CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

China’s New Economic Dominance May Offer Silver Lining to Environmentalists

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 7, 2015 9:35:12 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

China pollution

The International Monetary Fund declared that the GDP of China has, as expected but ahead of forecasts, surpassed the GDP of the United States. MarketWatch called it a “major economic earthquake” that will “change almost everything in the longer term.”

This news has been predicted since last April, and yet it will take a while for reality to sink in. NPR travel commentator Rick Steves wrote an opinion piece in Sunday’s Seattle Times in which he stated an assumption most of us have held our entire lives and take great pride in: “There’s no question that, economically, we are firmly established on top of the world.”

But so what if we’re not number one? Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz writes in January’s Vanity Fair that economically we might end up better off. And that China probably will not crow about its achievement — “China (does) not want to stick its head above the parapet.” Wanting to be #1 is a distinctly American attitude.

Stiglitz says that the real danger is in losing our influence. In his words, “The bedrock strength of the U.S. has always rested less on hard military power than on ‘soft power’; most notably its economic influence.” The U.S. has used this soft power to lead international bodies such as the World Bank and the G20 “to pursue the economic interests of its multinationals, including its big banks.”

Those driving our economic interests have not addressed climate change with the urgency it deserves. Stiglitz calls out both American and Chinese roles in increasing carbon emissions and other forms of ecological degradation. Until the recent U.S./China climate deal, the U.S. has repeatedly denied the urgency of climate change, refused to sign treaties and retreated from funding global efforts at remediation.

Now that China can claim economic leadership, will it use its influence to lead environmental policy as well?

Harvard Business School (HBS) professor William Kirby believes China will step up. In an article for Working Knowledge, HBS staffer Christian Camerota cites Kirby’s staggering statistics for pollution in China: “Between 70 and 90 percent of the country's flora was endangered by 2008, and by 2013, around 80 percent of its major rivers were so debased that they no longer supported aquatic life. The strain (imposed by economic growth) is manifesting as sinking cities, shrinking reefs, wilting crops, and diminishing water supplies.”

As Kirby told Camerota, “Pollution is tolerable when it's accompanied by economic growth, and that's why the (Chinese) government has been so successful at doing much of what it wants with the landscape of China to date. But I think between man-made pollution and the degradation of the natural environment, we've reached a tipping point, where the government has an obligation to reverse course."

All indications are that Chinese society will not only support the leadership’s environmental efforts but push them to go farther. Across China, in hundreds of protests just in 2014, local residents, including peasants, academics and middle class families have marched against existing polluters and companies that proposed to put human health at risk.

Kirby goes on to explain another reason why Chinese society supports environmental remediation: “Nowhere in the world is the concept of family stronger than in China, and I think they will take that heavy responsibility very seriously. … A bettered natural environment would ensure healthier citizens and longer-term prosperity."

China’s new economic leadership may usher in a new era of climate and environmental effort. In fact, China might end up becoming the global leader we’ve been hoping for. China might even use its economic power to force the US to match its environmental progress. And wouldn’t that be ironic!

Photo courtesy of Leo Fung via Flickr cc.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 10,000+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 365 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in #1, carbon emissions, climate change, climate deal, economic earthquake, economic leadership, G20, GDP, protests, World Bank, Uncategorized, William Kirby, International Monetary Fund, pollution, soft power, Carol Pierson Holding, China, environmental degradation, Joseph Stiglitz

People Power of Climate March Readies Supporters for Next Stage

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 29, 2014 11:38:16 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Like the true-blue climate supporter that I’m aspiring to be, I attended the People’s Ban frackingClimate March in New York City last week. I stood at the corner of Central Park West and West 77th Street and witnessed families with children, old people, college students, two women in wheelchairs and young lovers carrying very different signs but all united in a common cause to save the planet. I felt joy, exhilaration, and hope. We all did.

Post-March announcements seemed to confirm the March’s effectiveness:

  • Meeting organizers’ goals, UN Climate Summit speakers acknowledged the March and the people power that it represented. As President Obama said, "Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them."
  • A group of institutional investors that includes the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and collectively manages $50 billion announced they will divest entirely from fossil fuels.
  • Yahoo and Yelp pulled support from climate-denying American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • A dozen corporations led by founding sponsors Ikea and Swiss Re “got the ball rolling” for REE100, an effort to convince 100 of the world's largest businesses to run completely on renewable energy by 2020.
  • The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) vowed to ramp up renewable energy investments from $1.4 billion now to $3.7 billion within five years.

But when I came back to Seattle I wondered, did the March or any of these subsequent accomplishments make a difference? The actions I listed above are largely symbolic in the face of our ever-increasing carbon emissions, which rose 6 percent since 2011 in the U.S. alone.  What did the March really do?

Some are blaming lackadaisical media coverage for the March’s seeming lack of relevance. But really, what was there to report? There was no conflict, no adversary, no indignation, and very little risk for participants.

Where was the story? Wasn’t it just a big pep rally for those already converted?

