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

Obama Gets Personal on Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 13, 2015 10:06:32 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Koch problem

The climate change movement took a powerful leap in 2012, when Bill McKibben identified a single enemy for climate activists to battle: the fossil fuel industry. He painted that industry as what branding experts would call “black hats,” referring to old Westerns where the bad guys were so identified, in direct contrast to the white-hat’d good guys, which would be McKibben and his followers.

This black hat/white hat dichotomy works best if you can reduce it to individuals as symbols. McKibben is obviously the white hat for the environment. In 2013, his status was confirmed with a Gandhi Peace Award.

And the black hat’d individual(s)? Charles and David Koch, of course. These two and their company, Koch Industries, are well known bad guys, whose prosecuted crimes include a wrongful death judgment, six felony and numerous misdemeanor convictions, and trading with Iran, and whose crimes against the environment led to record civil and criminal EPA-imposed financial penalties.

From about 1997 on, the Kochs took up the black hat mantle as outspoken funders of the climate denier machine.

The Kochs, once firmly libertarian, decided they couldn’t affect policy in a minority party and so moved to control Republican office-holders, who routinely cite the Kochs’ economy and jobs-vs-climate mantra. The Koch brothers intend to spend $900 million influencing the 2016 elections.

The Kochs are bad actors, no doubt. But they’re so rich and so powerful, how can McKibben ever be effective? It would almost take the leader of the free world to do battle with these determined climate killers.

And here he comes, white hat in hand and Kochs in his sights. Why does President Obama finally feel it’s OK to pile on? After all, he depends on the Kochs for support on issues such as rewriting Federal sentencing laws.  So on the environment, he was, as it turns out, relatively gentle with the Kochs — or at least critical only in generalities — back in August when he now famously called their efforts to push back renewable energy standards “…not the American way.”

In this issue’s Rolling Stone, Obama wallops the Kochs on specifics. Responding to a question from author Jeff Goodell about why he called the Kochs anti-American, Obama says:

“… (the Koch brothers) are actually trying to influence state utilities to make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar panels. …And by the way, they're also happy to take continued massive subsidies that Congress has refused to eliminate, despite me calling for the elimination of those subsidies every single year.”

It’s stunning to see a President whose environmental leanings have been shy of 100 percent commitment take a stance that’s not only pro-climate action, but points fingers at rich and politically powerful individuals.

Obama’s stance is here to stay. As the article makes clear, Obama’s pro-climate position has become hardened by two very personal factors.

First, his sadness over the natural world’s destruction. Raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, he enjoyed playing in magnificent coral reefs, as he describes them, “that were lush and full of fish” then, “that now, if you go back, are not.” These marvels along with the disappearing Alaskan glaciers he witnessed this month are photogenic examples that are hard to forget.

Second, as his daughters grow up, Obama has started to imagine grandchildren and the world they will live in. As he told Goodell,

“I think about Malia and Sasha a lot. I think about their children a lot. …When we were out on the water yesterday, going around those fjords, and the sea otter was swimming on its back and feeding off its belly, and a porpoise jumps out of the water, and a whale sprays — I thought to myself, I want to make sure my grandchildren see this.”

Even though this cerebral President has talked about climate action since his first election campaign in 2007, he, like all of us, responds most fervently when it hits him personally.

Obama ends the interview with a rousing statement that confirms he’s climate change’s white-hat-in-chief:

"What I don't want is for people to get paralyzed thinking that somehow this is out of our control. And I'm a big believer that the human imagination can solve problems. We don't usually solve them as fast as we need to. It's sort of like two cheers for democracy. We try everything else, I think Churchill said, and when we've exhausted every other alternative, we finally do the right thing."


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 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.

