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Capitalism Rallies to Fight Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 4, 2015 9:26:52 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Capitalism

In his op-ed piece “Two Cheers for Capitalism,” conservative columnist David Brooks quotes fellow New York Times writer Anand Giridharadas about why capitalism isn’t working:

“The rich are to be praised for the good they do with their philanthropy, but they are never to be challenged for the harm they do in their businesses. … Sometimes I wonder whether these various forms of giving back have become to our era what the papal indulgence was to the Middle Ages: a relatively inexpensive way of getting oneself seemingly on the right side of justice, without having to alter the fundamentals of one’s life.”

I wonder why Brooks considers this statement “courageous” and “provocative” rather than stating the obvious.

Indeed, in 2014, World Bank Economist Apurva Sanghi made the same argument for business and its own form of Papal indulgence: “CSR (corporate social responsibility) is about companies ‘giving back’ … How can companies that produce products that are polluting the environment have a strong reputation for social and environmental responsibility?’”

Sanghi slams some CSR as just another form of the “’guilt complex’ - charity as a means of managing a potential backlash.” And surely that happens, as he points out, with oil companies and big tobacco. But when a company makes an operational decision that’s good for society, you can bet it’s also good for the business.

And when businesses band together with competitors to address a societal ill, it’s because the very heart of capitalism is threatened, as it is with climate change.

Will capitalists step up to climate change for their own survival?

The evidence seems to say yes.

We’ve all heard about climate-caused business disruptions – think Hurricane Sandy in New York and rising sea levels along the East Coast. But climate change affects both  operations and consumer confidence.

The latest Yale/Gallup/Clearvision poll found 62% of Americans are convinced that “global warming is an urgent threat requiring immediate and drastic action,” indicating widespread fear.

Recall the stock market crash of 2008: when consumers are afraid, they don’t buy products and they don’t invest. As the impact of climate change gets worse, consumers may just stop spending. As temperature extremes worsen, they might just stay home.

And consumers are rewarding climate friendly companies by buying their products and their stocks.

The rest of business is jumping into action too.

Just a few days ago, the Huffington Post reported that eleven environmentally responsible corporations including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Apple joined Obama in "American Business Act on Climate Pledge." The purpose of the climate pledge? To support a "strong outcome" at the climate negotiations in Paris and commit to renewable energy, emissions reduction, responsible water use and halting deforestation.

Last year, even without the President’s backing, over 100 companies joined a coalition called We Mean Business to advocate bold action on climate change. Those companies were already climate leaders in their products (think electric cars and green investment funds) and operations.

We Mean Business now represents $2.19 trillion in members’ revenue and $7.4 trillion of investment.

Capitalism as practiced in 2015 America is a flawed system, distorted by years of legislation removing essential safeguards. But when it comes to climate change, capitalism might just be the most effective solution. Regardless of how weak you believe the connection is between profit and social responsibility, the connection between profit and public opinion has never been stronger.

Add to that the economic opportunities presented in the course of addressing climate change in both operations and consumer loyalty — opportunities such as Ikea discovering a solar gold mine in its massive flat roofs and the UK’s Marks & Spencer’s impressive gains in reducing carbon emissions while successfully relaunching its brand as the sustainable retailer — and you’re seeing capitalism at its finest.

Photo courtesy of Alessio 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 information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 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 American Business Act on Climate Pledge, Apple, Apurva Sanghi, Bank of America, capitalism, climate change, CSR, global warming, Goldman Sachs, Marks & Spencer, Uncategorized, Yale/Gallup/Clearvision, Paris climate negotiations, We Mean Business, Carol Pierson Holding, David Brooks, Ikea, WalMart

Is It Already Over?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 8, 2015 9:45:52 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

Last week I met a young man who is about to major in environmental engineering. When he found out I blog about climate change, his first question was, “Is it already over?”

Moon-Trek

Clearly he intended to be provocative. But it was an interesting question from someone about to enter the environmental field. He wanted to talk about solar arrays in space and space elevators. Both are ideas that would in part alter the sun’s radiation, preventing it from warming earth.

Don’t these ideas sound nuts? The National Academy of Sciences agrees, reporting that the idea of increasing the earth’s reflectivity so that more sunlight gets bounced back into space is, in their more tempered language, “fraught.”

