I have worked on the issue of climate change and clean energy within corporate America for over two decades. During this time, I’ve participated in countless conversations on the topic in the C suite, the boardroom, in business organizations and government appointed taskforces. I’ve witnessed a growing acceptance of science and a clear acknowledgement about the fundamental risks that climate change poses. I have also seen an appreciation for the unique roles of both government and the market in creating solutions.
Short Term Thinking Guarantees Failure
One constant presence during my corporate work has been the EPA. Established in 1970 by President Nixon, it has been of vital service to the American people and to the business community. That’s why it’s disturbing to see President Trump’s plan to cut EPA’s 2018 budget by 25% and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget, one of the federal government premier climate science agencies, by 26%. The latter cut would eliminate critical funding for climate change related science programs, including the satellite data division, which is a key repository of climate and environmental information.
While many polluters grumble about the EPA’s powers, forward-looking businesses appreciate its consistent dedication to science, education and the tools it provides. The Center for Corporate Climate Leadership is one such example. In 2015, 365 companies and investors came together in a show of support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
“Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality,” wrote the businesses, including industry giants such as General Mills, Mars Inc., Nestle, Staples, Unilever and VF Corporation. “Clean energy solutions are cost effective and innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, businesses rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to cut costs and improve corporation performance.”
Businesses are Stepping Up
Responsible companies, who are used to assessing both risk and return, are stepping up in ways they never have before. Over 1000 companies have signed the Climate Declarationand since November 2016 more than 760 companies and investors have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement. More than 600 companies with over $8.1 trillion in annual revenue have now made over a thousand ambitious commitments as part of the We Mean Business coalition’s take action campaign. Meanwhile the prospect of stranded assets even has Exxon setting an internal price on carbon, alongside Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Bank of America and others.
States and Cities are Engaging
At the state and city level, there is also significant momentum. 100 Resilient Cities is looking intensely at so-called "sub-national" climate action. In Washington State, despite the failure to pass the first US carbon tax initiative in November, there are now three carbon-pricing bills that have been introduced during the 2017 session. Similar bills are being introduced in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) is mobilizing companies to support these initiatives. Finally, the newly formed 'Climate Leadership Council', a conservative group including former Secretaries of State Baker and Shultz, has put forward a national plan for a carbon tax with the revenue going back to households in the form of a dividend.
As one of my colleagues says, “ the trend is our friend ”, but we cannot be complacent. The momentum has created a backlash by those with vested interests in maintaining both a fossil fuel based economy, and the associated concentration of wealth and power. We have witnessed this before, but the difference today is that the stakes are higher and the anti-science agenda more overt. The Trump administration is using the false promise of restoring jobs in coal and oil to wage war both on the EPA and on climate science. This has nothing to do with helping the American people and everything to do with dark money.
Dr. Jonathon Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences says in his recent blog, “The greatness of America is strengthened by science—it helps us lift people up, improve the human condition, and build a better world... science can build a future where people and nature thrive together, for generations to come. Ignoring science will doom us to an impoverished, degraded world.”
Time for Action
Scientists are, thankfully, fighting back. The recently formed 314 Action PAC had 2,500 people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math sign up for training on how to run for office. The U.S. business community needs to also step up its game. We have to vigorously defend our scientists, the EPA, and demand that we get the climate and energy policies that will lead us to a clean, prosperous and more equitable future.
Sarah Severn is a sustainability consultant, strategic advisor for Washington Business Climate Action and board member of the American Sustainable Business Council and Forum for the Future U.S.
The proposed Clean Fuel Standard for Washington is well-designed to achieve two vital objectives: the reduction of greenhouse gas pollutants that cause climate change, and the expansion of in state production of low carbon fuels. It's a triple win for economic, environmental and energy security goals.
During my 20 plus years at Nike Inc, before I moved to Washington State a large portion of my work was focused on helping Nike reduce its greenhouse gas footprint across multiple pathways. I also led the establishment of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy. Those two decades showed me how many businesses, not just Nike, have stepped up to embrace clean energy, and yet time and again I witnessed fossil fuel interests get in the way of genuine progress, particularly in the area of policy. I am seeing that same pattern repeat itself here in Washington State. Meanwhile businesses that are trying to deploy clean energy or provide innovative, low carbon solutions at a local level are being ignored and the health of our citizens is being compromised.
A Clean Fuel Standard is an important step in the direction of a fossil free future. It would create substantial opportunities to expand agricultural jobs in rural counties producing sustainable biomass feedstocks including canola, camelina and animal fats. In addition, low carbon fuels increasingly can be produced from waste oils (biodiesel), separated municipal solid wastes (ethanol and drop in fuels), and dairy manure and waste organics (renewable natural gas). The increasing demand for these waste-derived fuels reduces landfilling, nutrient waste run-offs, and other negative environmental consequences, and transforms waste into feedstock.
