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When Climate Change Gets Personal

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 27, 2015 9:19:03 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding


Steve Yuhas, a resident of wealthy California enclave Rancho Santa Fe, has become famous for his reaction to drought-imposed water restrictions. His post reads: “(People) should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful.” In a follow-on interview with the Washington Post, he added, “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live. And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.” Clearly, public shaming is not going to work on this guy.

And we’ve all heard about how Tom Selleck stealing water by the tanker-load from a fire hydrant. Selleck argues it was only illegally diverted, not stolen, but he’s still breaking the law to keep his ranch going.

On the other end of the economic spectrum are agricultural workers in San Joaquin Valley, trying to survive on water that has arsenic levels double the level considered safe. Even bathing can result in poisoning. Impoverished residents are buying bottled water just to survive.

I’ve been reading similar stories about the personal impact of climate change for at least twenty years. They range from the ridiculous to the tragic. But this year is the first time it’s struck me personally.

I live in Seattle, historically one of the top five rainiest U.S. cities with the least amount of annual sunlight. Average temperatures are mild on either end, ranging from 47 in December and January to 75 in July and August.

Dried Grass

I spend as much of my summer as I can on one of the islands north of Seattle, a verdant paradise of fir and giant maple forests reaching down to rock beaches. It gets dry and hot in August – sometimes as high as 90 degrees – and the lawn can go brown in spots, but the paths through the forest show wet spots all year round.

Except this year. Rainfall was lower than usual in the winter, and May-June was the driest ever. June was exceptionally hot, with average temperatures nine degrees higher than normal. That very hot, dry weather has continued through July.

For the first time, I am suffering because of rising temperatures that, like California’s drought, are most likely the result of climate change.

I get heat headaches that can grow into migraines. My nervous system shorts and my extremities grow numb. I can’t think clearly and typing is difficult.

Climate change is suddenly personal.

And that changes everything.

I don’t have the energy to be outraged anymore. I’m just trying to stay focused on getting through my day without taking a toxic amount of Advil to reduce the pounding in my head until the heat of the day dissipates into a blessedly cool evening.

But the sea temperature is going up too, so we don’t know how long that evening cooling will last.

Since I moved here six years ago, I’ve looked with satisfaction at climate maps where the Pacific Northwest appears as a blue crescent against the punitive reds and oranges of the rest of the United States. We’ve been self-righteous about our environmental ways that seemingly rewarded us with cool temps and blessed rain, renewable hydro-power and abundant wild seafood.

Now we’re suffering with the rest of the world.

I’ve gone from indignation that everybody else is using up resources and contributing to climate change, to fighting just to feel normal.

Though I’d hate to align myself with the likes of Tom Selleck and Steve Yuhas, they share more than they’d like with me and with the farm workers of the San Joaquin Valley: we’re all experiencing the pain of losing a piece of life that we once took for granted. It feels very different than an ideological violation. It’s visceral.

Despite our very different experiences, every one of us is compromised by the effects of climate change. At some point won’t we all see that we’re aligned in a common cause? Using water illegally addresses personal pain with a short-term solution. So does buying bottled water. Or hiding out in a dark air-conditioned room as I did last week. On the other hand, working together to mitigate climate change and insisting that our leaders do the same could give us back the lush, fertile land in Rancho Santa Fe, the San Joaquin Valley, Seattle — and all over the world for that matter. We’ll all be better off.

Photo courtesy of Stewart Long via Flickr CC

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 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 arsenic poisoning, climate change, Seattle, Uncategorized, water scarcity, rising temperature, rising sea temperature, San Joaquin Valley, Carol Pierson Holding, Steve Yuhas, Tom Selleck water theft

Giving People Time to Give Thanks

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 18, 2014 12:16:26 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding
Amidst the national stories about the recent take-over of the U.S. Senate by RepublicansThanksgiving and their ardent intentions to eviscerate both the environment (see Big Oil’s Wish List) and human rights (as in reproductive rights, minimum wage and so on), a bit of sunshine peaked out of my Seattle Times: two of our top chain retailers, Costco and Nordstrom, are opting to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Why? To respond to the public backlash, of course, but also to ensure their employees spend Thanksgiving the way it’s supposed to be spent, with family and friends.

Closing on Thanksgiving isn’t the only way these companies are good to their employees. They lead Forbes 2014 Best Retail Companies to Work for Right Now list, with Costco at #1 and Nordstrom Rack at #2. Both companies not only have family-friendly policies, they pay their employees better.