 

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

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaskan glaciers, black hats, climate change, climate denier machine, fossil fuel subsidies, Uncategorized, Obama, Koch Brothers, Bill McKibben, Carol Pierson Holding, coral reefs, solar panels, solar subsidies

Fossil Fuel's Persuasive New Strategy

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 21, 2014 10:27:35 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) just released an analysis of the “Financial Impact of theGulf of Mexico Coming Low-Carbon Transition,” which computed the potential value lost to stranded assets, or what fossil fuel companies will have to leave in the ground in oil, gas and coal. The CPI estimated the lost value at $1.1 trillion, plus another $1.8 to $4.2 trillion for the transport sector (think oil trains.) This total of $2.9-$5.3 trillion represents up to one quarter of total U.S. stock market value.

While the CPI report was meant to be positive – operating savings (think of the expense of solar panels vs. a coal plant) would offset stranded assets, creating a net positive of $1.8 trillion—it still sounded terrifying. And while the report claims the worst impact will be on Governments, which own 50-70 percent of fossil fuel companies and generate substantial revenue through taxes and royalties, I felt distracted from my central concern about climate change. Could we absorb the coming disruption?

The oil companies offer a painless alternative. Yes, we have to transition to renewable energy, but who better to lead that transition than the energy giants? Their leadership campaign is three-pronged:

First, acknowledge the need to transition away from fossil fuels.

This tactic was first used by Shell Oil. In its 2013 New Lens Scenario, Shell acknowledged that such a transition was necessary and offered a non-disruptive way to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2100: to minimize economic disruption, transition first to natural gas. Even liberals like Amory Lovins endorsed the strategy.

Now, 1½ years later, the entire fossil fuel industry has followed suit. Even the arch-conservative organization Heartland Institute has dropped its terror tactics (recall their 2012 billboard headlined “(The Unibomber) Still Believes in Global Warming. Do You?”). and gone so far as create the Climate Change Awards, which in July 2014 granted up to $50,000 each to ten scientists, economists and activists who support a “free-market approach to climate change” and “speak out against global warming alarmists.”

Second, address consumers directly with messages of safety and continuity.

Oil companies are running network television advertising not that different from the “Morning in America” calm, optimistic commercials that put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

You do get a sense of peace watching BP’s “Committed to America” spot.

Exxon/Mobil’sFuel Connections” ad offers gas that “cleans intake valves, helping engines run smoother and reducing emissions” providing “better fuel economy.” Amazing.

Chevron’s “We Agree” campaign advocates natural gas, with the admonition “We’ve got to be smart about this.”

Third, and this might be a fortuitously-timed accident: they lowered gas prices.

According to Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times, U.S. and Iraqi oil companies have lowered their price per barrel in order to “bankrupt” Russia and Iran. Putting aside whether it’s a smart strategy to destabilize unfriendly, combative countries, the drop in oil prices could also change the economics of electric cars. Low gas prices coupled with messages about gas that gives “better fuel economy” cast doubt on the e-vehicle and hybrid claims are a better value.

And as oil companies align themselves with the U.S. government’s foreign policy, they’ll have better leverage in their quest to open our East Coast to drilling.

Finally, let’s not forget the threat of major economic dislocation. For stockholders, stranded assets add uncertainty to a stock market that’s already roiling. Another reason not to rock the boat by demanding a transition to renewables that’s too fast and disruptive.

Safety is beginning to look pretty good, even to me. You just have to ignore the reality of a dying planet, which over the last week, has been easier to do. Ebola and ISIS dominate the news. An admittedly small sample of media shows a disturbing lack of climate change news. Even the Huffington Post’s reliable “Green” alerts have seemed stretched away from real climate news to include Ebola coverage, like the nurse’s dog story, and lots of news about the climbers who died in Nepal.

It’s a shame how easy it is to distract us.

Photo courtesy of sporst 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.

 

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

[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in climate change, Climate Change Awards, CPI, Exxon, fossil fuel, natural gas, Shell, Uncategorized, oil companies, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, Climate Policy Initiative, East coast drilling, Heartland Institute, solar panels

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.

