CSRHub Blog

Can Business Trump Trump’s Anti-Climate Stance

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 15, 2016 8:00:00 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

Donald Trump’s election has sent the global climate community into a tailspin.

Windmill

It seems every climate change action supporter is making lists of the awful things he’s planning to do, so I’ll turn to the very succinct one I received in a Sunday morning email from Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club:

End of Paris Climate deal. End of the EPA. End of the Clean Power Plan. More drilling. More coal. More pipelines. More lives destroyed. More wildlife bulldozed.

I’d add to Brune’s list of deplorable actions Trump’s choice to lead the EPA transition,  Myron Ebell, who Scientific American calls our “top climate skeptic.”

But we can’t forget what Neal Leary at Dickinson College’s Center for Sustainability Education reminds us in the Huffington Post the scariest fact of all: “Mr. Trump has asserted that climate change is a hoax.”

Leary refuses to give up: “I put my hope and efforts in action at state, local and institutional levels to keep and build momentum toward a clean, low-carbon U.S. energy system.”

Top on my list of Professor Leary’s institutional efforts would be American businesses, especially those that have turned away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy for the most American of reasons — profit.

With the help of non-profit organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Climate Group and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions which set standards and rate companies’ environmental performance, our businesses are killing demand for coal by making energy efficiency a top priority and solar and wind the energy systems of choice. As eco-consultant Andrew Winston writes, “It’s flat out more profitable” to use renewables.

Another reason: renewable energy reduces a company’s risk.

How can renewable energy mitigate risk? The direct answer is that by installing their own solar power — either by building solar plants, as Google and other firms are doing, or via rooftop solar to supplement the energy they draw from the grid — these companies ensure access to power without the risk of price fluctuations endemic to fossil fuels.

But there are other reasons why renewable energy lowers risk. For one, investors are becoming increasingly concerned with business’ environmental practices as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) becomes common practice. Charles Schwab features Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) on its Mutual Funds web page, commenting that it is “emerging as a significant trend in the financial markets” and noting that SRI increased 28% between 2012 and 2014, when total SRI assets topped $4.3 trillion. More investors reduces a company’s cost of borrowing in tough times, when raising money can otherwise be expensive.

But the even greater risk of not participating in environmentally sound policies is the potential damage to the brand. CSRHub, the sponsor of this blog and the world’s largest CSR database, analyzed its CSR ratings against data on brand strength and finds significant correlation.

 

Sustainability increases Brand Strength

Download presentation slides:
How the Correlation between Sustainability and Brand Strength has Changed in the Last Few Years, More Proof that Sustainability Drives Operating Performance

In other words, what a company does for its community, including environmentally, affects the value of its brand. And that means customers are more loyal. And that translates into how much a company can charge for its products and its profitability.

Not everyone is a fan of CSR. But despite some bad actors using CSR to “green-wash” their reputations, the concept is embedded in American business and may provide a bulwark against climate deniers now coming to power. And who knows. If Trump does what he’s said he wants to do, eliminating the Affordable Care Act and drastically reducing social services, he might find himself in need of a boost to his reputation. And what could be more effective than saving the planet.

 

Photo courtesy of  SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

 


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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.

 

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Ask the Plants for Help Adapting to Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 12, 2016 12:58:11 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Three interconnected firs Hoh sm (1)

Last week on CBS News I watched a piece about Dutch farmer Marc van Rijsselberghe, who is running experiments in the Texel Islands, Netherlands, to grow potatoes using in salt-ridden land. As more and more salty water seeps through the Dutch dykes onto its farmland, van Rijsselberghe and others are finding ways to adapt.

When CBS asks van Rijsselberghe how he knows which test strain will work, he says, “We ask the plants.”  Whether they live or die in salty soil dictates which strains will be sent to other places suffering salt-induced soil degradation.

 

It’s a huge piece of climate adaptation: The problem of salt-water intrusion affects 20 percent of the world's irrigated lands, up 37% since the early 1990s. Rising sea levels and reductions in usable water are driving this rapid increase. Once van Rijsselberghe identified strains of saltwater-loving potatoes, they were shipped to Pakistan where they are being successfully used in land formerly unusable for agriculture due to salt incursion.

I’ve heard more than a few people involved in the climate change movement despair that we’re too late. And maybe we are if we go at the problem thinking we have to solve it by ourselves. But what if we can tap into the intelligence of plants? Not just through binary experimentation — planting thirty varieties of potato to see which will grow in saltwater as van Rijsselberghe did — but to go further, even find new ways to absorb the excess carbon that’s leading to climate catastrophe?