In 2011, Nordstrom paid 60% more in hourly wages than the industry average. A typical Costco worker earned $45,000 in 2011 according to a survey by Glassdoor, compared to Sam’s Club workers’ average annual salary of $17,486.

Certainly, there is a strong economic argument to be made for treating employees better. Frederick F. Reichheld’s 2001 study The Loyalty Effect proved that customers are loyal not so much to a store as to its employees. Reichheld maintained that a five percent increase in the employee retention rate can increase a customer’s lifetime value by as much as 75%, in part because of the high cost of bringing in new customers. It seems to be working: as reported in Huffington Post last year, Costco’s profits soared 19 percent even as the retailer paid substantially higher wages. Nordstrom Rack’s sales increased 10.2%.It’s clear that employees and economics benefit from Costco and Nordstrom’s decent treatment of employees. But closing on Thanksgiving could actively hurt consumerism, possibly over the long-term: once stores close down for one day, aren’t these retailers in danger of teaching their customers how not to shop, especially in their stores?

I was struck once again at the differences between the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the country. Certainly, chains headquartered in other places are also closed on Thanksgiving. Barnes & Noble, GameStop, Joanne Fabric, Pier 1, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Top 10 retailers Burlington (projected to be #6 in profits for 2014) and Dillards (#2) are joining in.But you have to wonder why any retailer would want to take an action to stem consumerism, their very life-blood, and why two of the chains closing for Thanksgiving would be headquartered in the Seattle area?

One clue is its politics. Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee is best known as the "greenest governor." But he is also a crusader for worker’s rights. He calls it “protecting our most vulnerable, and protecting our environment” and champions raising the State’s minimum wage even higher than it already is, which at $9.32 is the highest state-wide minimum wage in the country. Seattle’s city council voted this June to gradually raise its hourly minimum to $15.

This might seem counterintuitive. The party line, especially in red states, is that environmental protection and jobs are in a heated battle for resources. Yet the Pacific Northwest is growing economically even while it fights against fossil fuel consumption, closing coal plants, denying coal port permits, increasing investment in renewables and reducing energy use.

And the dogma that lifting wages will bankrupt businesses? Nordstrom’s and Costco wouldn’t agree.

Have a lovely shopping-free Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of ilovebutter 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 9,300+ 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.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in $15 minimum wage, Costo, Nordstrom, Seattle, Uncategorized, wages, Thanksgiving, Jay Inslee, Richard Reichheld, The Loyalty Factor, Burlington, Carol Pierson Holding, Dillards, holiday off, Pacific Northwest

Sex, Lies and the Electric Car

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 27, 2011 8:38:06 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding


By Carol Pierson Holding

As though the merging of electric car and the Internet were already a well-known fact, BMW, a leader in CSR among automakers, dared to name its hybrid/electric car brand BMWi. “i”? Sure, thanks to Apple’s ubiquitous advertising campaigns, “i” is as well known as its predecessor “e” for electronic (email, e-commerce), and “x” for one level higher (xBox). Still, you have to wonder why BMW chose consumer shorthand for Internet, for innovation and cool, over eco or green, to signal environmentalism. Or even “e” for “electric car.”

Picture 4
Could BMW be doing what so many have failed to do—move the overall positioning of energy efficiency towards something, well, sustainable? At least when it comes to cars? Green appeal comes and goes. For many efforts, green positioning has given way to saving money — remember Energy Star’s transition in the 1990s? And more recently, the Prius’ push beyond celebrity environmentalists to mass market, cost-conscious consumers? But saving gas only goes so far, especially when gas is cheap.

KC Golden, the visionary behind the Seattle-based Climate Solutions, pretty much predicted an i-car evolution.  KC grew up in Los Angeles, the apex of the automobile worship.  He witnessed what having a cool car –a lot of horsepower under the hood —could do when it came to getting the girl. That link between horsepower and sex is permanently fused in youthful minds. And it never really goes away.

Today, KC lives in Seattle, where the major source of carbon emissions, about 40%, is from cars. To lower emissions, we must either get people to ride public transportation, which in the West is extremely tough, or more practically, get them to drive low-emission cars. What KC sees as the primary challenge is breaking our insistent connection, even in politically correct Seattle, between sex appeal and horsepower.

