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

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

Capitalism to the Rescue?

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 5, 2013 9:32:58 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Like many people, my faith in capitalism was badly shaken by the crash of 2008 and its caraftermath. I sat by, appalled as some capitalists denied climate change and used the economy as an excuse to continue their planet-destroying practices.

I rooted for regulation, until Obama, who once seemed to be the environmentalist’s last great hope, declared his second term energy policy would be “all of the above.”

Given this lack of resolve, I was surprised to read in last week’s environmental website Sightline’s that US oil consumption is actually falling:

US Energy Information Administration suggests that total oil consumption in the United States fell by about 1.5 percent last year — meaning that the country as a whole used about as much oil in 2012 as it did in 1994… (even as) population grew 19%.

How can this be?  Since the comparison goes back to 1994, we can’t credit the recession. The large bulk of oil consumption is from transportation, and as laid out in painful detail in SmartPlanet, the drop is not due to greater vehicle efficiency. So what is driving this drop?

The timing suggests the drop is price-related: per capita oil consumption has fallen most dramatically since 2004, when oil prices started rising sharply.

To the planet’s everlasting gratitude, higher oil prices lasted long enough this time to launch a revolution in transportation. Think about what’s happened just over the last few months:

  • Car-sharing moved into the mainstream. Avis, which leads the industry in CSRHub’s social responsibility ratings, paid $500 million for the largest car-sharing company, Zipcar.
  • United Airlines completed its first all biofuel jet flight. The company subsequently placed an order large enough for biofuel companies to scale to cost effective levels.
  • The Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy consuming $17 billion of fuel in 2011, is courting Cleantech venture capitalists. Washington’s Clean Technology Alliance hosted a conference last week in Seattle that featured Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy. Why are these heavyweights giving their time to a Cleantech meeting? Price instability puts its budget at risk; far worse, having to move oil in battle zones creates human risk. Solar-powered mortar pits were Burke’s exemplar, formerly fueled by highly dangerous helicopter missions.
  • Most exciting, the driverless car is road-ready. As described in Chunka Mui’s outstanding series for Forbes Magazine, this innovation could save 1.9 billion gallons of gas/year and their resulting emissions in the US alone, at a cost to consumers that is somewhat less on average than owning and operating a car. The technology has been road tested by Google for 300,000 miles as well as several car manufacturers and is looking for a market.

And U.S. consumer acceptance is “closer than you think,” according to Mui, who sites the younger generation’s comfort with technology and population segments such as the elderly and the disabled who are unable to drive themselves. The early forces that held back air travel – fear of crashes – are also selling points for the driverless car, which promises to reduce accidents by 90%.

These examples are democratic capitalism at its finest. After 50 years back-and-forth on conservation and environmentalism, gas prices creep out of America’s comfort zone and national public opinion shifts. Over the next few years, investors get serious. Bedrocks of conservatism like the DOD, the airline industry and car-makers find the will to act.

Climate change has found a potentially scenario-changing champion in capitalism.

Am I just the relentless optimist to think that capitalism can save us? I’m all for increased regulation of the capitalist money machine to control unfettered greed. But here is the free market system at its best. Makes you want to believe again, doesn’t it?

Photo is courtesy of griffithchris via Flickr CC


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 Avis, capitalism, car sharing, cleantech, climate change, Environmentalism, Forbes, Google car, Sharon Burke, US Energy Information, vehicle efficiency, Uncategorized, Obama, oil consumption, Robert Gates, solar, United, Biofuel, Carol Pierson Holding, Chunka Mui, CSRHub, driverless car

Obama Energizes Debate With Focus on New Energy

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 17, 2012 10:49:38 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Watching the first Presidential debate on October 3, I kept waiting for Obama to bring up

climate change and clean tech

climate change. Yes, climate change is this election’s third rail. But it makes many of Obama’s strategies work. In fact, climate change may be at the center of his vision for a new economy. Old “cash cow” industries like oil are being “harvested;” low growth low return industries like coal are being allowed to be put out of business by low-priced natural gas, and new, fast-growing industries like wind and solar are “stars” where investment return will be highest.

Without climate change, Obama is open to charges of using taxpayer money to play with the sun and wind and counting on imaginary jobs to save the unemployed. A delusional demi-God claiming he’ll change the world.

Climate change can change the playing field for Obama, but he’s got to bring it up without saying those toxic words.

So why not instead couch climate change in bipartisan poll-sanctioned terms such as “clean tech” and “green jobs”?

And sure enough, at Tuesday night’s debate, Obama did just that.

While post-debate pundits focused on Romney’s through-line on jobs and Obama’s victories on women and immigration, my gut feeling told me that Obama had repositioned the debate most in the energy area.

Obama reset Romney’s positioning of oil and gas realism vs. alternative energy dreaming — as Romney framed it in the first debate, oil subsidies vs. Solyndra — to a new inclusive paradigm of “energy sources”:

“…we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy source of the future, not just thinking about next year, but ten years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy efficient cars.”

When asked about high gas prices, Obama brought up higher fuel efficiency standards, positioning them not a “traditional source of energy” but another “look to the future.”

