Climate Leadership winners: Focus on your message

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Elizabeth Craig of the EPA (left) speaks with three representatives of 2015 Climate Laedership Award winners, Andy Battjes of Brown Forman, Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Bill Finch, and Alexis Limberakis of Clorox


When it comes to climate leadership, the way a message is delivered can be the key to success.

Winners of the 2015 Climate Leadership Awards found that being creative in communicating ideas on sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions helped the message resonate with constituents, customers, and employees.

Sixteen organizations, including C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council members Bank of America and General Motors, won Climate Leadership Awards this year. The awards are co-sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Association of Climate Change Officers, and The Climate Registry.

Three winners -- Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Bill Finch, household consumer product maker Clorox, and wine and distilled spirits manufacturer Brown Forman – spoke at the Climate Leadership Conference about three ways to connect climate goals to your audience.

1. Link your goals to everyday issues.

Finch, who received EPA’s only individual leadership award, wanted his city to take on the goal of reducing emissions 10 percent below 2007 levels by 2020. He found what he talked about mattered.

“Not polar ice caps,” he said. “But jobs for Uncle Harold.”

In Bridgeport, those jobs were deploying fuel cells, which produce electricity using natural gas and electrochemical reactions with only trace emissions. The Dominion Bridgeport Fuel Cell, spearheaded by Fuel Cell Energy, is the largest in North America, powering 15,000 homes. Construction is set to begin this year on Bridgeport’s Green Energy Park, which includes a smaller fuel cell plus 9,000 solar panels on the site of a former landfill.

Finch also got jobs for Uncle Harold’s nieces and nephews through the Mayor’s Conservation Corps. With the help of block grants, the city hires 40 youths every summer to go door to door, urging people to recycle, use rain barrels, and plant trees.

“Kids are our greatest ambassadors,” said Finch. “They’re helping to change the way we can sell these concepts to the public and change behaviors.”

2. Engage your employees.

At Clorox, Director of Environmental Sustainability Alexis Limberakis said the company got employees on board by tying messages about sustainability to personal motivation.

“Most employees get recycling, but a carbon footprint is over their heads,” she said. “When you connect it to cost savings, that’s when the light goes on.”

When selecting members of its sustainability team, the company didn’t search for experts in sustainability. Instead, it chose people who understood the company’s values and operations. That enabled Clorox to develop innovative ways to reduce waste that aren’t necessarily apparent to consumers but make a big difference.

The EPA honored Clorox for goal-setting and reporting and verifying organization-wide greenhouse gas inventories and achieving aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Clorox reduced emissions 16 percent and increased the efficiency of its product distribution by transitioning from truck to rail.

3. Engage your supply chain.

The climate impacts on Brown Forman’s operations in drought-stricken California were obvious: The company’s water supply, the growing season, and the availability of corn, rye and malt barley used to make spirits were all affected.

When communicating about climate goals to employees and suppliers, “you need a clear linkage to the company’s overall purpose,” said Environmental Health and Safety Director Andy Battjes. “Addressing climate change and other environmental impacts now has an impact on our ability to grow and thrive.”

With that in mind, Battjes said it was easier to convince employees that climate goals are important, especially when cost savings are tied in. After that, they were able to communicate the same message through the supply chain.

“Our employees have good, innovative ideas that have never been tried before. Give them a chance, and they will put it into practice,“ he said. “When you get into suppliers and fellow industries, you get to multiply those effects.”

Brown Forman was recognized for reporting and verifying organization-wide greenhouse gas inventories and setting aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The company plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent between 2012 and 2022 by switching the boilers at its distilleries from fossil fuels to biomass. It also plans to switch the fuel for its steam boiler at a production operation to a less greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuel.

Climate Leadership Award winners demonstrate the many paths forward to a low-carbon future and serve as an example for others in how to talk about – and take – climate action. The next step is to find even more creative and engaging ways to spread that message to a broader audience.

Climate progress in 2014 sets the stage for 2015 action

Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.

In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.

Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:

Firsthand lessons on public charging for EVs

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My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.

Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)

The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.

At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.

Companies are part of the equation to address climate change

While the focus in New York this week has been on world leaders pledging to act on climate change, business leaders also stepped up to be part of the climate solution.

In recent years, many companies have acknowledged the risks of climate change and worked to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability. This week, companies announced new efforts to fund clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, and support a price on carbon.

For example, Bank of America announced an initiative to spur at least $10 billion of new investment in clean energy projects. Hewlett Packard announced plans to reduce emissions intensity of its product portfolio by 40 percent from 2010 levels by 2020.

Many companies joined together to take a stand:

Don't toss out the good electricity with the bad

One way to reduce power plant carbon emissions is to reduce the demand for electricity. Encouraging customer energy efficiency is one of the building blocks underpinning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. But the plan does not distinguish among uses of electricity. That means, without further options, the Clean Power Plan could inadvertently discourage states from deploying electric vehicles (EVs), electric mass transit, and other technologies that use electricity instead of a dirtier fuel.

In all but very coal-heavy regions, using electricity as a transportation fuel, especially in mass transit applications, results in the emission of far less carbon dioxide than burning gasoline. In industry, carbon emissions can be cut by using electric conveyance systems instead of diesel- or propane-fueled forklifts and electric arc furnaces instead of coal boilers.

Under the proposed power plant rules, new uses of electricity would be discouraged regardless of whether a state pursues a rate-based target (pounds of emissions per unit of electricity produced) or a mass-based target (tons of emissions per year).

EPA has a few options to make sure regulations for power plants would not discourage uses of electricity that result in less carbon emissions overall.

An energy solution with true bipartisan support

Two out of three respondents in a new University of Texas poll said energy issues are important to them. But the harsh rhetoric of campaign season makes it seem like politicians can never agree on important policies needed to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy while also protecting the environment.

Well they can, and they did. Right now in Washington, D.C., we have a bipartisan bill that would reduce carbon emissions and develop domestic energy resources.

Promoting Low-Carbon Innovation at Rio+20

As Rio+20 negotiators rush to complete a consolidated text of outcomes before heads of state begin arriving tomorrow, participants at hundreds of side events are calling on business and government to take stronger action on clean energy, poverty elimination, food security, oceans, sustainable cities, green technology development, education, and more.

On Sunday at the U.S. Center pavilion, C2ES and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) convened a panel of companies, small-business innovators, and business representatives highlighting the critical roles played by each in promoting low-carbon innovation and sustainable development.

Bringing Lessons in Low-carbon Innovation to Rio+20

Opportunities for low-carbon innovation are growing, driven by policy changes, market shifts, and continued growth in energy demand, particularly in developing countries. This Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the UN’s “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development, C2ES will have a chance to share what it’s learned about low-carbon innovation with partners from around the world.

With the Global Environment Facility (GEF), we will convene a panel of companies (Johnson Controls, DuPont), small-business innovators (from the Cleantech Open), and government and business representatives (from UNIDO and ABDI) to share stories and lessons from the front lines of clean-tech entrepreneurship. The event, to be held at the U.S. Center pavilion, will examine the keys to successful low-carbon innovation, and the benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation, energy security, resource efficiency, and job creation.

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