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Most Effective First Steps for Corporate Climate Change Solutions

Energy efficiency is the most effective company-wide first steps CEOs can take to launch a climate change program.

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California Green Chemistry Initiative Energy efficiency is the most effective company-wide first steps CEOs can take to launch a climate change program, according to a team of environmental scientists and climate researchers.

The panel, which includes 54 fellows of the Switzer Foundation, an environmental non-profit, participated in a survey titled, "What the Scientists Know: How Business Leadership can Help Solve Climate Change." The survey was inspired by members of the Committee of 200, a group of women business leaders.

"The survey is designed to spark a dialogue between scientists and business leaders," said Jessica Switzer, Partner of Blue Practice Inc., which performed the survey. "We hoped to give a voice to leading U.S. scientists' concerns and create something useful that business leaders can use to develop solutions to a very large problem facing our world economy and social situation. We couldn't have a better audience to preview this than the Committee of 200."

"We often hear Switzer Fellows express their concern that 'all the science in the world won't change a thing' unless business leaders and policy-makers step forward and act on the available data," said Lissa Widoff, Executive Director of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. "With 400+ Fellows in the areas of academia, government, private industry and NGO -- and more than 50 actively studying the effects of climate change -- our Fellows are on the front lines of study and there is much to be learned from them."

To best leverage a CEOs leadership, the scientists top rankings included:

  • Improving energy efficiency of existing operations
  • Improving manufacturing and distribution
  • Converting to clean and renewable energy
  • Engaging in climate change policy discussions
  • Hiring or empowering an environmental officer

Suggestions to reduce energy consumptions included: video conferencing instead of airline travel and re-evaluating product life-cycles and other supply chain issues.

Many encouraged companies to set goals and look at how companies can create immediate and comprehensive reduction and efficiency actions.

Findings included:

  • When asked if they could "have the ear of one CEO for 30 minutes," what they would say and who they would bring, most chose CEOs from the Big Three auto manufacturers. Switzer Fellows questioned the companies' inability to offer cars with better gas mileage or produce products that lower GHG emissions. Suggestions on guests to bring to the meeting ranged from GM's customers to Amory Lovins to environmental activist Wangarai Maathai.
  • According to the Switzer Foundation survey, energy efficiency is the most effective company-wide initiative that corporate leaders can implement. A majority surveyed (84%) agreed that energy efficiency was the most productive way for business leaders to leverage their positions within their firms. Improving manufacturing and distribution (62%); engaging corporate affairs in state, federal or international policy discussions (31%); hiring or empowering an environmental officer (28%) and shifting investments to climate neutral funds and securities (23%) were also called upon as beneficial tactics.
  • Lowest on the list of suggested corporate priorities is the purchase of renewable energy credits, or RECs. The most popular "write in" suggestion was the reduction of energy consumption. Suggestions included video conferencing instead of airline travel and re-evaluating product life-cycles and other supply chain issues.
  • Climate protection is no longer just good business; it is a social justice issue. When asked which scientific finding or anecdote they would most like business leaders to know, many discussed the social inequity of climate change. In other words, those doing the least damage to the environment will likely be the first to pay -- with their lives. Relying on growing evidence of melting or collapsing ice sheets impacting water storage worldwide and the displacement of millions of people due to rising sea levels, (often citing the recently published Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change) scientists expressed concern that setting emissions targets within a set timeframe should be a businesses priority. Many encouraged companies to set goals and look at how companies can create immediate and comprehensive reduction and efficiency actions.
  • Which companies are doing the most good? When asked: "Which manufacturing or industry segment is doing a good job addressing GHG emissions?" only one company was mentioned: Interface Inc., an independently owned manufacturer and marketer of modular carpets and upholstery fabrics.
The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is a 20-year old Family Foundation with assets of $20 million whose focus is supporting environmental leadership development and environmental improvement through Fellowships, Grants and long-term professional development support of Fellows and Grantees. The core grant program of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is the Switzer Environmental Fellowship that provides a $15,000 one-year cash award to 20 selected environmental leaders who are attending graduate schools in New England and California. Recipients receive trainings, professional development support, mentoring, career coaching and a broad network of contacts in related fields.

All of the Foundation's grant programs build on the Fellowship program. The Leadership Grant Program awards grants of up to $40,000 for nonprofits to employ a Switzer Fellow in a leadership position that allows them to apply their skills and talents to a critical environmental issue and help build the capacity of the organization. The Collaborative Initiatives Fund also makes awards of up to $40,000 for projects involving two or more Fellows working jointly to press forward a policy initiative or practical strategy and which leverages resources of the Fellows' collaborating organizations. Detailed information is available on the Switzer Foundation website www.switzernetwork.org.

Blue Practice?

Blue Practice provides communications firm for a sustainable world. The firm is based in San Francisco and offers specialized marketing and public relations to sustainable companies, organizations, causes and products. www.bluepractice.com.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| first steps | energy conservation | offsets | renewable energy | climate change | carbon offset |

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