We know that plants have their own intelligence. Ten years ago, Jeremy Narby codified scientific studies that prove so in Intelligence in Nature. Narby calls it “problem-solving at all levels of life” and describes the findings in a 2013 talk for Bioneers:

“Bees handle abstract concepts, slime molds solve mazes, and plants gauge the world around them. Science itself is evolving, moving away from a mechanical understanding of nature.”

We know that fungi clean up toxins and trees gobble carbon. German forester Peter Wohlleben goes even further. In his book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Wohlleben makes a compelling case for an arboreal social life that values the forest community over the individual tree. Tree roots feed each other, sacrificing their own growth to supplement the nutrition for a weaker member of their species, keeping alive young trees so that they can develop tougher trunks, which as they grow will in turn feed and shade older trees.

The biggest threat to the forest is not climate change but other species, notably humans:

“As climactic conditions change…A few old trees will die, but most of the rest of the forest will remain standing. If conditions become more extreme, one tree species could even be decimated without this being the end of the forest. The only proviso is that the social structure of the forest is not disturbed by lumber operations so that the forest can continue to regulate its own microclimate for itself.”

In other words, intra-species dependence is just as important as inter-species. Just as we depend on trees to produce oxygen, trees too depend on other life forms, especially fungi among which tree roots grow, exchange nutrients and share information about, for example, impending insect attacks.

The fact that The Hidden Life of Trees was a bestseller in Germany and is already #13 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list is a testament to its resonance with our own species. Human behavior also tends to be communal when it comes to climate change: residential solar panels are installed in waves, neighborhood by neighborhood. Even corporations act on climate change by industry grouping. Big box retail companies including Wal-mart, Costco and Ikea lead in installing solar panels on their enormous roofs; tech firms such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have committed to renewable energy by building their own solar plants and lobbying – together - for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Like trees, our species’ survival in the face of climate change is most successful when we put community over our individual selves. Imagine if we could also acknowledge what other living things have to teach us — we could expand our universe of potential partners to include all of nature. That’s a revolution in mindset, but oh the rewards.

Photo courtesy of  Carol Pierson Holding.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Uncategorized, Clean Power Plan, climate change adaptation, fungi, Intelligence in Nature, Jeremy Narby, Marc van Rijsselberghe, Peter Wohlleben, salt water potatoes, solar plants, tech firms, The Hidden Life of Trees, Carol Pierson Holding

Climate Woes Demand Both War and Civil Action

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 21, 2016 10:23:22 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

For at least a decade, I’ve been a huge fan of Bill McKibben, thought leader for the climatesustainability girl
movement. But his most recent article in The New Republic, “A World at War,” falls short.  Subtitled “We’re under attack from climate change — and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII,” his piece uses war as more than an analogy: “It’s not that global warming is like a war. It is a war.”

After reviewing the horrors of global warming, McKibben reports how the U.S. and other nations could deploy renewable energy rapidly enough to reduce fossil fuel emissions 80% by 2030. Using a wholesale industrial retooling akin to WWII to manufacture solar, wind and geothermal equipment, the reconstruction would be ordered and partly paid for by the feds, using existing contracts as leverage to force businesses to comply.

But what McKibben also points out is that after the war had ended, “solidarity gave way to the biggest boom in personal consumption the world had ever seen.” After WWII, materialism was our reward for war’s deprivations.

This time, a boom after “defeating” the climate could lead to even bigger disasters.

McKibben’s right that we need an all out effort to address climate change, but it’s only one solution to the mess we’ve created from our out-of-control consumerism. There’s also the Texas-sized island of plastic swirling in the Pacific Ocean, the jaw-dropping species extinctions, the lethal pollution and toxic chemicals and threatened water supplies. If we simply convert to clean energy without addressing the underlying causes of over-consumption and disregard for the earth, we’ll continue to face the same level of global emergency as climate presents now.

To be clear, the climate is not attacking us and it’s not our enemy. That’s the same twisted philosophy that got us here in the first place, where nature is other rather than part of a single system of which we are a part.

Rebecca Solnit, environmental activist, historian and the author of fifteen books, explains climate justice in this week’s Guardian. Her article on the Dakota Pipeline protests asks, “Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?” Rather than wage war against climate change, she writes about joining forces with the Native American civil rights movement, as is being done successfully in South Dakota and for years up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.

