By Eileen Claussen
December 20, 2010
2010 was a year of highs and lows.
On the high side were global temperatures; 2010 will mark the hottest year in recorded history. At the start of the year, there was also the short-lived high of thinking we might be on the precipice of meaningful action in the U.S. Congress to protect the climate. Finally, at year’s end the climate talks in Cancún delivered (surprise!) tangible results in the form of agreement on key elements of a global climate framework.
But alas, the lows won out for most of 2010 as a trumped-up email controversy, continuing economic unease, and growing anti-government sentiment in the United States undermined the effort to forge lasting climate solutions at all levels.
Congress. Until quite recently, the Pew Center and many others were actively supporting cap and trade as the number-one climate policy solution. After the House passed a fairly comprehensive energy and climate bill in June 2009 that had a cap-and-trade system at its core, we actually thought that it might become the law of the land.
Before long, however, it became eminently clear that the Senate would not be able to pass a similar bill. The 2010 U.S. elections, which brought more doubters of climate change into the halls of Congress, only made it clearer that comprehensive climate action is off the table for now.
EPA. With Congress unable to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, attention turned to what EPA might be able to do under existing authorities. And it turns out that EPA can do quite a lot by taking reasonable steps that have garnered critical support from the business and environmental communities. In late October, for example, the agency announced a sensible proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. This was followed by a November announcement that will go a long way to making sure that new industrial facilities use state-of-the-art technologies to boost efficiency and reduce emissions.
Of course, opponents of these and other EPA regulations will surely raise a ruckus, and there will be loud cries in Congress to delay the regulations and even cut funding for the EPA. But the possibility remains that the agency could conceivably begin to chip away at U.S. emissions in the months and years ahead.
State Actions. Looking beyond Washington, state capitals were the focus of creative thinking and leadership on the issue of clean energy in 2010. Massachusetts, for example, set a statewide energy efficiency standard in 2010 supported by $1.6 billion in incentives. Meanwhile, California voters upheld the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law by defeating Proposition 23. This marked the first direct vote on addressing climate change in the United States, and it won in an overwhelming fashion.
But the overall story regarding climate action in the states was more mixed. While several regional climate initiatives continued to push forward, the November elections brought to the nation’s statehouses a group of new leaders who adopted strong stands against climate action in their campaigns. We will stay tuned to see how their campaign rhetoric translates into governing.
International. The agreement reached by international negotiators in Cancún in December closed out 2010 on a positive note. The Cancún Agreements import the essential elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord into the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, including a stronger system of support for developing countries and a stronger transparency regime to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. The Cancún Agreements also mark the first time that all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the Convention.
Of course, the ultimate goal of the continuing international talks should be a legally-binding climate treaty, but in Cancún we saw countries agreeing on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and lay the foundation for binding commitments down the road.
Looking Ahead. Looking ahead, I believe 2011 holds promise only if those of us who support climate action can learn from what happened in 2010. In recent years, domestic and international efforts largely centered on a “big bang” theory of trying to achieve everything at once. Instead, it’s instructive now to take a cue from Cancún and accept that a step-by-step approach to building support for climate solutions offers our best shot at progress.
Calling on the new Congress to pass cap and trade or similarly comprehensive solutions will be a nonstarter, for example. But there may be an opportunity on Capitol Hill for less sweeping steps to reduce U.S. emissions.
Supporters would do well to spend the next several months laying the groundwork for incremental solutions by strengthening communications with the public. We need to do a better job of helping people understand both the risks and the opportunities presented by climate change. In the same way we buy fire insurance to protect against an event that has a statistically small chance of happening but would result in severe damage, acting now to cut emissions reduces our vulnerability to severe events that are likely to become more common in a warming world. And the success of the “No on Prop 23” campaign in California suggests that there remains a healthy appetite among the general public and in the business community (which provided substantial support for the effort) to back well-framed climate solutions.
After a year of highs and lows, we still must aim high in our efforts to address one of the greatest challenges of our time. But we should also heed the lessons of the past year and work for more modest victories now that can keep us on the path to longer-term solutions.
A small company finding it hard to sell its residential energy usage monitoring devices starts a “parent-teenage contract” marketing campaign. The teenager gets the parents to buy the device, and then they both sign a contract stipulating that the teenager will keep half the money saved on reduced energy usage. As the savings start to roll in, the teenager becomes more motivated to improve the household’s energy efficiency as do the parents, while the company points to this positive experience as it seeks additional customers for its monitoring device. This model has achieved success on a small scale, but could it be adopted on a wider level as it is driven by a business case, contains ingredients for cultural transformation and taps into incentives that appear to be driving action?