We know this will work. California’s low carbon fuel program has been in place for five years, has reduced 10 million metric tons of carbon pollution, and is invisible to its citizens. Based on a recent status review completed by the University of California at Davis, there is ample supply of low carbon fuels and California’s program is currently costing citizens less than half a penny per gallon of gasoline.
Over the long-term, a Clean Fuel Standard will save Washingtonians millions of dollars by creating new jobs in the state, reducing demand for gasoline, enabling the production of fuel from waste and agricultural by-products, and providing a market window for electric vehicles that cost consumers less on a per mile basis. My own very affordable Smart fortwo, zero emissions electric car achieves 3.7miles per Kwhr. That’s costing me about 70 cents a day to drive an average of 30 miles, a lot less than the gasoline version, and with vastly reduced maintenance costs. It has a lot of fans amongst the local community here.
Ultimately we need consistency across the West Coast region. OR and CA both have low carbon fuel programs and have managed to resist efforts by the oil industry to derail them. Governor Kate Brown signed the clean fuels bill into law in March, despite attacks by the oil industry. The Western States Petroleum Association even wrote the framework for a clean fuels replacement proposal and are suing in federal court to block implementation. For now the bill stands..
In February of this year Ryan Deckert of Oregon Business Association (OBA) said “The Clean Fuels Program meets the test of incenting economic development here in Oregon. California's program has attracted more than $5 billion in the clean transportation industry. Oregon should work to capitalize on the same benefits of innovation.” Washington business groups should show the same level of long term thinking and resist oil industry scare tactics. Choosing between clean fuels and a transportation package is a false choice. We can and should have both.
Originally posted on ASBC website.
In October 2014, 100 companies joined together and launched the Washington Climate Declaration, a state level version of the national Climate Declaration created by CERES. Since launching, that number has increased to 185 signatories, including several business associations including ASBC, who believe that taking action on climate just makes good business sense.
Collectively, we are known as Washington Business for Climate Action. Our leadership team is made up of business people from across Washington State and our mission is to engage Washington businesses by providing opportunities for education, innovation, and advocacy on climate and energy that meet the needs of a diverse range of business sectors.
WBCA is also linked to a broader effort in the state - the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. This is a fast growing coalition of diverse constituencies that includes business, labor, communities of color, health, faith based groups and environmental NGOs. We are uniting to support reducing carbon pollution and promote just and sustainably shared prosperity.
Meanwhile, the Washington legislature is stalled over HB 1314, Governor Inslee’s bill that would introduce a cap and trade system and put a price on carbon. The initial version of the bill did not make it into the House budget, and a revised version is now under consideration.
While many businesses have testified in favor of capping and pricing carbon pollution, the prospects for HB 1374 still appear cloudy, due to a divided legislature. Therefore, the next step is likely to involve developing an initiative for the people to vote on. There are good indications from prior polls that this would be popular with voters.
When it comes to setting a price on carbon, business appears to generally fall into one of two camps:
The Business as Usual voice
Sarah Severn is a board member of ASBC. After 21 years at Nike Inc., she relocated to Washington State. She is currently consulting and acting as a coordinator for Washington Business for Climate Action.
CEOs Lead on Climate Progress
Social media has been alive with excitement about an open letter from 43 CEOs to the leaders of our national governments. They express in unequivocal terms that these governments should act swiftly to follow the scientific consensus, put a price on carbon, end deforestation and facilitate investment in low carbon energy and technologies.
I applaud these CEOs for taking this leadership position on climate change. It is an important strategic move by companies who understand what is at risk in their value chains, and have woken up to the fact governments need to act. But we need more.
This is not the first time that CEOs have signed on to communiques and letters of urgency. It’s an important step, but now I urge these CEOs to connect with people directly – speak to their employees, their customers and the public. Communicate that we are in the middle of the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, but that we are up to the challenge if we work together and marshal our vast resources to stop the Tsunami headed our way.
I also urge these CEOs to stand up and take on the fossil fuel industry head on, and let that industry know that it isn’t business as usual anymore.
As Winston Churchill said. "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."
Washington, California, Oregon, Northeastern U.S. states and countries like China and Mexico, are taking significant action on climate change. With CEOs leading the charge across the United States and other nations, think about how much we can accomplish.
I spent Monday of this week in Spokane getting educated on clean fuels. I listened in on a public hearing that the DOE was holding, and met with business leaders who are at the forefront of clean fuels development.
The topic of a clean fuels standard (CFS) can get pretty wonky, but the basic premise is that providers and importers in Washington State need to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels by 10% over a period of ten years.
Having worked for a company that regularly set stretch targets on carbon reduction this target seems remarkably unambitious, but then I suppose it all depends on your perspective. If your main product is oil, then the CFS represents a threat, albeit small, to business as usual because it catalyzes and supports investment in and production of a diverse range of clean, home grown fuels, That's good for the economy of the state, which currently spends $14bn on imported oil and it also helps us bring down greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector which accounts for 47% of our footprint.