 

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

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in climate change, CSR, environmental pollution, fossil fuel, fracking, global warming, Uncategorized, sustainability, Carol Pierson Holding, CO2, coal, CSRHub, environment, greenhouse gas, renewable energy, solar panels

Ikea’s UK Solar Is Boon For U.S. Brand

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 8, 2013 11:02:18 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Ikea’s announcement that it would sell solar panel solutions in its UK stores was startlingUK solar for any number of reasons. Ikea may be a leader in renewable energy for its own operations, with over half a million solar panels installed on its store and factory roofs and a fleet of its own wind turbines. But solar power for its customers?

From a business perspective, it makes little sense. Margins on solar panels are very thin, especially at Ikea’s prices. And this year, with China suppliers awash in panel inventory, wholesale panel prices have been extraordinarily low.

Ikea’s one year pilot project at its Lakeside UK store near London sold “one photovoltaic (PV) system almost every day.” They’re not running out the door, despite generous government incentives in the UK.

PV systems require a new business model for Ikea, requiring installation and maintenance services. Ikea’s panel supplier is Hanergy Holding Group Ltd, a privately-held Chinese company whose panels may be subject to “quality, environmental, after- sale service and product warranty concerns.” One wonders how quickly other franchise owners will take on the reputational risk of the solar panel business.

If Ikea decides to roll out its solar panel program in the U.S., it will face competition from stores experienced in home installations such as Lowes and Home Depot, which has been advertising and installing solar panels since 2005 through its partnership with BP.

There are plenty of potential problems with Ikea’s solar panel business. But from a branding perspective, it makes total sense. As early as 2003, culture watchers, environmentalists and even designers have found fault with the underlying ethic of Ikea’s approach. In a short piece on ethics in graphic design, Ikea is charged with designing its products with planned obsolescence in mind. In 2009, Salon reviewed Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell’s criticism of our cycle of consumption that is destroying the environment and harming labor as well. Focused on discount chains like Wal-Mart and Target, Shell “gently damns” Ikea for its cheap, disposable products that are as bad for the environment as Wal-Mart’s. The environmental blog along the trail aptly called Ikea “consumerism on steroids.”

[csrhubwidget company="IKEA-group" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

A recent glance at Ikea’s U.S. consumer web site reinforces this idea: most of the site’s new offerings are doo-dads and children’s toys.

Now, with its solar offerings, negative impressions associated with Ikea’s disposable “stuff” could be tempered by solar panels in the stores. The company’s 2012 Yearly Summary launched its campaign of “People & Planet Positive.” But the greenwashing of the last two decades has put consumers on alert to eco claims that are mere promotion. Ikea’s success with solar panels to generate energy for its own use has been much ballyhooed. Solar for consumers is its next big chance to reinforce its good guy mantle.

Not a moment too soon. A new study by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility found that—

“…the sustainability proposition has changed from being the ‘right thing to do’ to being the ‘cool thing to do’.  …For decades, green marketers have been speaking to the wrong consumers, assuming that by engaging the most committed ‘advocates’ we would create significant business growth, cultural relevance and change at scale. What makes Aspirationals so compelling is that they combine an authentic commitment to sustainability with a love of shopping, design and social status, aligning economic, cultural and social forces to shift the way we shop.”

For consumers, Ikea’s long-admired design sensibility is intertwined with its sustainability. The chain’s commitment to affordability doesn’t have to fight with perceptions of sustainability. But Ikea must tread very carefully to preserve all three. A potential money-loser like solar panels could boost its environmental reputation and enhance its brand’s coolness. After all, the announcement about its UK stores carrying solar panels was carried widely across U.S. consumer, environmental and business media. So far, it looks like a branding home run.

Photo courtesy of lydia_shiningbrightly 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 8,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,300+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 270+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


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

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Aspirationals, Ellen Ruppel Shell, GlobeScan, PV, Uncategorized, Lowes, People & Planet Positive, photovoltaic system, sustainability, Target, BBMG, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, Hanergy, Home Depot, Ikea, solar panels, WalMart

Will “Resilience” Be Our Saving Grace?