And what better voice to change attitudes about cars than the car companies themselves, starting just where you’d expect it to start, with Volkswagen—the first small car brand. KC sent me this typically counter-intuitive Volkswagen ad, which mocks drivers who still believe that horsepower enhances ego. Its tag line is “lowest ego emissions:” VW TV Commercial.

Picture 2
I’ll bet this commercial is not all that funny to BMW drivers. It appeals to those whose ego is wrapped around environmentalism, the very group KC wants to enlarge. I’m not saying that KC is wrong about green being sexy one day. In fact, even BMW thought the time had come in its first and second tries at an electric car. First was the MiniE, an electric MiniCooper. Launched in China, it was positioned as the first of its MegaCityVehicle line— a luxury version of Indian car-maker Tata’s Nano. Then the company tried the ActiveE, a sedan that was “bringing sustainable electric mobility on the road” as their ActiveE spokeperson, a female sustainability consultant intoned on their website. The ActiveE does not look “muscular;” its spokesperson is not sexy.

But with BMW’s third try, the BMWi, I think BMW has found its answer. Even though the tag line for the BMWi is “Born Electric,” the message is about performance first. BMWi uses battery power not only to cut emissions, but also to boost performance. Sure, the women in the BMWi web video are good-looking, but not blatantly sexy. And someday, maybe just the energy savings will be enough.

With the BMWi, BMW returns to its roots. It’s a smart strategy and may take us right where we want to go. As smart branders know, a slow transition works best with consumers. German luxury carmakers promoting behavioral modification in service of sustainability? Now that’s brand evolution.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.  

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[fa icon="comment"] 14 Comments posted in ActiveE, Apple, corporate social responsibility, CSR, electric car, electric vehicles, Energy Star, KC Golden, Seattle, Tata Nano, Uncategorized, Volkswagen, xBox, MiniCooper, sustainability, MegaCityVehicle, MiniE, Prius, BMW, BMWi, Carol Pierson Holding, Climate Solutions, CSRHub, eco

A Tale of Two Ports

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 19, 2010 12:45:05 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

The Role of Shipping in Mitigating Climate Change

By Carol Pierson Holding

The Port of Seattle’s CEO, Tay Yoshitani wants to run the greenest port in the country. Now that companies like Walmart and Costco are measuring the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, energy used by ship transport becomes an issue, including energy used at port stops. Yoshitani believes that the environment is a competitive issue, an ethical and economic opportunity.  And 70% of cargo that goes through the Port is discretionary. It could go through another west coast port on its way to its final eastern destination.

Yoshitani’s team is working hard on his mandate. Installing the first self-powered Electric Rail Mounting Gantry Cranes to move cargo containers onto rail cars. Centralized air plant for grounded planes at SeaTac, lowering emissions and saving airlines $400,000 each year. Financial incentives and a “Green Gateway” flag for ships that use lower sulpher fuel at berth, which saves Elliott Bay in Puget Sound, and keeps the neighboring residents happy.

And yet all of these wins for Seattle’s environment might be wiped out by a decision that’s winding its way through the courts now which would make a port in Longview, 128 miles south of Seattle, the highest polluter on the West Coast.  As reported by Climate Solutions, an Australia-based coal company is opening the door to make Washington the coal-export hub of the Pacific rim.  The plan is to send low-grade coal mined in Wyoming and Montana — a grade outlawed in the US because is so toxic —  on trains through the Columbia River Gorge through a Longview port, to be burned in China. And other coal companies are already lining up with their own proposals.

Why should Washington care about coal burned in China? I was in San Francisco the last time a windstorm carried clouds of black soot from China down the West Coast. The resulting pollution was so thick that we thought the East Bay Fires had started again. Burning dirty coal in China is certain to denigrate the air all along the West Coast, and the single point along its route where environmental concern is strong enough to block it will be the ports from which it is shipped.

Ports are used to being environmentally sensitive because they are on or adjacent to wetlands and other fragile habitats. They are also quite nimble, being between a state agency and a private company. And they have a lot of experience in “earth justice,” with a cadre of internal and external lawyers focused on environmental issues. The real issue is whether any law can protect our citizens from foreign-born pollution, even when it originates on our own shores. And the Longview, WA port is the test case.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website at  http://www.holding.com/Index%20links/articles.html.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in climate change, global warming, Port of Seattle, Seattle, shipping, Uncategorized, Longview, Carol Pierson Holding, China, coal, dirty coal

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