Author Archives: Andrew Winston

The Challenge of Climate Math

A nerd hasn’t been this popular since, well, ever. Nate Silver, the creator of the election poll statistical hub FiveThirtyEight was declared the clear winner in the Presidential election. And on Fox News, election math was at the center of one of the most bizarre on-air moments in memory.

The numbers discussion then seeped over from polls to other politically charged topics such as climate change. David Frum, President George W. Bush’s speechwriter, tweeted this gem: “Horrible possibility: if the geeks are right about Ohio, might they also be right about climate?”

This awakening about the math (and physics) of climate change has coincided with climate activist Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour, an awareness-raising series of events that criss-crossed the country in November. The tour was inspired by McKibben’s incredible essay in Rolling Stone magazine, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

In this article, McKibben lays out 3 fundamental climate numbers: to stay below (1) 2°C of warming(the limit the world’s scientists have said might help us avoid the worst of climate change), we can only burn (2) 565 more gigatons (a billion tons) of carbon dioxide, which will force a battle with the fossil fuel industry since it has (3) 2,795 gigatons in reserve. These are important numbers to wrap your head around, but what do they really mean for countries and companies? How fast do we have to change?

To answer these tough questions, we can turn to two of the world’s best number crunchers, McKinsey and PwC (full disclosure: I have a consulting partnership arrangement with PwC US). This past fall, PwC released its Low Carbon Economy Index 2012 report, which calculated one simple, powerful number: In order to meet the 2°C warming target, we will need to reduce the global carbon intensity (how much carbon it takes to produce every unit of energy or GDP) by 5.1% every year until 2050. For perspective, in 2011 carbon intensity improved just 0.8%.

This number provided another view on some similar math from McKinsey, which concluded that the ratio of global GDP per ton of CO2 would need to rise tenfold by 2050.

OK, so the math is not pretty, but it is what it is. And it’s not like the world is ignoring the challenge entirely. Here are some numbers that make me feel better:

  • $2.2 trillion: The size of the “climate economy” by 2020 according to the bank HSBC
  • $372 billion: China’s budget for energy conservation and anti-pollution measures over the next few years
  • $260 billion: Global clean energy investment in 2011
  • $109 billion: Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in its solar industry over 20 years
  • 50%: the portion of Germany’s entire electric demand satisfied by solar energy during one sunny day in May, a world record

These are great macro stats. But the brutal logic of the McKibben, PwC, and McKinsey numbers applies at the microeconomic level as well. Meaning, I believe, companies need to acknowledge the math and shoot for a 5% reduction in carbon per year.

It’s not so crazy. The early leaders have a good start. Dow Chemical has reduced energy costs $9 billion since 1994. Walmart has improved the fuel efficiency of its distribution fleet by 69% since 2005. A large consumer products company — which tells me it will be going public with this story very soon — has already cut carbon in its own operations by 80%.

Of course, the entire private sector will not achieve these results on its own. We will need strong global policies and a price on carbon. But given how profitable many organizations are finding the low carbon quest to be, they shouldn’t wait.

While it’s a myth that companies make all decisions on ROI calculations (what was the exact return on that Super Bowl ad?), we do claim to love hard-nosed numbers. Let’s not let politics or fear of the size of the task ahead get in the way of today’s climate math.

Climate data has trumped politics in the past. According to an op-ed by Cass Sunstein, the Harvard professor and co-author of the great book Nudge, Ronald Reagan embraced aggressive action to solve the problem of ozone depletion because he believed the cost-benefit analysis. Basically, it was cheaper to act than not to. Similarly, the math on climate action is getting better every day as the costs of inaction rise. As Sunstein points out, Hurricane Sandy will likely cost the country $50 billion (New York’s Governor Cuomo has already asked for $35 billion in federal aid).

Climate math is simply a constraint on the imaginary formula that is business as usual. But constraints drive innovation. We in the business community respect numbers and the best companies love challenges. Let’s prove it.

This post originally appeared at AndrewWinston.com on November 16, 2012, and is reposted with permission.

 

How Walmart’s Green Performance Reviews Could Change Retail for Good

 

Walmart’s efforts to green its supply chain are about to get much more effective. Sustainability will now play a role in its merchants’ performance reviews, which help determine pay raises and potential for future promotion. This is a big deal: these merchants are high-level managers responsible for multibillion-dollar buying decisions. They’re the people who determine which products appear on the shelves of the world’s largest retailer.

Some quick background: Walmart deserves praise for its industry-leading sustainability successes, such as improving its fleet fuel efficiency by 69% and becoming the nation’s leading commercial buyer of solar energy. The company’s most important sustainability initiative — the pressure it puts on its 100,000 suppliers to improve their environmental performance — has changed how thousands of products are made, packaged and sold.