Clive Hamilton, the Australian climate change ethicist and author, puts it more strongly in the UN web magazine Our World, “Some of the ideas put forward to block the sun’s heat would be far-fetched even in a science fiction novel.”

The excitement my young student showed was, in its own way, just as troubling. As environmental activist Rachel Smolker blogged in Huffington Post, “What is clear is that climate geoengineering is opening new doors for many career seekers. From scientists with superman complexes, eager to be seen as doing ‘cutting edge’ work with big important global consequence, to various environmental and other NGO careerists seeking grant support, status and a place at the table.”

In other words, geoengineering is the new macho, no matter how otherwise sincere my young friend.

All of the schemes for climate solutions that change the delicate balance between the atmosphere, the ocean and the sun’s energy sound deranged. But what if these ideas seduce us into believing that we can continue to rely on carbon-spewing fossil fuels until all the reserves are used up?

According to Smolker, solar reflectivity and other geoengineering ideas, with the exception of technologies designed to remove emissions such as carbon scrubbing, are diverting our attention, “…from implementing the straightforward, proven, low tech, low risk approaches to saving the planet…like halting deforestation, protecting biodiversity, putting a halt to overconsumption, ending the mining, fracking, clear cutting and burning of the planet…”

Just as with climate change in the early days, scientists are lining up on either side. The predominance of scientific bodies argue for caution. Their projections show the potential harm, as in the weakening of coral reefs and sea life shells that results from fertilizing the ocean with iron or the projected side effect of sprinkling the atmosphere with sulphates, which scientists say may reduce our rainfall.

The most enthusiastic proponents of bioengineering include the fossil fuel companies and their organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute. In 2013, the influential think tank partly funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, launched a high-profile project to promote “geoengineering,” or as the National Geographic defines it, “intentional intervening in the climate system in an attempt to forestall some of the impact of global warming.”

Shell and ConocoPhillips are investing in geoengineering and using it to buttress their argument that we will don’t have to stop using fossil fuels because we will innovate ourselves out of our climate crisis.

To an ex-branding person like me, the most-telling signal of pro-geoengineering forces’ intentions is the re-branding taking place. From the original and now highly controversial “geoengineering” term to a replacement that turned out to be no better — “climate engineering,” the current moniker is the evocative “climate intervention,” as though the climate has a problem which only humans can fix.

Advocates for “climate intervention” think the best strategy is to alter nature’s delicate balance, to address climate change by changing the climate. But it’s Mother Earth who has the genius for cleaning up messes, not us. Think of the mushrooms currently used to detoxify superfund sites. Surely we can figure out a similar solution to excessive carbon, one that mimics nature rather than destroying it.

Let’s attend to our own “intervention” and fix what we can, those behaviors that caused climate change. We won’t destroy the earth, just our ability to survive on it. It’s our own extinction that’s at stake. The solution is not to alter earth’s magnificent equilibrium but our own self-destructive behavior.

To answer my young friend, no, it’s not over.

Photo courtesy of photophilde 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 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 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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Today, Sustainable Nylon. Tomorrow, the Planet

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 10, 2015 10:57:42 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think that nothing is going to get any better.”

—     Alex Steffen, The Bright Green City

environmental inspiration

A young, environmentally focused chemist sent me news of a breakthrough in producing nylon, that ubiquitous chemical used for everything from stockings to zip-ties to jackets, tents and sails. Described in a recent paper by researchers Hwang and Sagadevan from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, the new process, if it can be brought to industrial production scale, would use far less energy and reduce nitrous oxide emissions dramatically. This addresses an enormous environmental problem: considered over a 100-year period, nitrous oxide has 298 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide, and nylon synthesis creates 5-8% of those emissions from 10 billion pounds of nylon produced per year,

And that’s just nylon

I seems like everyone is working on a solution to climate change.  The poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman summarized some of the grandest schemes for Wired: India has announced an ambitious plan to transition the entire population of 400 million mainly to solar power; a separate initiative will plant two billion trees along India’s highways. In May 2014, Germany produced 74 percent of its energy from renewables. Sweden is now recycling a staggering 99-percent of household waste. China is about to invest $16 billion on electric car infrastructure. Ackerman concludes, “As a species, we’ve accomplished majestic things, and today is an especially exhilarating era of invention and discovery.”

Even Republicans now favor action on climate.

