Modeling Corporate Climate Action

It’s easy to get the impression that there is no hope for climate action. Perhaps you’ve heard that the recent DC snowstorms buried any chance to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. Or that hacked emails have set the climate movement back a decade. We have a completely ineffectual Senate, a gun-shy EPA, and a dysfunctional global climate community. Our political leadership seems to be paralyzed by fear to take on the climate crisis.

That’s not the impression you’d get reading the business news, though. There, you would have seen a year of climate momentum. In October, several major companies left the US Chamber of Commerce over its position on corporate climate action. Bill Gates has called for making climate change our #1 priority. Every week, another company seems to be launching a new effort to reduce its climate impact. The steady ticker of corporate action toward energy efficiency, renewable energy investment, carbon neutrality, and extraordinary technological innovation tells a remarkably different story than our stuck-in-the-mud politics and lightweight public discourse on climate.

We’ve launched a new project, Climate Counts Industry Innovators (or i2) that will help this momentum build. We heard from so many companies–even after our first year of company scoring in 2007–that simply got it. They understood that an external review of their climate actions made simple for consumers could have real long-term brand benefit in an increasingly competitive world. We found a forward-thinking group of companies that voluntarily wanted to go through our scoring process; they wanted to face Climate Counts’ scrutiny of their carbon management efforts to bolster an already strong spirit of environmental innovation with an outside point of view. Six of those companies now comprise our charter group of i2 companies: Amtrak , Ben & Jerry’s , Clif Bar , REI , Shaklee , and Timberland . They represent different sectors, different geographies, different sizes, and different corporate structures. But what they share is a commitment to making it clear to consumers that climate action is business leadership. They’re helping build markets for renewables, they’re testing new technologies, they’re helping employees and consumer make the link between their lives and climate change, and they’re doing the common-sense work of running their companies more efficiently.

This is yet more proof that businesses that are committed to their own long-term viability understand the realities of climate change, aren’t being misled by the climate deniers, and respect the steady evolution of consumers on issues as complex as climate change. They’re positioning themselves to out-compete the companies still dithering on climate.

Companies that are setting a high bar on corporate climate responsibility are increasingly faced with a critical issue: how to gain the consumer’s attention for that leadership. Since launching our Climate Counts Company Scorecard three years ago, we’ve always maintained that companies wanting to see real ROI from credible sustainability programs and investments need to make it abundantly clear to consumers what they’ve done and why.

When it comes to innovation of all kinds (technological, environmental, or otherwise), consumers want to be wowed. They are drawn to CEOs who have put the time and resources into developing meaningful solutions to problems. Consumers may not always know what to ask of companies about their climate and sustainability programs, but they want to be impressed by the innovation they represent. More importantly, though, they have to believe it. But it’s not just about who’s the loudest or more effusive or uses the best shade of green in a logo or ad campaign. In a world where recycling and light bulbs still define the consumer environmental conversation, companies have a unique opportunity, even responsibility, to lead consumers on the issues that really matter.

What’s the best news about the innovative actions of these companies? While they’re confidently preparing to put distance between themselves and climate laggards, they’re also helping us all imagine a world that’s both better for good business and better for the people and resources upon which they depend.

Wood Turner is the executive director of Climate Counts. To learn more about the Climate Counts Industry Innovators program, visit http://i2.climatecounts.org or e-mail i2@climatecounts.org

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