For the past five years, Walmart has built sturdy scaffolding around what could be a world-beating green supply chain, including:

  • Developing Sustainable Value Networks, which bring together major suppliers with cross-functional internal teams to tackle issues from packaging to waste to energy use.
  • Asking 100,000 suppliers to answer and provide data on 15 environmental impact questions.
  • Building the Sustainability Consortium (TSC) with many of the world’s largest consumer products companies and big retail competitors. TSC created metrics to evaluate suppliers and their products on environmental and social performance, and Walmart has integrated these metrics into its own supplier Sustainability Index and scorecards.

But greening its supply chain has been a tough task. Suppliers have repeatedly voiced one critical and legitimate complaint: Walmart’s merchants don’t really take sustainability into account when they make buying decisions. This flaw in Walmart’s green supply chain program has threatened to undermine the foundations of a highly-touted and important initiative.

In essence, the suppliers and other stakeholders have told the company, according to Walmart’s Sustainability director Jeff Rice, “It’s great to ask your suppliers questions, but it only matters if you do something with the information.” In their view, the company has continued to choose the products it sells primarily on price.

But now, in addition to Walmart’s long-standing, laser-like focus on cost, its merchants will have to consider sustainability in their buying decisions — or risk a weak performance review. And all because of a simple shift in incentives.

Jeff Rice gave me a great example of how this change is already working, in the form of how Walmart selects the personal computers it sells. Laptops use a lot of energy over their lifetime, and a big driver of energy use is the default setting on power management. These settings determine how fast (if at all) the computer goes to sleep or when the screen dims. Using the index scorecards I mentioned above, Walmart’s laptop buyer identified energy use as the biggest determinant of the computer’s total lifecycle footprint and emissions.

The buyer then discovered that only 30% of the laptops sold at Walmart ship with the advanced energy-saving settings in place. To compound the problem, the company’s research shows that most consumers leave such settings at factory default. So late in 2012, the laptop buyer set a new goal for herself: to increase the percentage of laptops sold with the advanced power settings from 30% to 100% by this Christmas. This single product shift will reduce CO2 emissions by hundreds of thousands of metric tons and save customers money on their electric bills.

Rice told me that performance evaluations for buyers only include a handful of targets, and all are discussed thoroughly at annual reviews. Sustainability performance won’t determine the entire evaluation, of course, but it’s high profile enough that it should affect behavior.

Incentives matter and cultures shift over time. Hard-won operational changes like modifying performance reviews may not be sexy, but the results can be profound. And when it’s the world’s largest retailer changing its buying criteria, the ripples will likely be felt around the world.

This piece was originally published on October 10, 2012 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

Politicians Who Deny Climate Change Cannot Be “Pro-Business”

It finally seems to be dawning on many Americans that there’s something to this climate change thing. The historic drought has been hard to ignore. While belief in a long-term trend because it’s hot out right now is a bit ridiculous, it’s a start.

 

You can see a shift in how the media covers weather. The statement “because of climate change…” is often stated clearly without caveats such as, “what some scientists think may be a warming planet.” You see it in the UN calling for action to help the hungry cope with rising food prices “in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

And you see it in the growing number of mega-corporations — including America’s Alcoa, Coca-Cola, Cisco, HP, J&J, Nike, and P&G — signing on to the “2 Degree Challenge Communiqué,” a call for the world’s governments to take strong action to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is basically accepted as fact the world over. But you wouldn’t know it watching our political conventions (or at least one of them). So while the world seems to be waking up to a fundamental, existential threat to our species (and not to “the planet,” which will be fine with or without us), the US policy debate remains mostly deaf, dumb, and blind.

Climate change has become a political “third rail,” harder to talk about than changing Social Security or Medicare. We didn’t hear any mention of it at the GOP convention, except as a punchline, and we didn’t hear much at the DNC convention…except for one quick, but important, remark from President Obama. Former President Clinton mentioned energy efficiency and Vice President Biden said the words “clean energy” once. But then President Obama, after duly noting the chance to create more natural gas jobs, spoke about building wind turbines and reducing dependence on foreign oil. Finally, he stepped firmly on the third rail: “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke; they are a threat to our children’s future.”

This is great, but let’s not get too excited. One line does not a policy make.

Still, Obama’s admission that climate change is real (a low bar for showing leadership these days) is light years from Governor Romney’s dismissive attitude. His convention speech mocked President Obama for his earlier promise to “begin to slow the rise of the oceans.” Romney offered instead to “help you and your family” — as if the health and state of our entire planet has nothing to do with the health of our families.

Here’s what makes the general silence on climate and the mocking from the self-identified pro-business party so absurd: tackling climate change is the smartest thing we can do for both our public health and our private sector. Reducing carbon emissions from our power plants, cars, and factories cleans the air and saves a lot of money. At the macro level, the burning of coal alone costs the U.S. about $350 billion per year in health (asthma, heart attacks, and so on) and pollution costs. At the micro level, from companies down to households, the opportunities to get lean and save money are vast.

But more strategically, tackling carbon is an immense economic opportunity. Here’s billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson on the upside potential:

“I’ve described increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as one of the greatest threats to the ongoing prosperity and sustainability of life on the planet. The good news is that creating businesses that will power our growth, and reduce our carbon output while protecting resources, is also the greatest wealth-generating opportunity of our generation. [There is no] choice between growth and reducing our carbon output.”