So many people working to battle climate change in every corner of modern life, but still, is it enough? Last week, I was stunned to hear a staunch supporter of environmental causes disparage her giving habits: “I don’t know why we give. It’s too late anyway.”

The science supports her. We’re long past the 350 ppm carbon limit over which humans cannot survive long term, and we’re nowhere near burning all the fossil fuels we’ll need to support our energy needs. In the often-quoted statement attributed in a 2006 Christian Science Monitor article to Jonathan Overpeck, a researcher at the University of Arizona, “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than a century; even if we shut down every fossil-fueled power plant today, existing CO2 will continue to warm the planet.”

And then there’s the argument put forth by Google engineers Ross Koningstein and David Fork after that company abandoned their much-ballyhood initiative RE<C to develop new technologies for cheap renewable energy: “…even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work.” Even more disheartening, “(Would) a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold? Our calculations revealed otherwise.”

Does this mean we should, like Google, just give up? You expect Ackerman to dream. After all, she’s a poet. But even these hard-boiled rationalists have faith:

“… We’re hopeful, because sometimes engineers and scientists do achieve the impossible. Consider the space program, which required outlandish inventions for the rockets that brought astronauts to the moon. MIT engineers constructed the lightweight and compact Apollo Guidance Computer, for example, using some of the first integrated circuits, and did this in the vacuum-tube era when computers filled rooms. Their achievements pushed computer science forward and helped create today’s wonderful wired world. Now, R&D dollars must go to inventors who are tackling the daunting energy challenge so they can boldly try out their crazy ideas. We can’t yet imagine which of these technologies will ultimately work and usher in a new era of prosperity—but the people of this prosperous future won’t be able to imagine how we lived without them.”

 

We got that sustainable nylon challenge licked. Next up, the race to save the planet. We’ve lined up chemists and poets and engineers and inventors and even the Republicans. It’s a race we just might win.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Mendelsohn 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.

 

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Climate Change Advocates Need Positive Branding

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 16, 2014 9:54:19 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The idea of branding climate change seems like another exercise in navel-gazing until you China pollutionconsider the effectiveness of the opposition. They’ve got branding down, relentlessly repeating the mantra, “science is inconclusive and solutions are exorbitant and unproven.” On the other hand, environmentalists repeat vague Cassandra-like warnings of “climate change” and “global warming,” supporting dire predictions with confusing statistics, hard-pressed to come up with simple, relevant messages.

Even relatively green media like the New York Times end up reinforcing the fossil fuel messages, especially in their business sections. In an unfortunately common example, Friday’s Huffington Post called out the New York Times for “overhyping the benefits of fracking…(claiming that it was) changing the economic calculus for old industries and downtrodden cities alike.” Fracking equals jobs and a better economy, the article claimed. But Huffington Post reporter Mark Gongloff quoted Dean Baker, co-director of the Center For Economic And Policy Research, who found that in fact fracking communities had a worse record for factory jobs than the U.S. as a whole. Still, when it’s reported in the New York Times

Climate deniers are brilliant at setting up simple, memorable and scary financial calculations that brand climate change activists as prioritizing the environment against the economy. They pit environmental health against jobs. They equate renewable energy with sky-high utility bills. They warn electric cars have no range and will leave you stranded and solar panels will burn your house down. And my favorite, heard quite a bit in the halls of Congress: why should the U.S. pay to clean up the atmosphere when China now emits more greenhouse gas than we do?

Again, even environmentally-friendly media reinforce this trope. The latest is last week’s Rolling Stone article titled “China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet.” The article is rife with fodder for climate solution obstructionists, starting with author Jeff Goodell’s front page called-out quote:  “If the world’s biggest polluter doesn’t radically reduce the amount of coal it burns within the next decade, nothing anyone does to stabilize the climate will matter.”

True, China’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is now over 10 billion metric tons a year, and 25 years of climate negotiations have failed utterly. But Goodell’s article did not have to lead with the negative. He could have highlighted that China is now the largest consumer of solar power and that this year, 60 percent of its new energy production was from renewable energy sources, even higher than the U.S. at 53.8 percent. That it’s making every effort to close coal plants. Or that even in the face of beatings or worse, its citizens are still rioting in the streets against fossil fuel production.

Iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the “I Love New York” logo, developed a climate change branding campaign with buttons and billboards that feature a black circle fading to a small green strip at its bottom edge over the slogan “IT’S NOT WARMING. IT’S DYING.” Position this message against one of the current denier billboards that proclaims “’Green’ Climate Policies: Probably unnecessary. Certainly ineffectual. Ruinously expensive.” Which one sounds more rationale? More persuasive? Easier to adopt? Commenting for Fast Company, Adele Peters questions Glazer’s negative approach but remains hopeful that he’s tackled the challenge. Her closing thought is absolutely correct: “We need more brilliant designers and marketers tackling the messaging about climate change in different ways--especially in the U.S., which leads the world in climate denial.”

Photo courtesy of DaiLuo 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 9,100+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 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.

 

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Climate Change Driving Beverage Market to Creative Destruction

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 19, 2014 1:58:30 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week, the Seattle Times reported on a White House state dinner in honor of Frenchgrapes- carol President Francois Hollande. The wines were chosen for being among the U.S.’s vineyards that are owned or run by French vignerons and included Long Shadow’s Chester-Kidder red blend 2009 from Walla Walla, Washington.

It’s not the first time a Presidential dinner has included wines from the Pacific Northwest. The same vineyard has provided wine to at least four state dinners. Washington State wines won international competitions.

The fact is, the climate has changed so drastically that Washington State – and England and China — are becoming prime regions for wine growing. Global warming and its freak weather events are destroying the once great terroirs of France and California. Vintners, whose reputations and positioning have for centuries rested on the special soil and climate of a certain place (think Champagne), are repositioning themselves from unique land-based attributes to superior skills and experience.

Economist Joseph Shumpeter described this necessary form of business evolution: “creative destruction, (which) incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Wine is not the only industry experiencing creative destruction brought on by threats to vital natural resources. One well-known example is Coca-Cola’s extreme issues around water for both its production processes and its products themselves.

The company’s 2013 Water Stewardship & Replenish Report attempts to minimize damage to its reputation. But pain inflicted by its water misuse has gotten widespread publicity, particularly in India where, since 2000, the company has overseen the over-exploitation of limited water resources and the contamination of groundwater supplies that is bankrupting farmers and driving some to suicide.

The cost to Coke of water in India? Virtually free. But the repercussions of its water misuse have included fierce battles with local authorities that temporarily closed the Kerala plant, costing it millions.

Coke’s public response to its water problems seems admirable. In 2010 CNN Money reported that:

“Coke has been a leader when it comes to environmental issues: It is aiming to be water neutral — meaning every drop of water used by the company will be replenished — by 2020.”

But despite its commitments to water neutrality, Coke still has a long way to go. CSRHub rates its environmental performance only slightly above the beverage industry average. As the leader of the global beverage market, Coke should be doing better.

And not just because of the moral imperative or for good PR. When water becomes scarce or expensive, Coke’s business is threatened. How can Coke expand into products that don’t require water while retaining its franchise in sugar drinks? How does it beat back new water-free competitors such as SodaStream?

The answer is to join them. Earlier this month, Coca Cola announced a deal with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to sell its drinks through subsidiary KeurigCold, an in-home soft-drink dispensing system. As the Wall Street Journal explained:

Coke is spending $1.25 billion to buy a 10% stake in Green Mountain, which is planning to introduce a new home soda maker to go alongside its Keurig single-serve coffee makers. And Coca Cola’s drink brands — Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Powerade and many more — will be making appearances in the new machines.

The surprising thing about the announcement is that unlike SodaStream, which touts its products as being environmentally friendly or “without the bottle,” Coke’s press release makes no reference to its new product’s sustainability. The largest beverage company in the world is touting this purchase as a competitive decision without trying to use it to blunt criticism over water use.

Potentially even more dire, the pods fight with Coke’s most enduring symbols, the Coke bottle and can.

Coke’s Green Mountain partnership is a perfect example of creative destruction working to benefit climate change adaptation. In a 1997 update to Shumpeter’s theory, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma says that there are times when it’s smart not to listen to current customers but to pursue small markets at the expense of larger and more lucrative ones. Climate change is pushing business to take more of the kind of risks that Shumpeter and Christensen advocate, often benefiting both business and the planet, even without exploiting sustainability in its branding. That’s CSR at its very best.


Carol2Carol 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 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 104 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.

 

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