When Climate Change Gets Personal

By: Carol Pierson Holding



Steve Yuhas, a resident of wealthy California enclave Rancho Santa Fe, has become famous for his reaction to drought-imposed water restrictions. His post reads: “(People) should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful.” In a follow-on interview with the Washington Post, he added, “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live. And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.” Clearly, public shaming is not going to work on this guy.


And we’ve all heard about how Tom Selleck stealing water by the tanker-load from a fire hydrant. Selleck argues it was only illegally diverted, not stolen, but he’s still breaking the law to keep his ranch going.


On the other end of the economic spectrum are agricultural workers in San Joaquin Valley, trying to survive on water that has arsenic levels double the level considered safe. Even bathing can result in poisoning. Impoverished residents are buying bottled water just to survive.


I’ve been reading similar stories about the personal impact of climate change for at least twenty years. They range from the ridiculous to the tragic. But this year is the first time it’s struck me personally.


I live in Seattle, historically one of the top five rainiest U.S. cities with the least amount of annual sunlight. Average temperatures are mild on either end, ranging from 47 in December and January to 75 in July and August.


Dried Grass

I spend as much of my summer as I can on one of the islands north of Seattle, a verdant paradise of fir and giant maple forests reaching down to rock beaches. It gets dry and hot in August – sometimes as high as 90 degrees – and the lawn can go brown in spots, but the paths through the forest show wet spots all year round.


Except this year. Rainfall was lower than usual in the winter, and May-June was the driest ever. June was exceptionally hot, with average temperatures nine degrees higher than normal. That very hot, dry weather has continued through July.


For the first time, I am suffering because of rising temperatures that, like California’s drought, are most likely the result of climate change.


I get heat headaches that can grow into migraines. My nervous system shorts and my extremities grow numb. I can’t think clearly and typing is difficult.


Climate change is suddenly personal.


And that changes everything.


I don’t have the energy to be outraged anymore. I’m just trying to stay focused on getting through my day without taking a toxic amount of Advil to reduce the pounding in my head until the heat of the day dissipates into a blessedly cool evening.


But the sea temperature is going up too, so we don’t know how long that evening cooling will last.


Since I moved here six years ago, I’ve looked with satisfaction at climate maps where the Pacific Northwest appears as a blue crescent against the punitive reds and oranges of the rest of the United States. We’ve been self-righteous about our environmental ways that seemingly rewarded us with cool temps and blessed rain, renewable hydro-power and abundant wild seafood.


Now we’re suffering with the rest of the world.


I’ve gone from indignation that everybody else is using up resources and contributing to climate change, to fighting just to feel normal.


Though I’d hate to align myself with the likes of Tom Selleck and Steve Yuhas, they share more than they’d like with me and with the farm workers of the San Joaquin Valley: we’re all experiencing the pain of losing a piece of life that we once took for granted. It feels very different than an ideological violation. It’s visceral.


Despite our very different experiences, every one of us is compromised by the effects of climate change. At some point won’t we all see that we’re aligned in a common cause? Using water illegally addresses personal pain with a short-term solution. So does buying bottled water. Or hiding out in a dark air-conditioned room as I did last week. On the other hand, working together to mitigate climate change and insisting that our leaders do the same could give us back the lush, fertile land in Rancho Santa Fe, the San Joaquin Valley, Seattle — and all over the world for that matter. We’ll all be better off.

Photo courtesy of Stewart Long via Flickr CC

Photo courtesy of Carol Pierson Holding



Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.


CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Harvard Business School’s Plan for a Carbon Free Future

By: Carol Pierson Holding


Sunset_There has been so much good news about business embracing renewable energy that I almost didn’t give it a second thought when a Harvard Business School report called “America’s Unconventional Energy Opportunity” landed on my desk. Subtitled “A Win-Win Plan for the Economy, the Environment, and a Lower-Carbon, Cleaner-Energy Future,” I assumed it was a plan to transform our energy resources to renewables like wind and solar. States are pushing renewables too: New York State just released its roadmap for getting to 50% renewable power by 2030 by focusing on distributed generation and renewable resources.


The lead author of the HBS report is Professor Michael Porter. He is not only a globally-recognized authority on competitive strategy, he’s also works tirelessly on just causes. He created the “Social Progress Index to look beyond GDP at social and environmental factors.” Porter also co-founded FSG-Social Impact Advisors and co-developed its theory of “Shared Value” to help non-profits work with business to create social value. (Full disclosure: I am an HBS graduate and met with Porter and FSG staff.)


