as Climate Counts, CDP, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index offer investors and consumers an easy-to-understand snapshot of sustainability performance, they offer little in the way of context that can be tied to the bigger picture. If the goal is to establish an accurate reference point as to whether or not the private sector is succeeding in mitigating society’s impacts on climate change, it stands to reason that science should be better represented in the ratings.

As Bill McKibben noted in his recent Rolling Stone article, scientists estimate that humans can get away with emitting no more than 565 additional gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050 if we expect to keep the planet from warming by more than two degrees Celsius. Admittedly, this is one of many scientific projections, and although this particular target may have its flaws, it gives us a much-needed starting point with which to gauge our progress as a society.

As the climate conversation has ebbed its way almost completely from the public vernacular, in its place has seemingly emerged a tendency for sustainability professionals (private sector and NGO professionals alike) to validate our successes in terms of the competition rather than within the context of the limitations afforded to us by the earth’s carrying capacity.  We employ metrics to rate our performance as individual organizations and, in cases such as the Higg Index, to give an entire industry a framework to identify the environmental costs of using certain input materials. Where the private sector has struggled, however, is in squaring its collective progress on sustainability with an ambivalent public that prefers business as usual to the misguided prospect that carbon neutrality would necessitate higher prices and lower quality goods.

So where do we go from here? In 2013, Climate Counts plans to conduct a pilot rating under the context-based sustainability framework being spearheaded by Bill BaueMark McElroy and their cadre of sustainability practitioners, academics and industry thought leaders. The rating will comprise a sample set of companies representing a diverse group of industry sectors. The goal will be to measure corporate progress toward true sustainability, using the latest scientific data and climate models as the bar to be measured against. Instead of measuring companies on voluntary targets, which are typically derived from business cases tied to costs, risks and reputation, this rating will measure companies on their performance compared to where the science dictates we need to be as a society.

Understandably, as the bulk of private sector GHG emissions continues to be in the form of Scope 2 purchased electricity, there are bound to be limitations on how well companies can score that are beholden to a grid dependent on fossil fuels. As the goal of the project will be to further the concept of context-based sustainability, and not to unfairly judge companies on criteria beyond their control, we will be looking to engage with companies that demonstrate: 1) a willingness to be on the forefront of next-generation sustainability practices; 2) that recognize the need for mechanisms that will phase out carbon-intensive fuels over time; and 3) that have demonstrated a high degree of competency related to carbon accounting and reporting.

With the development of the GHG Protocol and organizations such as the Global Reporting Initiative, carbon accounting and reporting are no longer seen as an abstract concepts, but rather as fundamental components of 21st-century corporate citizenship. Standardization has been embraced to the point that companies use the data as a barometer of performance and operational efficiency. The next logical step, it would seem, is to mash up corporate sustainability targets with climate science to gauge how far we have left to go on the road to achieving true sustainability.

September 21st, 2012

Power in numbers: UNH student groups launch Sustainability Alliance

This column first appeared in The New Hampshire, the student newspaper at UNH on Friday, September 21st.  The piece was authored by Climate Counts intern Ben Trolio.

With the recent news that UNH has been named by Sierra magazine as one of the Top 10 “coolest schools” for its commitment to sustainability, student groups recently came together to fulfill the need for a unified approach to on-campus messaging.

The Student Sustainability Alliance (or SSA for short) is the brainchild of the UNH Sustainability Institute, Climate Counts (a UNH-based nonprofit) and students who get the big picture. These groups realized that building relationships is the key to organizational success and to extending the sustainability message beyond individual programs.

“In order for students to engage in our sustainability ethos at UNH, they first need to understand what it means,” said Jackie Furlone, program assistant at the Sustainability Institute. “With groups representing food systems, climate change, ecosystems, energy and society, it will help get the message across that we are taking an integrated approach to having a positive impact on our community.”

Student groups participating in SSA include Slow Food, Get Real, Oxfam, Net Impact, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Organic Gardening Club. Together these groups encompass all aspects of sustainability and can reach the entire student body.

With one meeting under its belt, the SSA has already struck gold in pushing the sustainability envelope even further at UNH. Net Impact and SEAC are considering a potential partnership around sustainable investments at UNH.

With the university investing over $100 million in the free market to leverage its financial savings, some of these investments are tied to oil and gas companies, which increase society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels, a leading contributor to climate change. SEAC is addressing this issue through the Divest for Our Future campaign, which is asking President Huddleston to commit to stopping investment in fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, Net Impact is researching viable alternatives related to sustainable investment practices and responsible reinvestment. Potential collaboration between Net Impact and SEAC is a taste of things to come for SSA.  Through similar initiatives, the SSA hopes to mobilize students around a common vision.

The early success of the alliance is possible because of the realization that smaller student groups can have a much larger impact when coming together to tackle shared challenges. By making connections across sustainability groups with overlapping missions, there is less competition for the same audiences at UNH, and less confusion among the student body as to what sustainability means and how they can engage.

The SSA is ready to step into its role as a common voice for UNH’s student-led sustainability initiatives—not just for students of today, but to leave a legacy of sustainability at UNH. This alliance marks an opportunity for student groups to realize their collective vision around sustainability and to propel our university to new heights.

September 12th, 2012

Back to School Sustainability

Whether you are a seasoned college student, a high school senior or a prepared parent, the arrival of school brings with it many to-do lists. With respect to our natural environment, the top priority should always be in reducing the amount of STUFF you buy and repurposing old gear.

