FTC’s New Anti-Greenwashing, Good-for-Business Green Guides

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released its long-awaited draft guidance on environmental marketing. The so-called “Green Guides” tell companies how to prevent misleading customers—and avoid FTC actions against them.
Why now? The FTC says consumers are confused about environmental claims such as “sustainable” or “offset,” which lack consistent rules for usage. In response, the FTC’s proposed guidance does three things:
  1. Requires claims to be substantiated. Companies should communicate on specific issues for which they provide competent and reliable scientific evidence and avoid ambiguous umbrella terms like “green” or “eco-friendly.”
  2. Prescribes action on targeted issues. While the FTC leaves methodology mostly to companies, it advises on a few issues where deception is rife and solutions are particularly obvious. For example, the guides say that if companies generate renewable energy onsite and then sell their environmental attributes separately, they shouldn’t also say that they use that renewable energy themselves. Categories of specific advice include: certifications and seals, degradability, compostability, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, recyclability, free-of/non-toxic, renewable materials, renewable energy, and carbon offsets. See the FTC’s cheat sheet.
  3. Defines where to tread carefully. The FTC acknowledges that some issues are difficult to provide blanket guidance on. For example, life-cycle assessments and ecolabeling are complex and require context, while the determination of carbon offset quality may be better handled by agencies with more expertise. In cases where the FTC “lacks sufficient information on which to base guidance,” it promises to analyze claims on a case-by-case basis.
What does this direction mean for business? I asked three individuals. Kevin Myette, director of product integrity at outdoor retailer REI, told me: “Guidance on green marketing claims has been extremely loose for years, and as a result, industry and marketers have operated virtually unchecked for too long. The FTC’s action to further define the rules is not a bad thing as they are only asking for the truth.”
Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Erica Plambeck was similarly hopeful. She told me that the guidance “will increase incentives for retailers like Walmart to invest in the measurement of environmental performance and to provide detailed information about environmental performance to consumers. Transparency will lead to improvement.”
Finally, Dara O’Rourke, founder of the Good Guide—a product-rating initiative—said that more FTC involvement isn’t only good for consumers, but also for business. That’s because “the more there is transparency, the more the leading firms will do well in the marketplace. It’s a win for smart, thoughtful, progressive companies. This is basic ‘Econ 101’.”

What to do next: In the near term, leave any suggestions you have for finalizing the Green Guides below (with your name and affiliation) or contact me, and we’ll aggregate and submit your suggestions to the FTC before the comment period closes on December 10.

First posted at BSR.


3 Surefire Steps to Bring Climate Transparency to Your Supply Chain

With the release of guidance on supply chain reporting by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol just around the corner, companies will soon have more clarity on how to manage “Scope 3” emissions. 

At the same time, companies such as HP and others in BSR’s Energy Efficiency Partnership are working with a growing number of suppliers on climate change. As a result of these developments, minimum expectations for climate reporting on the supply chain are rising.

Now is the time for your company to embrace transparency, if it hasn’t done so already. It will help investors and partners, who increasingly see transparency as an indicator of a company’s competence, perceive your business as trustworthy. It will make outstanding achievements more credible, and it may even soften potential criticism, which is valuable in an environment where just about everyone, from journalists to employees, is inclined to write, blog, and tweet about your business.

But such transparency doesn’t come easily.

For one, almost every interest group, from consumers to investors to governments, has different information requirements, making reporting on climate impacts less about creating a single, comprehensive document and more about sharing granular information. The differences are growing. Consumers, for example, are using the Good Guide to screen for criteria that are most important to them, in effect creating their own “personal” certification.

Another challenge is the increasing demand for more specific information about companies’ suppliers — and their suppliers — when there is a lack of standards on what should be reported, when, and how.

A third challenge is the sheer expense of transparency, which takes substantial time and effort to effectively monitor and communicate.

To overcome these hurdles to transparency, we recommend a practical, three-part approach that involves monitoring your impacts, translating that data into actionable information, and promoting governance standards that catalyze progress.

1. Monitor in Order to Measure

Satisfying demands for granular information about climate impacts requires good measurement. Fortunately, most greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts boil down to energy, which is easy to measure.

Unfortunately, many suppliers whose impacts you want to report don’t have the monitoring equipment that’s needed to do so. It is unusual for suppliers in many countries, especially China — which matters most for many companies — to manage their energy use at all, both because they perceive it as a way to keep overhead low and because they don’t see other suppliers doing it.

Therefore, working with suppliers to install portable energy meters can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get more data. 

The basic versions of these monitors are available for less than US$10; more sophisticated options offer remote sensing and allow the uploading of data for analysis with software elsewhere. Over the course of a few months, companies can use a handful of meters to triangulate the most energy-intensive processes and pieces of equipment, and in doing so, show suppliers how they can take control.

In 2008, Nike was one of the first companies to report using remote energy meters (PDF). Today, Walmart is working with EDF to install energy meters in China, and BSR has recommended using energy meters to the 80 China-based suppliers who attended the recent launch of our Energy Efficiency Partnership.