In contrast, the Keystone Pipeline protests had it all – conflict, bad guys, anger, clear demands – and yes these protests were covered in the media and yes they were effective in pushing closer to specific goals. Yet anti-Keystone protests never came close to the size of the March. The original Hands Around the White House action in 2011 was just 10,000 protesters. Fewer than a thousand students demonstrated in front of John Kerry’s home last March in a “human oil spill.” In April, 60 members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance set up camp on the National Mall in Washington DC. And these actions got results, delaying the Pipeline approval process for years.

It is truly amazing how effective protests can be if they’re directed at a single cause and deliver specific demands. I’ve seen it here in the Pacific Northwest, where protestors have shut down plans to build coal ports that would ship the filthy fuel from multiple points along the Pacific Northwest to Asia. As of last week, four of the six proposed ports have been forced to withdraw their plans. The crash in coal prices helped, but protests made development that much more uncertain and expensive.

The People’s Climate March was a love-in, a successful pep rally to recruit new volunteers and ready faithful supporters for the next stage, where to stop climate change, protests must be mounted against each specific threat in each of our own back yards. It’s the only way climate solutions can work: in conjunction with regulatory changes, an end to emitters through thousands of actions. Three cheers to the People’s Climate March for getting us ready.

Photo courtesy of Carol Pierson Holding.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,300+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 343 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 2 Comments posted in carbon emissions, Cowboy and Indian Alliance, renewable energy investments, Uncategorized, RED100, Northwest Coal Ports, People’s Climate March, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, UN Climate Summit, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Carol Pierson Holding, Keystone Pipeline

Are Both Sides Finally Meeting in the Middle?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 1, 2014 8:00:20 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

This past week brought two pieces of positive news on Climate Change activism.  A number of highly-influential and well-connected politicians publicly stressed the importance of addressing climate change.  One of these luminaries, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, recently took the additional sACSBtep of assuming the Chair of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

Just yesterday, we heard from smaller companies.  Our friends at the American Council of Sustainable Businesses (ACSB) released a poll of 555 small businesses.  It showed that a majority of those polled were concerned about Climate Change.  The small business people included more Republicans and Independents than Democrats.  The bigwig contingent was equally diverse, politically.  The EPA’s recent pronouncement of state-by-state carbon limits adds further pressure on local politicians to fall in line.

While there was hand wringing and despair shown by the remaining climate doubters over the EPA action, I did not see any immediate attempts to reverse it (or to indict or impeach anyone!).  I take this as a further sign that we are moving towards a consensus that we should finally start to take concerted action to avoid further global warming.

Once we stop arguing over whether or not we need to do something, we can start arguing about what we need to do.  Carbon is not the only driver for warming—we need to deal also with other gases, deforestation, and changes in surface reflectivity.  Many corporate entities have already cut their carbon emissions by 30% or 50%.  We will need new technologies and management systems to go further than this.  And, we will need to find ways to encourage government agencies, not-for-profits and individuals to change their behavior.

We hope our database and the tools we have built will help this process.  As part of our commitment to our stakeholders (we are a B Corp), we have worked hard to keep our company’s carbon use low.  Still, we probably need to examine our own practices to see if we can find more savings and contribute our fair share to solving what is finally being acknowledged as one of the most important issues of our day.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board.  He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 325 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in ACSB, Bahar Gidwani, Carbon, carbon emissions, climate change, Climate Change Polls, Uncategorized, SASB

Reason for Hope

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 17, 2014 11:36:44 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

For some reason, I encountered more skeptics than usual last week.  Two people told meheavy traffic that we will never see a shift in consumer behavior towards sustainable purchasing.  Two others said that corporations only care about money and view sustainability only as a kind of social window dressing.  Add in the normal flow of data on how bad things are (and how bad they are going to be if we don’t do something soon!), and I should have been pretty depressed.

Instead, the last few weeks have contained many reasons to hope, for the future.  For instance, we had the announcement that the EU would require companies with more than 500 people to report material sustainability issues; former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s and former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro’s decisions to lead the board of SASB; and the announcement that the US Environmental Protection Agency would (finally) start to regulate power plant carbon emissions.  There were also positive CSRHub news items—including a partnership with the CCEG and the release of five more million pieces of CSR data.  (Our site now contains 52 million pieces of data and rates almost 9,000 companies in 102 countries.)

However, I got an additional, more personal, reason to hope over the weekend.  I was driving home from a day on the water when my car suddenly stalled.  The battery was dead and I was stuck in the middle of heavy traffic on one of the approach ramps to the 59th Street Bridge.

I put up my hood and called for a tow truck.  As I finished my call, a nice-looking guy in a white shirt and black pants pulled up into the space in front of me and jumped out.  He asked, “Can I help?”  He had a battery pack in his car (jumper cables wouldn’t reach) and we tried—but no luck.  I thanked him profusely and then, he drove off…Only to be soon replaced by an older Indian man and his wife…Then, by a black man and his children…Then by a Hispanic man…  A cab driver (Sikh) and a livery driver (Hispanic) who were going the other way on the ramp each offered me gasoline (if I had run out of gas).  I got advice, sympathy, and offers for a push.  Finally, an Asian man in a large SUV had a battery pack that had enough power to get me started.  I’d been on the bridge ramp for more than an hour (the tow truck never showed up), but I was never alone and I never felt I was in danger.