Like McKibben’s war argument, climate justice is not a new concept. I wrote about it in 2010 for CSRHub.com in a story about the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina suing big oil for melting their permafrost. I also wrote about the Occupy movement’s Climate Justice day in the Huffington Post: “Environmentalists are defining how environmental destruction and economic inequality are closely connected.”

The concept goes all the way back to Chief Seattle, who is quoted as having said, ““Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Civil rights are being extended bit by bit to include all of humankind, and those movements will continue. Now we have to expand that same justice and compassion to all life on earth, finding ways to protect the earth and each other while diminishing our need for stuff.

We may need a war-like effort to switch to renewables, but comparing the climate crisis to waging war doesn’t move us forward. We need to heal our environment and, within our environment, ourselves. It’s a change in values that will be a much tougher “war” to win than the one McKibben proposes.

Photo courtesy of  Fibonacci Blue via Flickr CC.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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.

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Fossil Fuel Divestiture Campaign Focuses on Big Pensions

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 13, 2016 10:19:45 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The fossil fuel divestiture campaign GoFossilFree equates the end of oil, gas and coal toDivest Scottish Parliament the great moral crusades of our time — Apartheid and tobacco — while hoping to reduce demand for fossil fuel stocks and thereby threaten their stock prices.

It’s a tall order. As long as GoFossilFree was focused on divesting university endowments, the campaign was a gnat on the haunch of the elephant. After all, why should an industry worth $5 trillion be afraid of endowments worth $467 billion, whose investments in oil and gas are probably 10%, or $50 billion, at best? Chump change to this industry’s behemoths.

But more recently, the FossilFree campaign began targeting pensions as well, and that’s a problem. Consider the numbers: as of 2013, US pension assets totaled $21 trillion. Using that same 10%, you’re talking $2.1 trillion in fossil fuel stocks. That’s a number big enough to scare even Big Oil.

The first real threat came in 2015 from California’s state pensions. In April of that year, the California legislature voted to divest its coal stocks from the pensions’ $657 billion investment fund. A scary precedent and one that got Big Oil’s attention.

Evidence of Big Oil’s alarm is clear on the anti-divestment site divestmentfacts.com. Funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the site used to publish letters from University Presidents justifying their decisions not to divest and a few reports on how much individual college endowments would lose through divestment.

In June, the DivestmentFacts site underwent a radical change. Focused now on pension funds, the site promotes the idea that under divestment, pension funds will lose $7 billion over twenty years. Three studies from three separate universities support the claim.

A closer look at the study authors reveals how much more the IPAA is investing to stop pensions from divesting. The lead study is authored by none other than the notorious economist and lawyer Daniel Fischel, the short-lived dean of Chicago Law School who resigned over a sex scandal and one-time expert witness in criminal trials of Mike Milken and Charles Keating as well as officers of Enron and Philip Morris. Fischel is Chairman and President of Compass Lexecon, one of the largest consultancies that specialize in what Charles Ferguson described in the Huffington Post as “The sale of academic ‘expertise’ for the purpose of influencing government policy, the courts, and public opinion… now a multi-billion dollar business.” The other two studies are by academics who are also Senior Consultants at, yes, Compass Lexecon. That’s some pricey research.

Shortly after releasing the three studies, the IPAA published a survey of pensioners conducted by FTI Consulting, which owns — wait for it — Compass Lexecon. FTI’s report warns, “Even the largest college endowment funds in existence today hold only a fraction of the assets managed by public pension funds,” then goes on to present “statistics” that prove pensioners don’t want divestment. A spokesman from the American Petroleum Institute (API) draws on heart strings when he concludes, "Millions of retirees and pension holders depend on income from oil and natural gas investments to live.”

Both oil lobbying organizations, API and IPAA, are funded mostly by the fossil fuel majors, with the bulk coming from Shell, BP and Chevron, companies that have the most to lose from divestiture. And they’re right to spend whatever they have to, because the truth is, the smart money in pensions should flee oil and gas for economic reasons. Looking ahead, HSBC Global Research found that global carbon regulations could result in fossil fuel companies losing 40-­60% of their value, which will translate into reductions in share price. Similar warnings have come from CitiBank, Standard and Poor’s, and the Bank of England.