In addition to enhancing transparency efforts, monitors open up new doors to companies in search of finance options. One of the main things holding up loans for the many energy-saving projects in China is verifiability. Monitors can potentially provide this assurance and therefore help companies in their efforts to gain finance from capital markets or private investors.

2. Count What Matters Most

Gathering granular data of the type provided by energy meters is useful in responding to the varying demands of different stakeholders, but it also creates a challenge in itself, often overloading you with information. To zero in on the important issues about your company’s climate impacts, it’s necessary to prioritize.

There are two ways to do this: Invest in intelligence tools that will help you glean more from the data, and use the right proxies to indicate how successful your company will be in meeting its quantitative targets.

Let’s look at intelligence tools first: Companies should consider how they can go beyond spreadsheets — the traditional mechanism for tracking GHG information — to using tools such as climate software packages (PDF) to glean more from data.

These tools complement energy metering equipment by allowing you to compare energy use at different points in time and on different time scales, which can help you identify cost-reduction opportunities and situations requiring maintenance. They also contextualize the energy meter information by putting it in terms of production output volume or other indicators your company is already managing. This helps embed analytics into existing business processes and continuous improvement initiatives.

Using proxies can also help you focus on the most important information. When starting energy management, it can be challenging in the short run to find a pattern in the most obvious and easily measurable data — energy actually used. That’s because things like weather and business variability make it difficult to see improvements in energy efficiency through electricity bills. However, you can use proxies as good predictors of success. These include, for example, whether a supplier has developed an energy action plan, what kind of target (say, to achieve 30 percent energy reduction) it has committed to, and how many energy meters it has installed.

Similarly, shortcuts are available with verification. For BSR’s work with Walmart, we designed a tiered approach to gathering data about suppliers’ energy impacts that included requests for narrative descriptions of energy projects and the names of team members working on energy efficiency. Those types of questions are easier to verify than accounting numbers themselves, and company representatives can use the information gathered to look for physical evidence of these things when they conduct supplier site visits.

3. Promote Action with Better Governance

Even when you have done your diligence to gather granular data and translate it into actionable information, one of the biggest barriers to progress in transparency remains: a lack of governance standards used by your peers. These shared systems are needed both to give stakeholders confidence in claims, and to create more clarity on where companies should focus their action.

What follows are some areas that are likely to present development needs for some time to come: 

Technical standards on how measurements are made: Even with more requirements, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandatory reporting rule (PDF) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) interpretive guidance (PDF), many conventions are undefined, such as how to characterize progress on energy management, how to cost-effectively verify such results, and how to convert many local energy sources to GHG impacts. (See sidebar below for a more descriptive list.)

How Corporate Energy Managers Can Champion Better Technical Standards
One of the key challenges to improving business transparency on climate change is the development of technical standards that are shared across industries. Company energy managers have the opportunity to encourage the development of these standards, which are lacking in the following areas: 

•  Conversion factors: In much of the world, there is a lack of common measures for deriving GHG from energy sources. For example, in China, the government has published energy-carbon conversion factors for its seven grids, but there’s not yet an accepted standard for more local applications. A leadership opportunity exists for business to create open platforms that house much more specific and trustworthy conversion factors.

•  Supplier energy performance factors: In all but the most energy-intensive industries, there are few performance standards for energy use with suppliers in countries such as China. Managers can look for ways to identify and disseminate information about thresholds (e.g. best, average, minimum acceptability) with energy consumption and the type of equipment being used.

•  Management progress: There is a lack of agreement about how companies can state they have reduced or improved energy use for a group of diverse suppliers. Issues that need resolution include defining the scope and drivers of energy to account for changes to energy owed to operational changes, to describe how energy use is expressed (absolute or in terms of revenues or material inputs), and to determine rules for sampling (what minimum time period is allowed).

•  Cost-effective verification: There are few generally accepted alternatives to traditional energy audit processes like the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol, which are very expensive. Companies have the opportunity to work with stakeholders to create a system with sufficient accountability, while still being practical enough to apply to large sets of suppliers.

Shared systems: The process of interacting with suppliers and other partners to obtain information takes a commitment of people and resources. Suppliers and partners, in turn, are under pressure to respond to greater numbers and types of requests, meaning they have less time for your company’s request.A pioneer industry group, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), was formed in part to develop a central repository for suppliers to report into and buyers to read from, significantly cutting down on administrative expenses. This and other kinds of “cloud computing” solutions offer important opportunities for sharing information.

Communication among diverse stakeholders: The development of new governance requires participation by a range of stakeholders, including technical experts, civil society representatives, and industry peers. In addition to observations being made and analysis done, subjective issues matter.

These issues include the types of people who want the climate information (e.g. whether they are customers or project financiers), what action the measurement is meant to encourage (e.g. energy management decisions or something else), and how much “uncertainty” is tolerated and how it is accounted for (e.g. what disclaimers are used for making estimations).

With this in mind, companies that want to improve the impact and recognition of climate transparency should join existing programs or groups such as the EICC. If such groups are not available, consider starting a new one with industry peers by sharing metrics, publishing useful internal studies, and sharing insights about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of a certain key performance indicator. Companies can also suggest that their existing working groups and associations facilitate standards.