So it was disappointing to read that by “unconventional energy” the authors mean “…shale gas and oil resources …accessed and extracted through the process of hydraulic fracturing.”


Porter and his colleagues at HBS and management consulting firm BCG lay out their motivation:


Unconventional gas and oil resources are perhaps the single largest opportunity to improve the trajectory of the U.S. economy, at a time when the prospects for the average American are weaker than we have experienced in generations. America’s new energy abundance can not only help restore U.S. competitiveness but can also create geopolitical advantages for America. These benefits can be achieved while substantially mitigating local environmental impact and speeding up the transition to a cleaner-energy future that is both practical and affordable.


Their solution is to convert coal and oil based energy to natural gas and, when plants come to their natural end-of-life, we’ll replace natural gas with renewables. In the meantime, we’ll restore our economic supremacy by exporting cheap natural gas while reducing our own carbon emissions and energy costs. By 2060, we’d be generating zero carbon emissions from energy generation.


It’s not an easy sell. The first problem is cost. To develop our natural gas resources will require $900 billion in infrastructure investment, including new interstate pipelines, storage facilities, rail, marine and road upgrades, gathering and processing infrastructure, and export terminals. In other words we’d have to spend even more to transition to natural gas as we will spend to convert to renewables, which the report estimates at $750 billion. In the end, with Porter’s plan, we’d be stuck with all that decaying infrastructure and fracking waste. Why not put that money into renewables infrastructure starting now?


The report also calls for spending on training for higher paying jobs in natural gas. Again, why not spend money on renewable energy training instead of having to retrain workers later on? Porter’s argument is economic competitiveness — the GDP increases we would see if we push natural gas production. You can’t generate exports from wind or solar the way you can from natural gas, and ours is by far the cheapest in the world.


Many of the report’s recommendations read like a fossil fuel producers dream: in addition to some positive proposals such as imposing regulations and increasing transparency, it also advocates ending “outdated” restrictions on oil and gas exports and encouraging industry compliance with industry-led self-enforcement, even after some industry players have been seen to be systemically corrupt.


All that said, the plan has several positives that should not be overlooked. First, shifting from coal to natural gas can take about a quarter of the responsibility for the 15% carbon reduction between 2005 and 2013. It may be the only certain path to achieving the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and eliminating coal plants. Producing just half the greenhouse gases (GHG) as coal (methane aside), natural gas is, as Porter et al say, “a crucial asset in making America’s energy transition both feasible and at a competitive cost across a range of carbon reduction scenarios, at least through 2030.” And that transition is way faster than fossil fuel industry thought leaders like Shell.


As I discussed in a blog for CSRHub, Shell’s most recent future scenarios report advocates a transition to renewables by 2100. Porter’s assumes power grid alterations necessary for renewable energy will take 20-30 years, taking us to 2035-45, at which point renewables will be even more cost competitive than natural gas and will be completely phased out of power production before 2060. Working back from Shell’s prediction of 2100, that looks pretty good.


We’re all tempted to point fingers at a policy recommendation that will delay achieving a zero emissions future while bolstering fossil fuel and power businesses. Isn’t this just business as usual? Maybe, but at least this timeline is much faster than the fossil fuel industry’s. Porter’s report acknowledges that if solar and wind prices continue to fall below oil and gas prices as they have in some places like Austin, Texas, business will drive an even faster transition. It’s all about the money, and in this case, that could be a very good thing.




Carol2Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 15,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.


CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


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Why Mandatory Reporting is the Key to Better Benchmarking

Guest Author: Adriana Salazar



A well-known quote from 19th century American writer Mark Twain says “Comparison is the death of joy”, but if you’re a company wanting to create a sustainability strategy that makes business sense, what if I tell you there’s a lot to be happy about in comparing yourself with others?


And what if I tell you mandatory reporting is instrumental in helping you make these comparisons?


By others, of course, I mean your industry peers. Peer benchmarking is the process designed to assist companies in comparing themselves with each other (on specific metrics or processes for instance) in order to grow and make better strategic decisions. If we focus on sustainability benchmarking, the process naturally closes in on sustainability-relevant metrics.


So why benchmark? Companies that grasp the importance of a solid sustainability strategy (and view it as an asset rather than a hindrance) know investors increasingly value this forward-thinking approach. In addition, knowing where you stand against your competitors and identifying strengths and weaknesses for improved strategic decision-making can help your corporation drive innovation and increase bottom line benefits. But for all its benefits (if you follow the blog, you’ll know we’ve discussed this before), the benchmarking process also has its challenges. To name one, sustainability benchmarking is only as good as the data it’s based on.