[fa icon="calendar'] May 14, 2013 9:00:59 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week, the wine-making town of Sebastopol became the second California city aftersolar resilience Lancaster to require that solar panels be installed in all new building construction.

Among the driving forces for Sebastopol’s solar are local realtors, who are going door to door, selling the program as a safeguard against power loss and rising prices. Sustainability is still a strong motivation for some in this liberal-leaning town, but it is resilience that’s motivating support from local business people.

The anti-solar forces supported by Heritage Foundation and Fox News’ claim that California will face more rolling black-outs from the state’s increasing reliance on renewable energy. But watching the two sides duke it out on Fox Business, it looks to this viewer like Fox’s tactic could backfire in the face of the very real resilience of renewable power.

I’ll bet you’ll hear more about “resilience.” In the past, the “sustainability” movement has struggled with language. “Global warming.” “Climate change.” “Rising Sea Levels.” And perhaps the most problematic, “Sustainability” itself.

An apt analogy can be found on the Internet.  In 1992, when I first started working with Cisco on language around its new field “Internetworking,” company officials were firm about building a business category around a term that underscored their technical elitism. Back then, Internetworking accurately described what was as obscure as rocket science. Cisco engineers literally scoffed at those who couldn’t understand their equipment’s technology.

Language was holding back the Information Superhighway even as the world was pushing them to build it.

When Cisco realized the market limitations that the whole “Internetworking” approach was putting on the company’s growth, they finally accepted their place as part of a “networking.”

Like “Internetworking,” “Sustainability” is cumbersome and hard to understand. It doesn’t speak to a problem real people have. It’s for the insiders.

So what is the environmental movement’s equivalent of “networking?” Is “resilience” the word that can expand “sustainability” beyond the movement’s core?

Kevin Dingle, President of Sustaining Structures, says that the buzz in corporate real estate is all around “resilience.” Business is booming. Legislation like energy benchmarking helps, as does the promise of lower energy bills. LEED construction and Energy Star for Buildings  are considered good for Corporate Social Responsibility, in other words, for traditional sustainability reasons.

But the key differentiator for renewable energy in buildings has moved on from Sustainability. Now the hot pitch is resilience.

Dingle credits Superstorm Sandy and other natural disasters for this shift. Power was out in downtown Manhattan for a full week in some places while a central station dried out and came back on line. Solar can provide an effective, on-site power back-up, or resiliency, that commercial and residential customers want.

In April, the American Solar Energy Society conference in Baltimore featured the idea of resiliency in their plenary panel “Climate and Resiliency.” The conference’s lead press release emphasized the same idea, “Renewable energy provides resiliency for communities in the face of climate-related weather disasters.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has initiated a program to improve electric grid reliability and resiliency in part through wind and solar.

A pro-solar web site is called Resilience.org.

Language creates our reality. Sustainability has been driving the environmental world for some years. Maybe I’m alone in this, but when I hear the word, my automatic reaction is “How long can we sustain this?” It brings to mind the phrase “Dark Optimism” coined by a UK environmental radical Shaun Chamberlin to describe the force he wants to corral to protest for climate change.

In stark contrast, the word resiliency is filled with light and hope, signifying a rebounding or springing back. Just when so many are so despondent about the environment, new language arrives to save us. It reminds us of the dawn of the Internet, when words like “internetworking” were slowing acceptance of what was to become a life-changing transformation.

Photo courtesy of  Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon via Flickr CC.


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 7,300 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 7,300+ companies from 135 industries in 91 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 200 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"] 3 Comments posted in American Solar Energy Society, Dark Optimism, Department of Energy, Energy Star for Buildings, Kevin Dingle, Sebastopol, Uncategorized, Lancaster, sustainability, LEED construction, resilience, Carol Pierson Holding, solar panels, Sustaining Structures

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all