In summary, more climate transparency will be good for business. It can improve credibility, win trust, and make discussions about climate change more meaningful. While the solutions provided here will take work, they are likely to lead to better incentives to find efficiencies and lower costs, and ultimate progress on climate change.

First posted at Greenbiz.

Five Lessons from Walmart’s Supply Chain Work in China

Late in 2008, following Walmart Vice Chairman (now CEO) Mike Duke’s announcement that the company would improve the energy efficiency of its top 200 China-based suppliers by 20 percent by 2012, Walmart enlisted BSR to help launch its first supply chain energy-efficiency efforts in China.

From our post in Walmart’s Shenzhen global procurement headquarters, we started by studying how the successes of Walmart’s U.S.-led Supplier Energy-Efficiency Project could be adapted to China’s unique environment. We then led a launch meeting, trainings, and the development of measurement tools to connect suppliers with energy-service companies.

In its first year, the program recorded an increase in efficiency of more than 5 percent in more than 100 factories, and revealed that suppliers had the capacity to do much more. That success emboldened Walmart to announce it would eliminate 20 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its supply chain — about 40 percent of the collective annual commitment of the nearly 200 companies (PDF) in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program, as of late 2009. That’s progress as far as sustainability is concerned, but it’s also good business sense: Walmart, a relentless cost-saver, sees it as a way to make suppliers leaner, more resilient, and more competitive.It’s time for more companies to follow Walmart’s lead. By expanding energy-efficiency efforts into their supply chains, companies can quickly and substantially decrease supplier costs, substantially reduce greenhouse gasses, produce satisfyingly quantifiable results, and provide a gateway for further sustainability initiatives. There’s never been a better time to start: With the long-awaited GHG Protocol guidance on “Scope 3” GHG accounting scheduled for release in December, an era of more comprehensive supply chain reporting is imminent.

Companies whose supply chains lead to China should start there, because the opportunity is profound. On average, Chinese supplier factories are five times less efficient than factories in the United States, and the country is the No. 1 emitter of GHGs. By cutting energy waste in China, it’s possible to reduce the world’s energy demand by 5 percent.

Fortunately, energy-efficiency investments in China are cost-effective (PDF) compared with similar initiatives in industrialized countries. In spite of this, improved energy efficiency has not taken off in China because the country suffers from an inefficient market. Factory managers and other energy users often don’t have meaningful diagnostics about the price of energy, government subsidies make it cheap to waste energy, energy-management contracts are hard to implement, and people in positions to improve efficiency — building owners, investors, and tenants — often aren’t the ones paying the bills.

The problem is vivid when considering that neighboring Hong Kong, one of the world’s most energy-efficient regions, has a thriving industry of energy-service companies (known as “ESCOs”) that identify energy-saving opportunities and then install and locate funding for energy-saving equipment.

On the bright side, this shows that the challenge for companies is not one of engineering, equipment, or even finance. Instead, it’s about taking pieces of the puzzle that are already there and putting them together. For these reasons, China is one of the best places for companies to start scaling up knowledge about climate-related supply chain risks and opportunities, communicating results to investors, and improving climate performance by leveraging business networks.

The job of international companies in supply chain energy efficiency is to keep China’s specific challenges in mind and build bridges between ESCOs and suppliers. What follows is a series of steps based on our recent experiences working with Walmart that can help companies effectively engage suppliers in China on energy efficiency:

1. Establish Common Ground

Often in China, suppliers see productivity as a distraction from growth (PDF), and by extension they can be skeptical about consulting services and the value of pursuing savings versus top-line sales. Such suppliers may agree to participate in a company’s program but are unlikely to make significant progress over time until their culture rewards enhanced managerial productivity in general. Therefore, companies should begin their engagements on efficiency by surveying suppliers’ views about continuous improvement broadly and then educating them on that subject early and often.

2. Show the Road Map

When it comes to labor compliance, companies like Nike have famously warned (PDF) that demanding conformity on its own is not likely to yield sustained and honest results. On the other hand, sustainability initiatives are likely to take hold only if the specific action requirements include goals, timelines, and rules that are made clear at the outset.

Ensuring that suppliers head in the right direction means showing them clear pathways, with options, in a road map. This was confirmed for us at Walmart’s first launch meeting, where suppliers and ESCOs agreed that Walmart’s 20 percent goal, five-year timeline, and detailed participation guidelines enabled the suppliers to get traction.

Sharing the road map with suppliers is also a good way to make action seem urgent, which is a strong additional motivator. Finally, providing a road map is a good way to encourage suppliers — which may be reticent to make long-term commitments without good prospects for continued business — that the program is meant to drive long-term collaboration.

3. Require Accountability

Just like with sustainability efforts more broadly, suppliers are best positioned for progress when senior management sponsors the initiative, and then teams are instituted to execute objectives with clear roles, responsibilities, and substantial performance consequences. At our Walmart launch meetings, we included both operations managers and senior leaders, and we emphasized to executives the ease and benefits of participation. Another ingredient for accountability is open communication between suppliers and companies. On one level, companies should review suppliers’ progress frequently (ideally quarterly) to ensure continued momentum. On another level, companies should make a help line available to quickly answer suppliers’ questions. Companies should also pay close attention to demonstrated commitments to management systems like named teams and action plans, because these programs can predict whether the supplier will succeed.