If you’re a company wanting to benchmark your sustainability data against your peers, you’ll likely want to use third party tools and services offering a good range of data and allowing you to run quick and reliable comparisons on a variety of indicators. But if you think about it, the only reason your company will even have access to this type of data in the first place, is because your industry peers and competitors have made their sustainability data publicly available.


In short, data (always) matters. Good quality and publicly available metrics are at the core of sustainability benchmarking. And this is where the question of mandatory reporting comes in. The next time you hear someone complain about compulsory sustainability reporting, there’s at least one solid argument you can give them: Although voluntary reporting is fairly extended, it’s the mandatory disclosure of key (and sometimes sensitive!) data that’s going to take sustainability benchmarking to the next level. For a corporation to obtain a truly reality-based snapshot of where it stands against its peers, both industry leaders and laggards need to have previously measured and released the ‘metrics that matter’, including those they would rather not report about.


While it’s true that regulatory instruments remain largely voluntary at the global level, mandatory sustainability reporting standards and legislation are increasingly present at the national level. According to GRI’s 2013 ‘Carrots & Sticks’ publication, which analyzed the increasing number of national and international reporting policies from around the world, in 2006, 58 percent of policies were mandatory, while 7 years later, over two thirds (72 percent) of the 180 policies in the 45 reviewed countries were compulsory.


In 2013 (see image below), GRI already highlighted that sustainability reporting requirements and recommendations were on the rise in the EU. More recently, due to the December 2014 EU Directive on the Disclosure of non-financial and Diversity Information by Certain Large Undertakings and Groups, by the end of 2017 an estimated 6,000 public interest companies with over 500 employees, across 28 Member States, will be required to disclose relevant and material environmental and social information in their annual reports.





In addition, increased mandatory reporting (contributing to improve and expand the quality and availability of data for sustainability benchmarking), also means the days of greenwashing are over. Highlighting a few obscure and supposedly ‘green’ KPIs in your next sustainability report is probably not going to convince anyone. Fortunately, globally and in the past few years, sustainability reporting has taken the opposite direction (towards increased disclosure, transparency, visibility, dialogue…), and that’s something we should all be very grateful for.


There are a number of user-friendly solutions to help you benchmark. At Enablon Publisher, we partnered with CSRHub to create a benchmarking tool allowing any corporation to quickly and efficiently measure environmental, social, governance and community performance against industry peers. From a user perspective, all you have to do is enter the name of your company, select your competitors, and start benchmarking!


If the idea intrigues you, visit us at: http://publisher.enablon.com/templates/benchmark/



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Future of Work with Digital & Sustainable Trends – Webinar

How to Build a Successful Workforce – Webinar
Ideas and Insights from the Intersection of Human Motivation, Digital and
Sustainable Business Practices

Digital and Sustainable Business


According to Gartner, Inc. 84% of organizations have a remote workforce. Forrester Research predicts that by 2016, 43% of the U.S. workforce will work from home. Join us as Cynthia Figge, Co-founder & COO of CSRHub, who recently spoke at Sustainable Brands in San Diego, and Erick Mott, Founder & Principal Consultant at creatorbase, discuss how to build a successful workforce in the age of digital sustainable brands.


Join us, Wednesday 22nd July @ 1pm PDT, as we address the key issues, including:

  • What are the top workforce-related challenges that modern organizations face and why?
  • How can employees, regardless of where they work, improve their individual and team performance – and be happy in the process?
  • What will the future of work look like with more automation and digital systems across business processes – how should companies and employees prepare, now given current research?
  • Questions from the community asked in advance via Twitter; use #WorkforceSuccess15


We hope you can join us, register here and you will receive a confirmation email from GoToWebinar with all the details.


Please feel free to extend this invitation to your colleagues. The more people attend, the more diverse the conversation!


You can also participate in the conversation and post questions via twitter @elcomCMS #workforcesuccess15.





Cynthia Figge, COO & Cofounder, CSRHub
Cynthia is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, Noranda and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business.

Erick Mott, Founder & Principal Consultant, creatorbase
Many years of value creation as a consultant, executive, individual contributor, and entrepreneur at companies including creatorbase, Selectica, Oracle, Ektron, Sitecore, Lyris, Return Path, Nokia, Creator Connection, Mark Monitor, Cisco Systems, GlobalFluency, Sun Microsystems, Philips N.V., Pandiscio Design, Elm Products and CBS television. A patent holder with agency, Fortune 500, media, and startup successes; degree in Business Administration from Notre Dame de Namur University.

