Climate Leadership winners: Focus on your message

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.