So what types of clean fuels are we talking about? This is the side that fascinates me because it's all about innovation. Pacific Coast Canola, located in Warden, Washington, operates the largest expeller pressed canola processing plant in North America. They provide raw material to Imperium Renewables, based in Grey's Harbor that has the nation's largest biodiesel plant. Both companies are committed to sourcing locally and helping to build an entirely new industry, with good jobs.
Tim Foster, CEO of Patriotic Motors is converting gas powered vehicles to electric. Somewhere in La Jolla, CA there is a Porsche Boxster he converted that can do 0-60 in 2.3 seconds. Personally I'm happy to stick with my electric Smart, but even that has great acceleration.
As Mr McGuire says to Ben in my favorite movie The Graduate, "I've got one word for you," only it's not plastics, it's algae. This technology has massive potential because it's very cost competitive and uses much less land than other crop based bio fuels, and it sequesters CO2. Algenol’s patented technology enables the production of ethanol, gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for around $1.30 per gallon each using proprietary algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide (often from utilities) and saltwater. It can reduce fuel intensity by 68%.
Alex Levy of Imperium Renewables stated at the public hearing that they are operating reduced production capacity because there is no CFS in place in Washington. The CFS will help all these companies get the long term certainty that they need for their significant investments, it will give consumers choices they have never had before, and it will help clean our air. It's working in California, and it can work here.
I had just begun writing this post , around 7.45pm, when my husband called me out onto the deck with one word, "whales". We have one rule in our household, and that is no matter what you are doing, the pause button gets hit when the Orcas come by. In February it's rare to see or hear our Southern Residents, but they are unmistakeable, and tonight there were plenty, breaking the stillness with their breath. Even our 5 month old rowdy puppy was spellbound.
This took my thoughts in a different direction. The whales' appearance made me ponder on the connection between clean fuels, salmon, the health of the Salish Sea, and the lives of this iconic endangered species.
Earlier today Washington Business for Climate Action hosted a webinar on clean fuels, which I had helped organize. With speakers from The Union of Concerned Scientists, NextGen Climate America and E2 we were given a clear view of the future for Washington State, as well as the potential for the Pacific Coast. An economy running on half the oil we currently use, with an abundant and diverse source of clean fuels that can easily meet our needs. UCS has an excellent fact sheet and blog on the potential for Washington. With around 45% of our carbon emissions coming from transportation the development of a diverse supply of new clean fuels is a key component of reducing our carbon footprint.
So what does this have to do with the Orcas? One of the largest potential threats to their continued existence and to the ecosystem of the Salish Sea, is the growing quantity of oil transportation, post notably from the Tar Sands. A major oil spill would be completely devastating to a species already severely compromised by a shortage of salmon, toxic loads from persistent organic pollutants, boat traffic and noise. For a more in-depth analysis of this read this article from SeattleMag .
UCS and other studies show that we have plenty of production capacity for clean fuels here in Washington state, now we just need the political will to move forward with a clean fuels standard. For those interested find more information here.
On January 27th a group of businesses headed to Olympia to the house committee hearing on HB1314, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act. They were members of Washington Business for Climate Action, a group founded with the signing of the Washington Business Climate Declaration and co-chaired by Brenna Davis of Virginia Mason, and Kevin Wilhelm of Sustainable Business Consulting. More than 150 major employers in Washington, including Vulcan, Microsoft and REI are signatories to the declaration and a lively subset of the group was there to provide testimony and support for a price on carbon.
They were also there to participate in the launch of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a diverse coalition of business, labor, environmental groups and community organizations that is dedicated to reducing global warming pollution and strengthening the state economy.
The Governor's proposal is offering a market based solution to limit carbon emissions contributing to climate change, and invest revenues in the foundations of our economy: education and transportation. It would also provide tax relief for manufacturers and working families who may be exposed to higher energy costs. A price on carbon is actually a progressive tax, rather than a regressive one, such as a sales tax or a direct gas tax. It eliminates the things we don't want - carbon emissions - rather than penalizing the things we do - consumer spending and jobs. Most businesses should embrace it and indeed the forward looking ones do.
Most, but not all of the businesses that would be immediately regulated under the scheme are predictably resisting efforts to put a price on carbon, and I would have some sympathy if this scenario had not been solidly tested in the North Eastern States and California and a surprising number of other jurisdictions around the world. Even China will be introducing a Cap and Trade scheme. For those with a vision to the future the economic costs of inaction are clearly in their sights. NWave Seattle, a company that would be regulated under the bill, is one such company. They view this as an opportunity to level the playing field for other forms of renewable energy in which they are investing.
Some businesses are sitting on the fence, maintaining that they prefer the certainty of a carbon tax (which fixes the price per ton for carbon, but gives less certainty on reductions achieved) rather than cap and trade (which sets the emissions limit, while allowing the market to determine the price). To some extent this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the boat is sinking. The real issue is that we need a price on carbon, we need it today, and this bill is currently the best option. We can put the state on course to meet its statutory obligations, as well as going a long way to solving the state's budget woes.