Annette Dockerty, Marketing Director, Elcom
Annette’s experience in digital technology, from both a marketing and innovation perspective, spans over 20 years working with major brands, universities, government and the start-up community.


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Are Elections Bad for the Climate?

By: Carol Pierson Holding


In an open letter in Grist, Bill McKibben, putative leader of the climate change movement, challenged Hillary Clinton to Seattle Beauty“use her political capital to overturn America’s energy paradigm — not slowly, around the margins, but quickly and at the core” as FDR did with World War II weapons and JFK did with space exploration.


It’s thrilling to contemplate. And she could do it. But McKibben goes on to say that climate change is not her issue. Evidence suggests that she will capitulate to oil and gas interests for the sake of her campaign war chest.


After all, even the greenest administrators in the greenest states with the most environmentally conscious constituencies are caving to the lure of fossil fuel campaign money.


You’d like to think that since we in the Pacific Northwest have staked out a green positioning which we exploit to our economic advantage, our politicians would be hyper-vigilant about steering away from fossil fuel contributions, if only for how it would look.


So you see how crazy it is that the Port of Seattle is enabling arctic drilling by berthing Shell’s Alaska drilling equipment. That decision was rushed through four months of secret meetings followed by a single public hearing, at which the commissioners voiced “discomfort,” then, with one exception, acquiesced. Port of Seattle CEO Fick signed the contract five days later.


The Port of Seattle was once the green leader. Its CEO until last year, Tay Yoshitani, an experienced port manager, was brought in to clean up corruption and take on environmental issues, to run the greenest port in the country. Companies like Walmart and Costco were publishing the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, and the Port could help.


The Port’s slogan became “Where a sustainable world is heading.”


The new CEO, Ted Fick, has different priorities. Fick’s career started at his family’s foundry business. He’s a tough businessman and an IronMan tri-athlete. He’s the first CEO ever appointed in Seattle who has no experience in either of the port’s businesses, shipping or airports, and none with public agencies.


Needless to say, he hasn’t made much mention of the port’s environmental initiatives.


But the rest of the Port’s commissioners have. The electorate is extremely sensitive to preserving the astounding beauty of Puget Sound, the body of water on which the Port’s facilities are located. Unlike the CEO, the commissioners are elected officials and had to be environmentalists if they wanted to win.


So why would they support Shell’s arctic aspirations?


Oh don’t be naïve: money of course. Seattle’s independent paper The Stranger investigated the five commissioners’ campaign contributors, and all were recipients of gifts from oil companies or the company handling Shell’s port in Seattle.


One can argue that all supporters of a port commissioner’s campaign would naturally be the port’s customers. But in hyper-green Seattle, all won their elections to some degree on their pro-environmental positions. Topping The Stranger’s list of hypocrites, Bill Bryant ran on the claim that “I am a committed conservationist.”


He’s also running for governor, so he needs the cash. And I guess he figures the electorate has short memories.


Another ecotopia travesty: Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee’s support for an oil refinery along the majestic Columbia River. The proposed facility would produce 40-45,000 barrels of oil/day from Bakken crude delivered by rail cars. The “green” pitch: the refinery would also refine biofuel, which will lower the plant’s overall carbon footprint.


Sounds a little back door doesn’t it? This is the same Jay Inslee who proudly wears the mantle of “Greenest Governor” and claims to be an ardent opponent of fossil fuels? It doesn’t add up.


But then again, it’s election season.


And Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hale, another green leader also up for re-election, spent a year quietly shepherding a plan for the Penimba propane export facility, also on the Columbia River, and thus enabled Penimba to spend $15 million on project development without protest. After virtually unanimous public opposition once it became public, Hale fervently reversed course. Of course, the dirty work is done and he’s just one vote on the port commission. As Pembina officials reacted, “Pembina has appreciated the leadership, guidance and past support of the mayor throughout the development of the project to date.”


If even those whose political fortunes depend on green policies can be swayed by a little cash, imagine how easy it will be to persuade Hillary Clinton. Still, we can dream.


Clarification from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office:  “Administration officials in Governor Inslee’s office and not Governor Inslee himself have been in conversations with Riverside Energy, though no formal proposal has been made.”


Photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylar via Flickr CC



Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.


CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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