When you absolutely NEED to buy new stuff, your choices and voices can prod corporations into taking a more aggressive approach on climate change. In fact, building a movement to solve the climate crisis rests on a foundation of decisions we make every day.

Here are some quick tips based on the Climate Counts Scorecard to make your school shopping adventures more climate wise:

1. Clothing – Thanks in part to relentless TV ads about back-to-school clothing sales, parents feel obligated to make sure little Suzie and Tommy are showing up with the hippest threads on Day 1 of the school year. If you find you or your children fall victim to inadequate footwear or other clothing, consider getting your new apparel from companies like Timberland (86 out of 100 points on CC’s scorecard), Nike (85) Levi’s (74) or Gap (62). All of these companies are members

of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP).

2. Laptops – When searching for a computer to procrastinate from schoolwork or join the online debate of Mac vs. PC, feel confident in your choice as you reach for a HP (83), Sony (80), Toshiba (77), or Dell (71). All these companies are making enviable strides to reducing their GHG emissions. Sorry Mac fans, Apple (60) limps into the gate as the lowest in the electronics sector on CC’s scorecard.

3. Airlines – Whether your flying home for Christmas or heading to Daytona for spring break, considering flying Delta (56) or Southwest (55), the two highest performing companies in the airline sector.

4. Shipping – For those moms out there who are keen on sending care packages, you’ll want to reduce your carbon footprint with UPS (80).

5. Furniture – When surfing the web on your eco-friendly HP, you’ll want to be sitting on Herman Miller (63) or Steelcase (60) furniture. Both companies scored well according to the Climate Counts Scorecard. If you don’t need furniture though, the planet will appreciate it even more.

If you already splurged on new stuff for the coming school year, then tuck our pocket shopping guide inside your wallet for future use. In a world saturated with advertising, it can be difficult to make the right choice. Next time you need to go shopping, you will be armed with the knowledge to have a more sustainable back to school shopping experience!

September 10th, 2012

Climate Counts Recognizes Annie’s, Inc. for Commitment to Sustainability and Climate Leadership

Annie'sDurham, N.H. – Sept. 11, 2012 – Annie’s, Inc. (NYSE: BNNY), a leading provider of natural and organic alternatives to traditional comfort foods, has been recognized as a “Striding Climate Leader” by consumer advocacy group Climate Counts for its commitment to monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Annie’s achievement as a Striding Climate Leader signals that the company is committed to mitigating material costs and risk associated with climate change.

“For Annie’s, sustainability isn’t just a passing trend – it’s core to who we are,” said John Foraker, Annie’s CEO. “We’re proud of this achievement and recognition from Climate Counts. It reinforces Annie’s commitment to being socially and environmentally responsible, and demonstrates that we can maintain profitability while also reducing our environmental footprint.”

“When consumers see respected brands like Annie’s taking voluntary ownership of their emissions and energy consumption, it resonates with them,” said Climate Counts Director Mike Bellamente. “We’re seeing a shift in how the private sector is moving beyond the politics surrounding climate change toward a path that is more sustainable in the long term, both for their business and the environment. It’s encouraging to see this type of leadership.”

Annie’s, well known for its organic macaroni and cheese and snacks, now makes more than 125 organic and natural food products sold in more than 25,000 retail locations in the United States and Canada.

“We’re proud to be considered a Striding Climate Leader by Climate Counts,” said Shauna Sadowski, Annie’s Director of Sustainability. “We continually strive to improve our accountability and transparency around GHG emissions, as well as our overall commitment to energy efficiency. Annie’s ultimate goal is to produce the best-tasting, highest quality products while contributing to a more resilient and regenerative food system.”

Annie’s participates in the Climate Counts company rating process through the organization’s Industry Innovator (i2) program, a voluntary initiative designed to help companies identify gaps in their sustainability approach and encourage company-wide emissions reductions. Since Annie’s initial assessment in 2011, the company has increased its performance dramatically by embracing measures including: adopting standardized GHG accounting and reporting practices; engaging employees in achieving emissions targets; recognition for efficiencies with a LEED Gold headquarters; and working with upstream suppliers to identify GHG hotspots.

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About Climate Counts

Climate Counts is a non-profit organization based in the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Climate Counts brings students, consumers and companies together in addressing global climate change. Launched with financial support from organics pioneer Stonyfield Farm, the Climate Counts Company Scorecard was developed with oversight from a panel of business and climate experts from leading non-governmental organizations and academic institutions. Criteria are based on their effectiveness at accomplishing a single goal – proactively addressing climate change. Since 2007, Climate Counts researchers have used these criteria to rate the climate actions of nearly 150 companies (representing approximately 3,000 brands) in 16 industry sectors. Companies are given the opportunity to confirm or provide public data sources. Information on all scored companies is available at www.climatecounts.org and on Facebook and Twitter (@climatecounts).  Climate Counts also has a free consumer iPhone App.

About Annie’s

Annie’s (NYSE: BNNY) is a natural and organic food company that offers great-tasting products in large packaged food categories. Annie’s products are made without the artificial flavors and synthetic colors and preservatives regularly used in many conventional packaged foods. Today, Annie’s offers over 125 products which are present in over 25,000 retail locations in the United States and Canada. Founded in 1989, Annie’s is committed to operating in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner. For more information, visit www.annies.com.

September 6th, 2012

Wind Energy Growth in UK

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