This was one of the many thought-provoking anecdotes shared at the ninth Green Innovation in Business Network (GIBN) Solutions Lab held in Boston where the 90 or so participants spent the day coming up with solutions to barriers faced by companies pursuing energy efficiency. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was a co-sponsor of the event, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, Ashoka, Microsoft, Net Impact Boston, and many other partners. (For more information on GIBN Solutions Labs and the topics discussed at this specific event please click here.)
The GIBN Solution Labs are one-day workshops structured in an “unconference” format where participants are divided into small groups of about eight or less. Each group brainstorms solutions to a specific issue or barrier and reports back to the whole group at the end of the day. With the umbrella theme of overcoming barriers to energy efficiency, the Boston GIBN Solutions Lab focused on 14 specific topics, such as financing, making the business case and motivating the public on energy efficiency. Participants including companies, consultants, academics, and non-governmental organizations spent the morning exploring a variety of topics and then chose one in the afternoon to focus on in depth through a problem identification and solution design process.
Peter Senge, founding chair of Society for Organizational Learning and senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, kicked off the workshop with a thought-provoking speech that emphasized the need for a comprehensive vision for energy efficiency instead of piecemeal solutions. By the end of the workshop some pieces of the vision had emerged: establish energy efficiency as a social norm; create business models that support energy efficiency investments; and design methods to more effectively communicate the benefits of energy efficiency.
The day was filled with a constant buzz of conversations out of which emerged some “out of the box” ideas as well as best practices. The group tackling the issue of motivating the public on energy efficiency proposed a K-12 energy efficiency curriculum that would result in children passing along the learning to their parents. Interestingly, the group on improving energy efficiency of buildings also saw children as key players. It proposed student projects involving energy audits and efficiency implementation measures for school buildings. A “just do it,” results-oriented approach was suggested to get senior management buy-in for energy efficiency projects: do the energy audit (which many utilities will provide free of charge) and then use the results of potential energy savings to convince senior management to implement the energy efficiency measures. Creative employee communication methods were also suggested such as distributing figures on how much paper and printer toner is being used by the office or putting up a sign next to the printer asking “Do you really need to print this?” There were also some “out of the box” topics: one group looked at the water-energy nexus and noted that understanding the relationships between water usage and energy could spur new technical innovations such as water-less laundry systems.
Discussions also emphasized known best practices, which were useful to participants just getting started on energy efficiency and sustainability issues. For example, developing a detailed work plan and timeframe when proposing an energy efficiency project to senior management was essential in getting their approval to move ahead. Additionally, continuous monitoring and progress reports are critical in maintaining momentum and receiving the okay to pursue more projects in the future. Recommendations for embedding energy efficiency within corporate supply chains included clearly communicating energy efficiency expectations to suppliers; helping them find the right resources to implement energy efficiency measures; and auditing suppliers to ensure implementation and maintenance.
The end-of-day presentations highlighted that while each group was tackling different topics related to energy efficiency they struggled with some common barriers. For example, financing and communicating energy efficiency were issues that almost all groups found necessary and yet difficult to overcome.
In terms of specific solutions, not everyone went home with sure-fire answers to how they were going to fund their energy efficiency projects or convince senior management to make energy efficiency a priority. However, most participants did leave with at least a few new ideas to try out and the understanding that in order to be an effective component of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency required a comprehensive, system-based approach.
Aisha Husain is an Energy Efficiency Fellow
Earth Day – it’s the perfect day to start your energy diet. It’s great to hug a tree, (in fact, that’s how you measure the carbon it sequesters) but for most of us, it’s even better to wrap our arms around that tangle of charger cords and pull the plug. Reducing your energy consumption is the very best way to honor Mother Earth – and save money – this year and every year.
Since I am perpetually on a diet, let me share some of the best strategies for getting started:
A group of nearly 50 companies and organizations, including the Center, sent President Obama a letter this month asking the Administration to lead the way to providing all consumers access to their energy information. The April 5 letter calls for giving consumers access to this information via devices such as computers and phones; making it easier for them to monitor and manage their energy use.
With timely and actionable information on energy consumption, households and businesses can avoid inefficiencies that drive up consumer costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Through its Make an Impact program, we also works to weave sustainability and energy efficiency into the fabric of its partners’ corporate culture. The program provides accessible information to employees and their communities on ways to reduce energy use, lower their carbon footprint, and save money. These savings can be significant: If every U.S. household saved 15% on its energy use by 2020, GHG savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would save consumers $46 billion on their energy bills each year.