Big Oil is right to be afraid. Pension fund divestment has moved to Europe. Just two weeks ago, the EU issued a directive that, on ratification, will require all pensions to “consider climate and risks related to…‘stranded assets,’”, referring to oil and gas reserves that may never be used. EU pensions total £3.2 trillion, $4.4 trillion at today’s depressed exchange rates.

Spending on anti-divestment is just a finger in the dike. Big oil and gas will lose to carbon-free energy. Will they follow buggy-manufacturers who never embraced the automobile and were pushed out of business? Or will they imitate American carmakers that entered the electric car market? Perhaps divestment will exact the same financial pressure on oil and gas that forced dramatic innovation in the American auto industry.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth Scotland via Flickr CC.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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.

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Surfer Dudes Add Hope for Saving Our Oceans

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 14, 2016 10:25:45 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

June 8th was World Oceans Day. It was celebrated with a reception at U.N. Headquarters in New York City. The Empire State Building was lit in white, blue and purple representing different layers of the ocean.

The day started in New York’s Long Island City, where the UN Secretary-General greeted the Hawaiian boat Hokule after two years at sea without motors or GPS.

Beach TrashBostonGlobe.com ran stunning photos of oceans.

Capitalists played their part too. In his World Oceans Day blog for Huffington Post, Richard Branson dressed up as a Merman to announce that as part of the 2016 Virgin Strive Challenge, he would swim from the southern tip of Italy to Sicily. The challenge sponsor is Virgin Money. That’s corporate social responsibility the Branson way.

In the real world, aquariums put on special shows. Citizens participated in symposiums and beach clean-up. All of this to raise appreciation of our oceans and awareness of both ocean wonder and degradation.

But what excites me most are the younger surfers around the world who are taking action.

The best known is of course Boyan Slat, the now 21-year-old Dutch aeronautical engineer who two years ago raised $2.2 million via crowd-sourcing for his non-profit Ocean Cleanup.  After witnessing garbage despoiling Greek waters when he was 16, Slat asked the question, “Why don’t we just clean it up?” He didn’t know why that’s an impossible task — even if he could overcome technological, territorial and funding issues. But his naiveté turned out to be a strength as compelling as his persistence.

Slat’s system uses ocean currents to concentrate garbage where it can more easily be picked up. (For a description of how it’s done, read The Guardian’s look at feasibility and  links to technical papers.) After five years of relentless pushing and the help of top engineers and scientists, Slat’s ocean cleaning system is going into trial this month.

Anther solution to ocean garbage is the SeaVax, a solar and wind-powered, self-driving ship that sucks up plastic. Invented by a young British trio, the ship has special sensors to detect trash and sonar technology that protects marine and bird life. The first ship is ready and looking for a launch site.

And another: Designed by two Australian surfers from recycled material, the Seabin is an automated trash receptacle for marina docks. Much like Seavax, funding was cobbled together from seed money plus crowd-sourcing.

Despite lack of experience and limited resources, these young social innovators are part of a passion-driven force that is taking center stage. In an interview with the Chairman of C2 Montreal JF Bouchard, the annual conference on innovation, journalist Ali Velshi maintains that individuals — “the Many” —not policies or institutions hold the key to society’s greatest challenges. In his words:

“I used to lament the end of programs like NASA, where a government took charge of a problem, or things like Bell Labs, where somebody was just working on stuff that wasn’t for commercialization. But you know, what’s better than the government and these labs is people, regular people.”

Surely Velshi goes too far. One (ironic) example: another significant problem, rising ocean temperatures, was confirmed in 2015 by a collaboration that included Bell Labs’ underwater radar arrays…and NASA scientists.

Fixing problems is exciting stuff. Yet in the end, it’s less complicated than measuring problems or preventing them in the first place. That’s where you need big institutions. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco banned plastic bags; Congress passed a ban on microbeads to take effect in July 2017. Since 1972, the Ocean Dumping Act has reinforced no-dumping laws with stiff penalties.

Branson’s stunts and the surfer dudes who develop their fantastical gizmos give us hope for a quick solution to environmental devastation. With institutional support, we might just get there.

Photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylar via Flickr CC.


Carol2 Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 132 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.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in corporate social responsibility, Seabin, Uncategorized, Virgin Money, plastic bag ban, Seavax, Ocean Cleanup, Ocean Dumping Act, World Oceans Day, Boyan Slat, Carol Pierson Holding, Microbead ban, Richard Branson

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