This post was written by Nancy Hirshberg, Chief Catalyst, Hirshberg Strategic & Co-founder of the Climate Collaborative, and is an abbreviated version of her talk on Climate Day at Expo West 2018. You can view her full speech here.
How can we make a difference—as individuals and in our businesses? How can our industry come together to make a difference? These are two of the key questions that we asked ourselves when we created the Climate Collaborative.
Based on more than twenty years of carbon footprinting, life cycle assessments and work in this space we identified nine areas that we know are critical hot spots for action. And wow, are you running with them! In the one year since we launched, more than two hundred companies have made 800+ commitments to climate action—double what we had anticipated.
To companies in the industry, you are indeed doing some amazing work:
- Organic Valley has just invested in building 12 MW of solar farms, increasing overall solar energy generation in Wisconsin by 15%, achieving their 100% renewable power commitment by the end of 2018.
- Clif Bar didn’t just stop with buying 100% renewable electricity. They set a goal to have fifty facilities in their supply chain to use 50% renewable power by 2020. They are already 84% of the way there and most of the suppliers didn’t stop at 50% but have gone 100% renewable.
- The Hanover Co-op in New Hampshire has decreased their refrigerant leakage by more than 82%!
- Organic India has partnered with more than 2,500 farmers to convert >20,000 acres of farm to regenerative practices.
- And Guayaki has restored more than 130,000 acres of rainforest in South America!
All of this work matters: The industry is reducing thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions—and just as importantly, you are inspiring others to see what is possible. The #1 influencer of people installing solar panels on their homes is seeing their neighbors do it. We are social creatures. We need leaders modeling best practices and shining a light on the path. By leading, you are changing industry norms.
But I’m going to be frank. The amazing, voluntary actions of every single company in this industry are simply not enough.
Many experts agree that if global warming is to be limited to between 1.5C and 2C by 2100, global emissions need to peak by 2020 and then begin to rapidly decline.
Time is of the essence. A report published last month by Ceres revealed that businesses are not scaling up solutions fast enough. Voluntary efforts alone simply are not going to get us where we need to be. We cannot wait decades for the examples set by leading first movers to take hold and become adopted. We need to scale up action in a big way now.
So what can we do?
We need public policy that incentivizes climate beneficial practices and discourages climate damaging ones. We need government policies that create a stable platform for businesses to develop strategy and plan for the future. We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels.
Imagine if, in order to receive federal crop insurance, you needed to demonstrate you were increasing soil carbon. Or imagine if we had a “space race” approach to climate and our government invested heavily in R&D and innovation.
This is public policy, one of the Climate Collaborative’s nine commitment areas. Our government—whether at the city, county, state or federal level—can bring about massive positive change faster than we as individual companies or even as an industry can. Policy can rapidly change everything. Just look at what has been accomplished with marriage equality in a relatively short time span: A shift in policy that many of us once felt was near impossible to achieve.
What does this mean for companies?
Voluntary corporate efforts, while critical, will never be a substitute for public policy. That means we need YOU and your company to bring your voice to the table.
Why is your voice so necessary? Research shows that the views of business leaders matter far more to politicians than those of ordinary voters. And it’s not just politicians. Research has also shown that CEO activism can sway public opinion. You have a powerful pulpit.
At the time of writing this blog, 97 companies have made a commitment to responsibly engage in climate policy through the Collaborative. Thank you to all who have done so! But that means more than half of the climate collaborative companies have NOT made a commitment to climate policy.
We can do better. We must do better.
We will likely not all agree on what policy, or what methods of engaging. Whether you are a liberal, a staunch conservative or a libertarian; whether you want to sign a petition, write a letter to the editor or get arrested protesting outside of the White House-- the Climate Collaborative is committed to helping you to engage in responsible climate policy that works for you and your company.
We Are Still In is one example of how the Climate Collaborative has helped companies engage. Last year when it was announced that the US would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, one of the Collaborative’s policy partners, BICEP, organized a business response, but they were a few dozen companies short of the 1000 companies they wanted before they would make the announcement public. We put the word out to the Collaborative companies that were committed to policy and many of YOU responded, tipping them over the 1000 company threshold.
While you may be skeptical that now is the time given the current political landscape, I would argue that there has never been a better time. More than 6 in 10 Americans are worried about climate change. Only 13% of Americans think global warming is not happening. The deniers are losing the battle. While at the federal level it is very discouraging, a huge amount of great work is happening on a state and city level. Climate groups on the right are springing up and organizing and starting to gain traction and support, including 22 Republican student climate groups on college campuses across the states. We all know the pendulum will be swinging back, and when it does we need to be ready. Let’s also take some inspiration from the students from Parkland, FL and around the nation who in a very short time have transformed the gun dialogue.
Keep doing your great work to mitigate your climate impact. But also please consider helping to drive big change through policy.
We are in the midst of a massive transition. We have the potential not only to reverse climate change, but to transform our lives and our businesses in countless wonderful ways. Our future will be one with food that is healthier from carbon rich soils and cities that are quieter from electric vehicles replacing the combustion engine. Our air will be cleaner. The explosive growth of our industry is a testament to the transition we are living through.
Yet there are enormous entrenched forces that are fighting to maintain the status quo. It can feel pretty dark sometimes. Perhaps as the lawyer, activist and writer Valarie Kaur says in her Sikh Prayer for America, maybe this dark period is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb, before the birth—the awakening. We are living the transition and it is an exciting time to be alive! And it’s a challenging time to be alive. Kaur asks “What does a midwife have you do as you are giving birth? Breathe and push. Breathe and push.” We need you to breathe and then push like hell for responsible climate policy. Are you in?
Click here to make a commitment to responsible engagement in climate policy through the Climate Collaborative.