4. Build Capability

Next, companies should integrate into their programs efforts to help suppliers understand where and how to focus tactics. This includes teaching factories how to identify low-hanging fruit, and understanding expected inefficiency hotspots and challenges to implementation.

According to surveys we have taken during BSR’s China Training Institute events, operations managers consistently identify training as the top need in successfully starting energy-efficiency programs. Many don’t have a strong energy or efficiency background, in part due to the prevailing focus on growth, so providing insight and resources through trainings, call-in lines, and diagnostic tools are often critical resources.

5. Solve the Problem Itself

A final step is for suppliers to identify and deploy efficiency solutions, such as retrofits with better lighting and cooling systems, by tapping into the ESCO industry. However, many ESCOs aren’t arranging deals in China because the lack of infrastructure makes energy savings difficult to verify, and contracts can be hard to enforce (PDF). Companies can help efficiency projects take hold by making the cost of doing business easier for ESCOs. For example, companies can host forums gathering both ESCOs and suppliers, and inform them of possible opportunities by sharing statistics and needs revealed in the suppliers’ reports.

First posted at GreenBiz.

10 Climate Trends That Will Shape Business in 2010

As 2010 begins, there are looming questions about climate change action: Will the political agreement made in Copenhagen in 2009 be developed by the next “COP” meeting to include detailed targets and rules? Will those targets and rules be binding?

What will happen with the U.S. Senate’s vote on cap-and-trade? Will U.S. public opinion about climate change — which has a major impact on how the Senate votes — ever begin to converge with science?

There’s no doubt that the year’s most interesting stories could turn out to be “black swans” that we can’t currently foresee. But even amid the uncertainty, there are some clear trends that will significantly shape the business-climate landscape.

1. A Better Dashboard

Carbon transparency isn’t easy — it takes science, infrastructure, and group decisions about standards to allow for more accurate information. We have started moving in that direction. Web-based information services provide illustrations: country commitments needed for climate stabilization, indications of where we are now, and the critical path of individual U.S. policymakers.

Meanwhile, more attention is being paid to real-time atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, remote sensing technology that tracks atmospheric GHGs, and a new climate registry for China. As these data tools become more available, business leaders should begin to see — and report on — a clearer picture of their company’s real climate impacts.

2. Enhanced Attention to Products

There are signs that more consumers will demand product footprinting — that is, a holistic, lifecycle picture of the climate impacts of products and services ranging from an ounce of gold to a T-shirt or car. Fortunately, a new wave of standards is coming. The gold-standard corporate accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, aims to issue guidance on footprinting for products and supply chains late in the year, and groups like the Outdoor Industry Association and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition plan to publish consensus-based standards for their industries in the near future.

3. More Efforts to Build Supplier Capacity to Address Emissions

With more attention on products comes an appreciation of product footprinting’s limitations. Many layers of standards are still needed, from the micro methods of locating carbon particles to time-consuming macro approaches defining common objectives through group consensus. Accurate footprinting that avoids greenwashing requires statistical context, especially related to variance and confidence levels, that companies often think stakeholders don’t want to digest.

Progressive companies such as Hewlett Packard, Ikea, Intel, and Wal-Mart are therefore pursuing partnerships with suppliers for carbon and energy efficiency, and they are focusing their public communications on the qualitative efforts to build supplier capacity–as opposed to pure quantitative measurements, which can imply more precision than really exists.

4. Improved Literacy About the Climate Impacts of Business

The bulk of companies’ climate management falls short of directly confronting the full scale of effort required to address climate change. That’s partly because organizational emissions accounting tends to treat progress as change from the past, as opposed to movement toward a common, objective planetary goal. But companies are becoming more aware of the need to be goal oriented. Firms such as Autodesk and BT have begun bridging this gap by illustrating that there is a common end–which is measured in atmospheric parts per million of emissions–and that company metrics can be mapped to their share of their countries’ national and international policy objectives toward them.

5. More Meaningful Policy Engagement

Related to the previous item, more companies realize that pushing for the enactment of clear and durable rules to incentivize low-carbon investment is one of the most direct things they can do to stabilize the climate. Therefore, more companies are engaging earlier — and in more creative ways — in their climate “journey.” There is growing realization that you don’t have to “reduce first” before getting involved.

There is also a general awakening to the fact that strong climate policy is good for jobs and business. Already, more than 1,000 global companies representing $11 trillion in market capitalization and 20 million jobs (PDF) agree that strong climate policy is good for business. There has never been a better time to get involved, especially in the United States, where the Senate is expected to vote on domestic legislation by Easter. Effective corporate action can help fence-sitting senators (PDF) gain the support they need by educating the public in their districts about the importance of strong climate policy.

6. Higher Stakeholder Expectations

As climate management enters the mainstream, stakeholders expect companies to do more, and watchdogs will find new soft spots. Companies should be prepared for new stakeholder tactics, such as the profiling of individual executive officers, who are perceived as having the greatest impact on company positions, and heightened policy advocacy efforts. The media’s role in promoting public climate literacy will continue to rank as an important part of stakeholder expectations. Currently, the U.S. public, which plays an important role in the critical path to a global framework, has far less confidence about the importance of acting on climate than scientists do, and the media can help educate them.