Obama used clean energy as a competitive weapon against Romney as short–sighted, ceding energy innovation to other nations:

“So he’s got the oil and gas part, but he doesn’t have the clean energy part. And if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we’re not going to control our own economic future. Because China, Germany, they’re making these investments. And I’m not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.”

The two candidates went at each other about whether Obama had increased fossil fuel drilling on Federal lands, a fight Romney won, but after Candy Crawley got the two back to their corners, Obama continued to steer the debate to new energy :

“What I’m not for is us ignoring the other half of the equation. So, for example, on wind energy, when Governor Romney says ‘these are imaginary jobs.’ When you’ve got thousands of people right now in Iowa, right now in Colorado, who are working, creating wind power with good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Obama’s mission was complete when Romney, the candidate who said “I like coal” in the first debate, became himself an advocate for an more inclusive definition of energy resources:

“ROMNEY: Candy, I don’t have a policy of stopping wind jobs in Iowa and that — they’re not phantom jobs. They’re real jobs.

CROWLEY: OK.

ROMNEY: I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa and across our country. I appreciate the jobs in coal and oil and gas. I’m going to make sure –

CROWLEY: OK.

ROMNEY: — we’re taking advantage of our energy resources. We’ll bring back manufacturing to America. We’re going to get through a very aggressive energy policy, 3 1/2 million more jobs in this country. It’s critical to our future.”

Were these quotes indicative of a real shift? I checked the numbers.

In the first debate, the word “taxes” dominated, followed closely by “jobs.”

In the second debate, the most-used word was “jobs.” But the second? Energy.

Yes, oil and gas were mentioned five times as much as wind and solar. And Obama came nowhere near condemning the fossil fuel industries, as climate change activists would have liked. But he moved the discussion to clean energy jobs and the energy resources of the future. And that’s a good place to start.

Thanks to ABC News for the October 16 debate transcript and CNN for the October 3 debate transcript.

Photo courtesy of cwwycoff1 via Flickr.


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 5,000 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 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 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 climate change, energy, Uncategorized, wind, Obama, solar, Carol Pierson Holding, clean energy, clean energy jobs, clean tech, debate, green jobs

No Spark in Obama’s Energy Debate

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 9, 2012 10:47:54 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week’s Presidential debate was supposed to showcase the differences betweenclimate change President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. But between Romney’s radical move to the center and Obama’s lackluster performance, the two seemed to agree more than they disagreed.

Both answered Jim Lehrer’s first question “How would you create new jobs?” with the same priorities: job training and creating energy independence. In fact, both agreed to boost oil and gas production. But Obama added a plug for his alternative energy policies. “We've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments,” he said, referring to his largely successful subsidies for alternatives to fossil fuels.

From that point on, Romney turned oil and gas into a symbol of patriotism and the path to prosperity, using the word “energy” three times more than Obama and positioning new energy sources as expensive failures.

Obama failed to cite the reason his policies are so desperately needed, that climate change may in fact be the greatest threat to our national security. Instead, Obama looked like a spendthrift or worse, out of touch with American middle-class concerns. Even though, according to Bloomberg, 70% of Americans now believe in climate change. Even though, according to CSRHub ratings, safeguarding the environment is increasingly a priority for business.

Romney called out gas prices that have doubled and the rise in electricity prices, citing the crushing burden on middle-class families.

Ignoring the facts, Romney criticized Obama for not opening Federal lands for exploration. He promised to double the number of permits and open coasts and Alaska to fossil fuel companies.

Obama mentioned solar, wind and geothermal only once. Without bringing up climate change, and without a rebuttal, Romney pressed on.

Romney promised to “bring that pipeline in from Canada“ and to help “people in the coal industry…crushed by (Obama’s) policies.”

As if thumbing his nose at environmental science, he smiled right into the camera and said, “I like coal.”

His rationale for these policies? “I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”

So when Obama brought up cutting the $4 billion in “corporate welfare” that the US pays every year to behemoths like ExxonMobil, he sounded like a spoilsport.

Romney argued that Obama’s facts were wrong – the oil subsides are actually $2.8 billion – and that those subsidies are inviolate. “That's been in place for a hundred years,” he said, as though oil subsidies were deeply entrenched in our Democracy.

But what really stuck in my mind was Romney’s brilliant repositioning of the new energy subsidies. By comparing a $2.8 billion cut to oil and gas against the $90 billion in “breaks for the green energy world,” he made support for alternative energy sources seem hugely expensive and frivolous in comparison to far cheaper oil subsidies. He repeated twice that green energy investment is “about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives.”

Still not satisfied, Romney linked the $90 billion to Solyndra and the other “50%” of green investments that had failed. In fact, those investments have lost just $3 billion, or 3%, but Obama said nothing, so it stood as fact.

But the real shame is that Obama lost the opportunity to pull out numbers that make everything else pale in comparison. NOAA reports that 2011 saw a record 14 extreme climate disasters that cost over $1 billion each for total losses of $55.3 billion and 660 lives. Future projections are even grimmer: US News cites projections of 100 million deaths globally from climate change in just 18 years. In the US, 2% of America’s annual GDP, or some $300 billion, will evaporate.