Isn’t my experience a great reason for hope?  It is personal proof that many people want to help others—even when there is no opportunity for gain for themselves, besides the satisfaction of doing something good.  It is proof that people prepare in advance to help others—with cables, battery packs, and gas cans when they are driving and with spare food, clothes, and other emergency items when they are at home or at work.

This was my personal “Red Cross” moment—the time when I needed help and someone came to help me.  It renewed my faith in human kindness and reassured me that we have a broad spectrum of fellow citizens who care enough about society as a whole—and the fate of an individual stranger—to take action to improve the world.  It gave me another reason to hope, and I hope it does the same, for you.

Photo courtesy of Tammra McCauley via Flickr CC.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub. He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 
Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Bahar Gidwani, carbon emissions, CSR, power plant, Uncategorized, sustainability, CCEG, CSRHub

Shell’s Self-serving Scenarios

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 11, 2013 9:00:33 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

According to Shell’s New Lens Scenarios, we’re headed for a carbon free future, where OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsolar will be the dominant energy source by 2100. The report got pretty universally upbeat press, praised in business and even environmental websites and by Amory Lovins, Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who seemed to endorse the report: “Shell is the most far-sighted and strategic of the majors, largely because the Scenarios informed the thinking of Shell leadership and many others in the energy ecosystem.”

And Shell gets the highest  social responsiblity rating from CSRHub of any big oil company.

But assuming that the maximum additional carbon the earth can absorb is 565 gigatons of CO2 and that study after study predicts that “carbon emissions will grow by roughly three percent a year… (exceeding the) 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years,” we’ll be facing Armageddon long before we’ve shifted from carbon-producing fuel to Shell’s scenario.

Shell’s future scenario is hardly encouraging.

Up to now, I have been a huge admirer of Shell’s scenario planning. I first heard about its brilliant insight that the Soviet Union would collapse, information it kept secret while snapping up cheap Soviet oil leases. They also predicted the 1970s oil crisis and the end of Apartheid. They have a lot of credibility.

So how can Shell’s prestigious forecasting group predict a carbon free world when its strategy is to “reinforce our position as a leader in the oil and gas industry?” When it sold its solar business in 2006 to SolarWorld once they realized that solar business profits would never match the oil and gas business? Is scenario planning really that separated from corporate communications?

Then there’s the language problem. We all recognize the difference between short term exigencies and long term “unknown unknowns” as the study’s lead Jeremy Bentham, VP Business Environment and Head of Shell Scenarios, calls it, quoting Donald Rumsfeld.  It's the phrase he used when explaining the link between Baghdad and terrorist cells.

Is Shell suggesting that like Rumsfeld, its people are smart enough to get away with a lie of monstrous proportions?

As a recovering capitalist, I tend to be overly cynical, especially when it comes to corporations using socially responsible research as promotion. But here, there is a case to be made.

Shell’s scenarios promote natural gas to ease the transition from fossil fuels. Why? 48% of Shell’s current production is natural gas and the company is spending big to increase its dominance, especially in liquefied natural gas (LNG). In addition to owning the world’s largest gas-to-liquids production plant , the $18 billion Pearl GTL in Qatar, Shell is investing in other liquefied natural gas projects:

  • Last week, Shell announced it would build two plants, one in Louisiana and one in Ontario, to liquify natural gas for use in transport vehicles.
  • Using an undisclosed piece of its $1 billion+ R&D budget, Shell is developing  technology to mine huge deposits of oil shale in Colorado and Wyoming –  as Dan Denning of The Daily Reckoning reported, where “estimated U.S. oil shale reserves total an astonishing 1.5 trillion barrels of oil – or more than five times the stated reserves of Saudi Arabia.”

What Denning, a financial journalist, doesn’t say is what will happen when Shell and others release carbon emissions from another 1.5 trillion barrels of fossil fuel, even if it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas. Because once Shell figures out a way to mine that shale without violating EPA regulations, those reserves won’t sit untapped for much longer.

Shell’s scenarios do come with a caveat: results would be altered by “major geopolitical shifts.”  Ironically, the week after Shell published its scenarios, Yale University released its 2012 report of American attitudes towards climate change: the Alarmed cohort has grown from 10 percent of the American adult population in 2010 to 16 percent in 2012. At the same time, the percentage of those who dismiss climate change have decreased, from 16 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2012.

Does a critical mass of outraged citizens qualify as a “major geopolitical shift”? Think of the Vietnam War. Or Apartheid, a truly global protest. We may not be there yet, but as climate change impacts get worse, so will the outrage.

Photo is courtesy of Atli Harðarson


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on nearly 7,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 7,000 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in carbon emissions, carbon free, climate change, corporate social responsibility, CSR, energy, fossil fuels, natural gas, New Lens Scenarios, Shell, Uncategorized, social resp, solar, Carol Pierson Holding, CO2, CSRHub, SolarWorld

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all

Recent Posts