7. Increased Power of Networks

Economists see energy efficiency as a solution to 40 percent or more of climate mitigation, and with the technology and finance already available globally, companies can play a significant role in accelerating progress. While the price makes the energy market, and policy helps to set the price, companies like Walmart have shown that creating expectations for performance improvement, while providing tools and training, can help suppliers and partners clear the economic hurdles they need to get started. After this initial “push,” experience shows that suppliers take further steps on their own. As more companies take on supply chain carbon management, watch for lessons on how to do it effectively.

8.    More Climate Connections

Energy efficiency, which constitutes the core of many companies’ climate programs, offers a platform for broader resource-efficiency efforts. We expect to see many companies expand their programs this year to address water. Given that this is the “Year of Biodiversity,” we can also expect more movement related to forestry and agriculture. The nexus between climate change and human rights is also likely to become a hot topic, building on momentum developed during the run-up to Copenhagen.

Finally, watch for the climate vulnerability of mountain regions to gain attention, due to increased environmental instability, disruption of natural water storage and distribution systems, and stress on ecosystem services in regions near human populations.

9. Greater Focus on Adaptation

Climate management has already broadened to include adaptation, and this will receive increasing attention in 2010. This is already evident in company reporting, as evidenced by responses to the Carbon Disclosure Project (see answers to questions 2 and 5 about physical risks and opportunities). Companies are addressing many adaptation-related issues, including insurance, health, migration, human rights, and food and agriculture. It is important to note that adaptation efforts can–and must–also support mitigation, as in the case of resource efficiency.

10. More Political Venues Up for Grabs

The Copenhagen Accord (PDF) was produced only during the last few hours at COP15, as part of a last-ditch “friends of chair” effort involving around 25 countries. This nontraditional process proved to be an effective way to move swiftly in getting broad support, yet still failed to achieve consensus in the general assembly, with a small handful of nations vetoing due to a few apparently intractable disputes. In consideration, there are growing calls for additional forums beyond the regular United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, to offer more responsive action in developing the global climate agreement needed.

Most notably, attention is on the G-20 countries, a group that comprises the vast majority of emitters and has shown that it can move efficiently, even while avoiding the troublesome distinction between developed and developing nations. Country associations are also changing. For example, instead of “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), we are more often hearing about BASIC (BRIC minus Russia plus South Africa) and BICI (BRIC minus Russia plus Indonesia). The point is, before Copenhagen, most thought updating Kyoto meant developing a global treaty through the formal U.N. structures. Now there is growing appreciation of the opportunity for complementary efforts, and new countries are coming to the fore in multilateral engagement.

In 2010, business leaders will be considering their best next steps after Copenhagen. At the same time, as BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer has written, while an overall framework agreement is important, we need to look beyond forums like Copenhagen for real results on climate — and that means looking to business. Business is important for two reasons: By engaging in policy, business can help increase the likelihood that policymakers will develop a strong framework. And by innovating and committing to progress, business will help a treaty achieve desired results.

At BSR, we will be tracking the opportunities related to these trends and working with business to focus on innovation, efficiency, mobilization, and collaboration for low-carbon prosperity. For more information about how your company can contribute, contact me at rschuchard@bsr.org.

First posted at GreenBiz.

Three Ways Climate Action Offers a Business Advantage

Building on BSR’s article last month on why climate change matters for every company, managers should be aware of some important, and very specific, opportunities for creating business value while promoting climate stability.

First, the good news: It’s not mechanically hard to manage greenhouse gases (GHG), the key ingredient to climate change. There’s a saying that “a ton of carbon is a ton” everywhere, which, for climate purposes, is true. And given that roughly two-thirds of global emissions are tied to energy in networks that are already regulated, finding your company’s GHG hotspots is no great feat.

Now for the hard part — responding to the actual problem. Averting climate change requires the will to deal with a decade-plus lag between activity and reward, which our current business and political institutions do not seem very well equipped to handle. It also requires a coordinated global effort in order to avoid “leakage,” ensuring that emissions really disappear rather than migrate from one place to another. This has proven to be a great challenge, as country coalitions including the U.S. and China, which comprise approximately half of global emissions, work to find common ground that has so far been elusive.

Even with a growing number of experts, advocates, and average citizens committed to addressing climate change, there remain conspicuous gaps — in public knowledge, in action, and in results. For example, while scientists agree that global climate change is a genuine, systemic threat, many legislators in the U.S. are quibbling about short-term price hikes in their districts — which does not bode well as the rest of the world prepares for a global climate treaty.

These gaps may represent serious potholes on the way to climate stability — but they are also gaping opportunities for smart companies willing to help bridge these divides.

The Gap Between Science and Knowledge

Here’s the bad (but not surprising) news: The public thinks there is still debate about climate science. According to an important recent study (PDF), more than 95 percent of Earth scientists who specialize in climate say the Earth is warming and that human activity is to blame. In contrast, approximately half of all Americans think scientists have yet to settle the matter.

This gap is profoundly consequential because, despite what the truth may be, the life force of decisions for lawmaking politicians and business managers is public opinion.