Yet Romney plans to eviscerate the EPA and a number of other programs aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. He’s a believer that climate change is real, yet will do nothing to mitigate the effects. A New York Times article cites Romney’s intent to take a weed whacker to environmental regulations going back 40 years – taking down even those declared “unambiguously correct” by the Supreme Court.

Climate change may not be popular, but people do want to hear about clean tech and green jobs. These are exciting, entrepreneurial opportunities for job creation. Where were they in Obama’s debate?

At heart, climate change is a moral issue. The hardest hit will be our future generations. And yet Romney stole that argument too. Using the word “moral” three times, Romney pointed to the deficit: “(It’s) not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation.” Shouldn’t that be Obama’s argument for addressing climate change?

Photo courtesy of marcn via Flickr.


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 5,000 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 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 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"] 5 Comments posted in Bloomberg, climate change, CSRHub ratings, Exxon Mobil, President Obama, Uncategorized, wind, Romney, solar, biofuels, Carol Pierson Holding, clean tech, coal, green jobs

Residential Solar Comes of Age

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 14, 2012 3:28:37 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Interrupting my rant about how Bill Gates is pushing nuclear power when he should be residential solarboosting solar, a savvy investor and CEO told me why she doesn’t like solar: two years ago, at an intimate meeting she attended with him in New York, Bill Gates commented that residential solar panels set roofs on fire.

Gates’ comment seemed unnecessary and extreme, especially in that environment. It's not that Gates does not support solar energy at all. Cynthia Figge, co-founder of CSRHub, summarized his comments at the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference earlier this year: "We have a chance of reaching 50% renewable energy use in the 2060 time frame, but it will take at least one of five miracles to come true, and about 200 crazy people working really hard at all five."

His tentative support for solar in general is simply absent for residential solar.

Yes, solar panels have caused fires.

It’s a new industry short on installers, which led to a rush on training. Many installers weren’t even licensed electricians, leading to shoddy construction. The density of the panels and the flammable polymers inside make fires hard to extinguish. Difficulty in shutting them down has given electrical shocks to at least 50 firefighters.

So it was with great relief that I read today’s New York Times Magazine article “The Secret to Solar Power.” Safety hazards and a $50,000 installation cost in 2010 slowed solar installations, but outright purchase is now secondary to the new model of leasing the panels, i.e., having someone else install and maintain the system.

According to Times author Jeff Himmelman, once the cost of solar panels fell, the business model for solar leasing schemes paid out and the market exploded. Installing solar panels yourself still costs $25,000, an amount that takes years to pay back. Instead, companies are selling “solar services.”

Solar service companies use the utility company model which consumers understand, installing and maintaining their solar equipment as part of a lease arrangement where consumers pay a lower monthly charge for energy, often guaranteed not to change for some period of time. Companies like BP which entered the market to sell solar panels have left the business; dedicated alternatives like SunCity, Sungevity and SunEdison now account for 63% of new solar systems in California.

[csrhubwidget company="SunPower-Corporation" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]
Click “Alternative Energy” in the CSRHub Sustainability Ratings widget above to see all the companies and their ratings in this industry.

My question still remains: why don’t we hear more about residential solar in the media? Himmelman blames two lingering misperceptions: entrenched associations of all things “green” with qualities like impractical, ineffective and expensive, and the Solyndra effect: Americans believe that solar is something we don’t know how to do so we should leave it to the Chinese.

Fortunately, it’s a message that has bypassed big investors like Google, which has invested $374 million in residential solar power.

And then there’s the Gates factor. Speaking to Wired Magazine in 2011, Gates commented, “If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.”

Reminded me of Gates’ comments to a banking industry audience in the 1990s, where, to strains of reggae music, he declared the Internet to be nothing but a fantasy, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It’s a good analogy. At the time Gates made his prophecy that the Internet was a pipe dream, the transition was just as huge and to many, as unlikely, as the one that moved intelligence from hardware to software, oddly, the transition that Gates himself made happen. Yet the Internet required a dramatic shift in thinking, one that would change — as Cisco’s promotion puts it, “How we live, work, play, learn” and even love.

The same is happening now with energy, where the notion of a centralized source of energy from a power plant that draws from an oil well or a nuclear facility is giving way to a distributed system where energy is produced wherever its source, sun or wind, can reach.

The problem is, what Gates says has power, and people of influence like my CEO friend tend to believe him. That’s why Sunday’s New York Times article is so important. Himmelman is a smart guy talking to the influencers. With the residential solar industry running at $93 billion in 2011 up from $17 billion in 2007, no-one would call his commentary about the solar industry “cute.” Of course, he can’t resist the activist’s glamour, and recounts in great detail the jungle adventures of Danny Kennedy, former Green Peace activist turned solar entrepreneur. Himmelman’s story ends with Kennedy’s comment that selling solar power is by definition a subversive act, a “march…that will get to its destination.” Long live the revolution!

Photo courtesy of daveeza (Flickr CC).


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 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

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

[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Cynthia Figge, Jeff Himmelman, Uncategorized, residential solar, solar, solar leasing, Bill Gates, Carol Pierson Holding, New York Times Magazine

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all