From factory floors to corporate boardrooms, energy efficiency is top of mind for a growing number of businesses and their employees. Leading companies are pioneering new energy efficiency strategies that result in greater productivity, robust financial savings, and a lower carbon footprint. Today, we released a major study that examines key practices of a diverse collection of corporations at the vanguard of innovative energy efficiency solutions.
The report, From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency, features insights from detailed research and analysis collected over nearly two years. The study represents the centerpiece of our Corporate Energy Efficiency Conference next week in Chicago.
From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency
In the last decade, rising and volatile energy prices coupled with increasing concern about climate change and growing support for action on energy and environmental issues has driven a surge of corporate environmental commitments. Energy efficiency has emerged as a key component of these commitments. Leading firms that give greater attention to energy efficiency report billions of dollars in savings and millions of tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions, according to Pew Center’s report “From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency.” This report documents leading-edge energy efficiency strategies, describes best practices, and provides guidance and resources for other businesses seeking to reduce energy use in their internal operations, supply chains, and products and services.
The report was developed over nearly two years of effort, including a detailed survey of the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) members and other leading companies, in-depth case studies of six companies, a series of workshops on key energy efficiency topics, broader research in the corporate energy field, and development of a full-featured Web portal to provide a platform for highlighting and updating key findings from the project as well as providing tools, resources, and other important information. The project was funded with generous support from Toyota.
Full Report (Download pdf)
Executive Summary (Download pdf)
- Dow Chemical (Download pdf)
- United Technologies Corporation (Download pdf)
- IBM (Download pdf)
- Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (Download pdf)
- PepsiCo (Download pdf)
- Best Buy (Download pdf)
Press release (click here)
Audio of teleconference on the report (click here)
April 12, 2010
By Eileen Claussen
This article originally appeared in Reuters.
While policymakers in Washington debate the best path forward for dealing with climate change, a growing number of U.S. businesses have discovered a simple technique that can lower costs, increase productivity, and slash greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, it can work for any business no matter what they make—whether it’s potato chips or computer chips.
It’s called energy efficiency, and a growing number of U.S. businesses are starting to get it.
What does it mean to be efficient? Seven habits of highly efficient companies as identified in the Pew Center’s new report From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency, lists designating full-time staff to be accountable for energy performance, communicating externally the company’s successes in reducing energy costs and emissions and – perhaps most importantly – integrating sustainability as a core part of corporate strategic planning and risk assessment.
The results of this two-year study, featured this week at our Corporate Energy Efficiency Conference in Chicago attended by 260 representatives from 120 companies and universities, speak for themselves.
Dow Chemical, which purchases as much energy in a year as Australia, estimates that its efficiency efforts have saved the company $8.6 billion since 1994 while avoiding about 86 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The retailer Best Buy says that in 2008 its sales of certified ENERGY STAR products saved customers over $90 million in electric bills.
Why are they doing it? For starters, higher and more volatile energy prices.
Energy experts at Toyota think of it as a treasure hunt for low-cost efficiency gains that equate to big cost savings. Like other innovative companies, Toyota empowers its employees to uncover and correct inefficient energy practices at their own plants and, in some cases, for their suppliers. These efforts are in line with Toyota’s goal to reduce energy use per vehicle produced by 30 percent in 2011.
But concern about climate change, and growing customer and employee support for action on energy and environmental issues also matter, according to our corporate energy efficiency report. In many cases, CEOs are personally spearheading efficiency efforts at their companies, reflecting the priority now given to energy saving measures.
“The most inexpensive items are generally improvements in energy efficiency, some of which are economic even without a price on carbon,” said Exelon CEO John Rowe at the conference. Exelon, one of the country’s largest electric utilities, cut energy use at its corporate headquarters by 50 percent by retrofitting it to meet LEED Platinum standards.
The most effective companies are also looking outside their own walls to tap into even greater efficiency opportunities. This means working with suppliers to adopt energy efficient practices, and designing products that allow consumers to share in energy savings.
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced a goal to reduce carbon emissions from its global supply chain by 20 million tons, which is the equivalent shuttering six average-sized coal plants or taking 3.8 million cars off the road for a year. United Technologies recently announced a goal to improve the energy efficiency of its products by at least 10 percent by 2010.
Energy efficiency also drives broader innovation, and the benefits go beyond dollars saved and emissions reduced. A focus on energy efficiency can lead to reevaluating business practices, often turning up improvements that increase productivity and enhance quality.
Ambitious energy-savings targets forced Frito Lay to reexamine the way it bakes tortilla chips. By installing new draft controls on ovens that reduced heat loss and evened out heat distribution, the quality of the chips improved. At IBM, a focus on efficiency led to equipment upgrades that reduce energy use and improve reliability in semiconductor manufacturing processes.