On the bright side, this gap gives companies a chance to improve the public’s environmental literacy, and develop goodwill, credibility, and loyalty by doing so.

So what is a company to do? Start by considering some of the traits of this disparity, such as the knowledge divide. Most climate-related science is updated in scholarly journals, which are expensive, inaccessible, and not targeted to the public. Misinformation, on the other hand, is cheap and easy to access, and mass media — its conflict-hungry carrier — often treats science as a matter of opinion, and therefore gives disproportionate coverage to extreme views.

Here’s where business comes in: Take a look at how your organization might be causing misinformation and then stop it at the source, especially in your media outreach and branding. A related opportunity is to find ways to share accurate science through your communications efforts.

As BSR has reported in the past, Patagonia brings an educational approach to communicating issues, especially through its website, which teaches consumers about the lifecycle impacts of products. You can also educate your industry, as the apparel company H&M has done by sponsoring a recent BSR-led lifecycle study on carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture of garments.

The Gap Between Knowledge and Action

We have learned from Princeton University researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow — and many others — that the world has no shortage of technology or financial resources to solve climate change. Furthermore, the popular McKinsey report, “A Cost Curve for Greenhouse Gas Reduction,” reveals that many solutions to eliminate emissions result in a net-zero cost.

So what’s the delay? One reason is malfunctioning markets. For example, energy service companies perched in border areas like Hong Kong are ready to enter China, the world’s biggest energy-efficiency market, but they are blocked by prohibitive transaction costs and project risks due to persistent, entrenched market barriers.

But companies can address challenges like these themselves, and in doing so create value all around. For instance, as part of a recent collaboration with BSR, Walmart launched a supplier energy-efficiency program that created a marketplace pairing more than 30 energy-service companies with more than 300 factory representatives, in turn making both shopping and selling easier.

There is another dimension. Walmart is providing training, practical tools, and encouraging messages to its suppliers to promote energy efficiency. The company’s aim is to improve the energy efficiency of 200 Walmart suppliers by 20 percent. This alone is significant, but experience shows that once managers begin to find efficiency gains, they are even more likely to identify and reduce waste, which could create a ripple effect throughout the company and among the company’s partners.

Theoretical models such as Pacala and Socolow’s studies also fail to account for the internal hurdles that can prevent action. These tend to be situational and include obstacles related to timing, momentum, politics, unfamiliar cultural environments, and human psychology. The lesson here is that starting a new climate change program is no small feat, and should be seen as a major accomplishment and milestone.

In our experience, you can build early momentum by using qualitative and quantitative data to capture quick “wins” that demonstrate the value of making further commitments.

The Gap Between Action and Results

At the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen last May, one participant remarked, “It doesn’t matter how fast you are moving if you are going in the wrong direction.” Unfortunately, with climate change, the reverse is also true: We have the mechanics and are gazing in the right direction, but we are moving too slowly. According to the C-Roads simulator, an MIT-developed software modeling tool, even if the most progressive proposed legislation around the world is enacted, we would still have a long way to go to achieve stabilization targets. Recent findings by Carbon Disclosure Project support this conclusion.

According to conventional wisdom, companies concerned about climate change should focus on reducing emissions from internal operations, management of which is closely tied to their control or ownership. Yet if the goal is to stop climate change, we must make a collective effort to outpace emissions, which continue to grow despite reduction efforts to date. Unfortunately, few companies view it as their job to solve this problem. As a result, the bar is even higher: Instead of reducing emissions by 80 percent from our 1990 baseline, we need to reduce them by 83 percent from 2005.

The problem, says Chris Tuppen, chief sustainability officer at BT, is that we are measuring the wrong thing. While climate business metrics measure carbon dioxide emissions compared to the company’s past performance, the metric for the collective goal of solving climate change is carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere with agreed-upon peak dates. That metric is measured by physical science.

Tuppen suggests we change our business metrics: Rather than tracking individual reductions, we should measure what we, collectively, have left to achieve. That thinking led BT to pioneer the CSI Index, which associates the company’s emissions with those of the global economy, thereby linking company efforts with national targets, which are based on climate stability.

Undoubtedly, it will be challenging to bring these technical standards to scale, but Tuppen’s idea to start with the ultimate goal in mind is a necessary step. His approach is rooted in Peter Senge’s “systems thinking” and Harvard Business School’s recommendation that sustainability efforts start from the future.

When we start to think more broadly about business progress, it’s easy to see more options for action. Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company’s executive director of sustainability, says business can have the biggest impact by influencing policy, because climate change is, at its core, a market failure. Without robust climate policies, individual efforts, however “directly” related to operations, will be limited.

Looking at the big picture, influencing policymakers — whose numbers are relatively few — is not only likely to make a bigger impact, it’s also more manageable than tracking billions of disparate emissions sources. According to Schendler, Aspen has engaged in policy through national advertising, lobbying Congress individually and through coalitions such as Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, leveraging industry trade groups to send letters, and speaking publicly. Schendler himself contributed by writing the book “Getting Green Done.”

It is natural when planning and reporting to follow the crowds, but there are opportunities for climate leadership when you look for the gaps in public knowledge, action, and results. Taking them seriously will do wonders for your credibility, and potentially lead to new kinds of business growth.

Originally Published at Greebiz.

Why Climate Change Will Matter to Every Company

BSR has recently fielded inquiries from a range of member companies asking how climate change is relevant to their business.

The timing of these questions is obvious: With prospective climate change legislation and policy discussions in the United States and elsewhere, intensive international negotiations culminating later this year, and ongoing stakeholder interest, companies are scrambling to develop or boost their climate change strategies, assess their internal and supply chain emissions, and examine the potential risks and opportunities throughout their operations, value chain, and industry.

For energy companies and heavy manufacturers, it has long been clear that climate change regulation would have a significant impact on business. And while some representatives from other industries still insist climate change is not relevant for them, the best available research indicates it is material for virtually every company, both in the traditional accounting sense and the sustainability context, which incorporates wider stakeholder concerns. Unlike issues such as animal welfare or toxic waste that may be irrelevant to some firms, climate change is never off the playing field for any company.

It’s About Owned Operations

For companies that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases or purchase large amounts of energy, climate change regulation is clearly a significant issue that is likely to affect future costs. As recent negotiations in the U.S. Congress have shown, however, climate change regulation is not just about greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. It has significant implications for international trade, agriculture, transportation, and other areas.

In addition, physical risks and opportunities presented by climate change are already becoming manifest. Companies need to think about how a changing climate affects things such as heating and cooling needs, water availability, and emergency preparedness for catastrophic weather. An extended drought in Australia, for instance, has forced the food company Heinz to curtail production of tomato paste there, and to consider shifting other production out of the country. Meanwhile, nations and industries have begun to discuss the possibilities presented by expanded shipping through the Northwest Passage.

Taking action in a company’s owned operations can also lay the foundation for business opportunities and reputation building through engagement with peers, suppliers, and customers. Although the retail industry is responsible for only a small amount of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, some retailers such as Walmart and Tesco have been applauded for addressing climate change throughout their value chains — efforts that are founded in part on efficiency and renewable energy programs in their own stores.

It’s About Supply Chains

For many companies, the most important climate change risks and opportunities may lie outside of their owned operations. As a 2008 McKinsey study noted, between 40 and 60 percent of manufacturers’ carbon footprints often lie in their supply chains. BSR has worked closely with food-processing companies and retailers whose supply chain emissions are more than three times larger than those represented by their own facilities and purchased energy. It’s important for companies to realize that climate change regulation may have significant implications for supply chain costs in carbon- and energy-intensive industries.

Greenhouse gas emissions and physical climate change impacts also have significant implications for logistics and transportation choices in the supply chain. Companies that have “Just-in-time” inventory systems may rely heavily on air transport for rapid shipment of goods to keep inventories low. However, air transport — which contributes more than 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — has a much larger climate change impact than trucking, rail, or ocean cargo shipping. Increasingly, aviation is brought up as an area for regulation. In effect, climate change is a material issue for companies that have intricate supply chains or otherwise rely heavily on air travel and transport.

Climate change will also have significant physical impacts on supply chains. At BSR, we have seen more companies focus on this area, including Kraft, which is addressing growing climate and other risks to high-value tropical crops like coffee and cocoa by working with organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support its suppliers and encourage sustainable production.

The supply chain also presents climate-change-related opportunities. The confectionary company Cadbury, for example, is working closely with dairy suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such actions benefit companies like Cadbury by strengthening the firm’s supply chain understanding and relationships and by improving its reputation for addressing climate change. It’s also possible that these efforts will provide financial benefits if the company is able to obtain carbon credits for use or sale.

It’s About Customers and Consumers

In addition to “upstream” supply chains, climate change has growing implications for companies through their “downstream” customers and consumers. Nearly a decade ago, Ford Motor Co. was one of the first large companies to publicly address this issue through its corporate citizenship reports. Information technology companies like IBM and Cisco are touting the benefits of lower climate change impacts from their energy-saving products, while apparel companies such as Levi Strauss and Co. have begun using garment labels, promotions, and store staff to encourage customers to adopt reduced-energy washing practices.

Companies whose products generate substantial greenhouse gases during use aren’t the only ones for whom consumer climate change issues should be important. There are growing efforts to encourage consumers to select products with a smaller total greenhouse gas footprint (such as peanut butter rather than lunch meat), while physical climate change itself may shift customer preferences and needs. Farmers may begin planting more heat- and drought-tolerant crops, for example, while the spread of dengue fever and other diseases (PDF) is likely to significantly affect pharmaceuticals markets. Companies that understand and are prepared to meet these trends will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

It’s About Industry Dynamics

Physical climate change and related regulation will also lead to long-term changes in industry structures. Climate-related regulation, market incentives and other factors may encourage new competitors to enter an industry, as we see in the auto and energy fields, while climate change reporting and compliance requirements may increase barriers to entering other industries.

It’s clear that climate change is one of the largest and most persistent sustainability megatrends of this generation — and for many companies, the pinch points are obvious. For others, climate issues are more subtle, affecting the company indirectly through the vulnerabilities of its partners. And for others still, climate change may affect the company in such broad but low-intensity ways that is hard to know where to begin.