It is encouraging to see so many leading companies embrace energy efficiency as a win-win solution. But energy efficiency isn’t just for businesses.
We can all cut energy use, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and save money by taking simple steps like turning off the lights when we leave the room, adding insulation in our homes, and taking shorter showers.
But I’ve been around long enough to know that we can’t rely exclusively on voluntary action to achieve our environmental goals.
We need a comprehensive national clean energy policy that puts a price on carbon. Legislation that establishes such a price would unleash hundreds of millions of investment dollars, deliver an adrenaline shot to our nation’s manufacturing sector, and create thousands of well-paying jobs. Energy efficiency sits atop the list of low-carbon choices poised to deliver immediate results in a clean energy economy.
Leading corporations have shown us what is possible. It is time we follow in their footsteps and embrace energy efficiency as something we can do right now to help create a safer, more prosperous future.
Eileen Claussen is President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Eileen Claussen is President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
On Friday, March 12, we held a briefing on jobs and opportunities in clean energy markets.
Today, the President signed an Executive Order creating an Export Promotion Cabinet of top officials and an Export Promotion Council, a private-sector advisory body. This Executive Order serves to highlight once again how important American exports and competitiveness are to economic recovery and continued US economic strength. While much hand-wringing has occurred over the potential for climate and energy policy to hurt the ability of U.S. firms to compete in international markets, the opportunity of such policy to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses has received less notice. The irony is that even as the planet warms, the United States may be left standing out in the cold if it doesn’t choose to lead in the development of next-generation energy technologies.
Domestically and internationally, climate action in 2009 laid critical groundwork for potential breakthroughs in Congress and global negotiations in 2010. Yet with an issue as complex and political as climate change, turning groundwork into policy is a challenge. 2010 will undoubtedly be a pivotal year for climate change – but first it is instructive to take a look back at what happened in 2009 and how that shaped where we are today.
We captured these highlights in our annual Year-in-Review Newsletter – a useful compilation of 2009’s big climate change stories and related insights. The year’s major domestic action included passage of the landmark House climate and clean energy bill along with numerous Obama administration efforts to improve our climate and economy. These accomplishments included the stimulus bill’s $80 billion in clean energy-related funding and EPA actions, including the endangerment finding, the greenhouse gas reporting rule, and stricter auto-efficiency standards.
Copenhagen consumed international climate attention in 2009, culminating in the pre-dawn hours of December 19 when final touches were put on an accord directly brokered by President Obama and a handful of key developing country leaders. While many questions remain after Copenhagen, our summary of the conference provides a sound starting point for grasping what transpired at the year’s largest climate event.
The lead-up to 2009’s main events required a great deal of work, and some of the year’s highlights include the detailed Blueprint for Climate Action released one year ago this month by the influential business-NGO coalition U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). More industry leaders also showed support for mandatory climate action by joining our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC). And efforts to reach business communities, employees, and families expanded through the Make An Impact program. In partnerships with aluminum manufacturer Alcoa and utility Entergy, we continue to provide individuals with strategies to save energy and money while protecting the environment.
We continued to educate policy makers and opinion leaders, producing reports, analyses, and fact sheets on topics ranging from clean-energy technologies, climate science, competitiveness, and adaptation. Featuring expert insights and thoughtful opinions, we informed broad audiences about the immediate need for climate action. And our timely, relevant work moves forward in 2010 as we seek progress in addressing the most important global issue of our time.
Tom Steinfeldt is Communications Manager
“Kick the grocery bag habit, turn the thermostat down, change just one in four bulbs to CFLs, and drive smarter,” that’s my advice in a nutshell as I travel around the country talking to people about saving money and saving energy through the Make an Impact program. Now, a great new study by David Biello in this month’s Scientific American backs this message up: “33 simple actions—ranging from improving the insulation to carpooling—could cut those annual carbon emissions by 123 million metric tons. That savings would more than entirely offset emissions from petroleum refineries, iron and steel works, and aluminum smelters combined.” Those aren’t small numbers and could represent as much as 7 percent of our emissions. There really is a role for the little guy in tackling the challenges of climate change.
For the last year we’ve been holding workshops and talking with communities about simple steps we can each take to save money, save energy, and save the planet along the way as part of The Make an Impact program (www.alcoa.com/makeanimpact or www.entergy.com/makeanimpact). Make an Impact is an education and action partnership between the Center and two thought-leader companies, Alcoa and Entergy. The program’s cornerstone is a website that anyone can visit, filled with non-biased, science based tools and information about reducing personal energy consumption. Those who try its carbon calculator will even get customized tips for improving their energy use choices. Originally designed to help employees, the website, tools and workshops have grown to include communities where partners have operations and their customers.