In any case, although some companies may not identify climate change as the most pressing issue they face today, these examples should demonstrate that the breadth and magnitude of the likely physical and regulatory impacts — from owned operations and industry dynamics to supply chains and customers — mean the issue is relevant for virtually all companies. It presents a wide range of risks, as well as new opportunities to reduce costs, differentiate products, and work with suppliers and consumers.

First posted at GreenBiz.

A-B-C-Design: Engaging the Whole Company in Developing Sustainable Products

Given the sheer number of items we purchase, use and throw away every year, it’s no surprise that consumer products are the ultimate drivers of carbon emissions. In that context, product design is critical for addressing climate change. As the concentration point for a large set of decisions about human and material resource flows, product design can influence emissions throughout the value chain, with the potential to yield significant results: According to the U.K.-based Climate Group, during the next decade, developments to information and communication technology products alone could reduce global GHG emissions by 15 percent, while saving the industry more than $900 billion. 

Ironically, the shortest path to better products is often found not inside the design team, but throughout the rest of the company.

At Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), we worked with the design and innovation firm IDEO to produce the report “Aligned for Sustainable Design: An A-B-C-D Approach to Making Better Products,” [PDF] which shows that sustainability introduces a range of factors into organizations that require the engagement of people throughout the company. Indeed, the real bottleneck to design problems is often low organizational capacity. Rather than looking to the designer to lead product sustainability strategies, managers need to coordinate conventionally unconnected parts of the organization and promote dynamic organizational learning.

The four main ways to do this can be described as the A-B-C-Ds of sustainable design:

A: Assess the climate impacts of your company’s projects and evaluate your organization’s capacity to address these impacts. Some companies, like Sony and Philips, do this by pursuing formal lifecycle analyses and materials assessments of their products in order to ensure that they understand where impacts really come from. Others, like Intel, also focus on understanding the impacts of first-tier suppliers. Still other companies are experimenting with new methodologies entirely: BT, for example, has developed a “Climate Stability Intensity” method that conveys the company’s global emissions normalized by expected atmospheric levels needed for climate stability.

B: Bridge functions and people needed for making valuable, tractable product redesigns. Often, this means making unconventional cases for commitments and resources. For example, Procter & Gamble, recognizing that energy-efficiency projects have important benefits that outweigh traditional return-on-investment hurdles, has bridged sustainability and finance by earmarking 5 percent of its budget ($5 million) for energy-saving projects. Hewlett-Packard has developed an energy supply chain function, which creates a formal, cross-functional bridge between traditional procurement and environmental responsibility teams.

Three Approaches to Sustainable Design
Given the demand for greener products, many companies are incorporating sustainable design into everything from cars to computers. They are employing three main approaches to designing low-emissions products:
• Reducing lifecycle emissions in existing products through new design specifications and features: Toyota has started equipping its hybrid electric car, the Prius, with rooftop solar panels that power the air-conditioner, and companies with energy-using products like HP and Dell are developing better power-saving and idle modes. Even companies with products that don’t use energy are designing specifications for lower-impact maintenance and disposal. Apparel companies, for example, are providing cold-water wash instructions for clothing.
• Linking existing products to restoration: Tyson is eliminating emissions from waste by turning animal byproducts into biofuel. Other companies, like Nissan, are linking products with restoration by automatically buying carbon offsets with automobile purchases.
• Deploying new product and service concepts: With videoconferencing, companies such as Cisco and Skype are fulfilling the need for live communication with an alternative to emissions-intensive air travel. Other companies have focused their business plans around products aimed at saving emissions: One such business is Liftshare.org which uses a simple database platform to bring people and organizations together to carpool.

C: Create internal and external learning projects that enhance knowledge of product sustainability and support necessary changes in the design process. Nike, for example, has launched a number of projects, such as one that reduces production scrap and diverts worn-out shoes from disposal, and another that phases out industrial greenhouse gases from the bladders of shoes’ air soles. It also remotely monitors the energy efficiency of its suppliers. Marks and Spencer has launched a range of projects, including one aimed at in-store energy reduction, another to source food regionally and label food transported by air freight. Another program targets consumers with educational and inspirational messages.

D: Diffuse lessons and accountability mechanisms that build sustainability literacy and affect better decision-making throughout the organization. This puts information in the hands of the right people at the right time, and creates accountability for product outcomes. Wal-Mart, North America’s largest private user of electricity, has developed a comprehensive, companywide sustainability mandate with six broad priorities and 14 cross-functional teams. As part of the effort, Wal-Mart uses what it calls “Personal Sustainability Projects” to train employees on ways to incorporate sustainability into their lives. Toyota has a number of initiatives to diffuse sustainability lessons: It formally mandates environmental action in its “Earth Charter,” it is developing local systems that streamline complex ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 methods in North American facilities, and the company uses green supplier guidelines that emphasize collaboration.

To enhance product sustainability, more consumers and policymakers are pushing companies to reduce carbon emissions throughout their value chains. Remember the cardinal rule: The crux of sustainable product design is generally not found within the design team, but rather in the information flow throughout the rest of the company.

First posted at GreenBiz.