This quest will drive innovation and create millions of jobs for some lucky companies and countries. Is this multi-trillion-dollar opportunity something we really want to miss out on? The other major economies are not sitting this one out. Germany is quickly moving its electric grid to renewables. China is committing hundreds of billions of dollars to energy efficiency and much more to the clean economy in general.

But let’s say you don’t buy the argument that fighting climate change keeps us competitive globally, saves trillions of dollars, and generates new wealth. Then how about the overwhelming national security rationale? Using less oil, for example, reduces funding to petro-dictators around the world. The former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, puts is very bluntly: “Your gas money funds terrorism.”

On this score the difference between the parties is stark. The DNC’s platform includes the words “climate change” at least 18 times and lists it as an “Emerging Threat” along with cybersecurity, biological weapons, and transnational crime. While “emerging” may not be the word I’d choose, it’s leaps and bounds beyond the GOP’ s party platform, which mentions climate change just once…and again, only to mock it. Their platform complains that the Obama administration has elevated “climate change” (with the sarcastic quotation marks) to the level of a severe threat to our security.

But let’s be clear: it’s not the Democrats or even President Obama specifically that declared climate change a national security threat. That would be the Pentagon in its Quadrennial Defense Reviewtwo years ago.

A strong plan to tackle climate change through government policy, business innovation, and citizen action is not just something that’s not optional; it’s preferable. Moving away from carbon to a cleaner economy makes us healthier, more profitable, and more secure.

My work is not political — I try to help companies create business value from sustainability and green thinking, so I normally avoid these kinds of discussions. But the discrepancy in party positions on this most critical issue has become too extreme to ignore.

There’s blame on both sides, but let’s not pretend the two parties neglect climate change equally. Yes, it’s a shame that most Democrats will not stand up and proudly stand behind many of the positions in their own platform. But the GOP’s denial of climate science, and all the risks and opportunities it presents, is surreal.

Their views and policies on climate won’t help our businesses deal with, and profit from, the largest market shift we’ve ever seen. And they won’t help prepare our country for the hard realities of life in the 21st century.

This piece was originally published on September 9, 2012 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

Climate Reality

 

I believe in science and facing facts or, to borrow words from an important awareness-building event today, I believe in “climate reality.” I’m donating this blog space to point people to the Climate Reality Project , Vice President Gore’s latest attempt to light a fire under everyone about our climate.

In my work, I try to convey the benefits of going green to executives around the world. I generally avoid talking about climate change, at least in the U.S. where it’s such a political hot potato. So instead I demonstrate how profitable it is to reduce your footprint (including carbon), regardless of the science on climate change.

My basic logic is this: decoupling our companies and economy from fossil fuels, and oil in particular, is just good business. By reducing energy use and carbon pollution, companies save money, reduce the risk that comes from relying on volatilely-priced fuels, and reap the benefits of taking part in the clean economy, which will drive innovation and generate vast wealth. But it’s also a matter of national security (which is why the U.S. Navy is greening itself faster than any company I know). So, no, it doesn’t matter if you “believe” in climate change.

But every now and then, I have to state clearly what I believe. Saying “it doesn’t matter” is true, but it’s not leveling with everyone about the depth of the challenge.

So here’s my belief: The scientific evidence that the earth is warming and humans are the primary cause is vast, overwhelming, and very convincing. We are destabilizing our one home, and it’s endangering our economies, communities, and even our species. The fundamental change in how the planet works – which has begun already with record droughts, floods, heat waves, and storms – is larger than we realize..

I think a lot about what a “real” approach on climate would mean for business, which will play a pivotal role in finding and spreading solutions to our energy and climate challenges. While many companies have begun the hard work, they need to step up their game.

On the day-to-day level, that means setting much more aggressive carbon reduction goals (80 to 100% reduction by mid-century or sooner). A few leaders, such as Wal-Mart, P&G, and Sony have set 100% renewables (and/or “zero impact”) as goals. The rest of the business world needs to follow, and truly lay out a path to get there.

On the larger level, companies need to pursue what I call “heretical” innovation that rethinks business models and provides goods and services with dramatically reduced environmental footprint (see my blogs on this, here and here).

I see a deep parallel in all of this with one of strategy guru Jim Collins’ major principles in Good to Great: “Confront the brutal facts.” Collins makes a compelling case that businesses won’t succeed if they don’t tell themselves the truth.

The same logic applies to each of us as individuals, and to all of us collectively as a country and planet. It’s time to confront our brutal facts — our climate reality — and get moving.

This piece was originally published on September 13, 2011 on AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

 

Eco-Labeling: The Critical Questions to Ask

Will we see the day when all products carry environmental labels with data on carbon emissions and other impacts? Recent news tells us a definitive…maybe. Within a couple days of each other, GM announced new eco-labels for some Chevy models, while UK mega-retailer Tesco pulled back from an important 4-year experiment in carbon labeling.

 The attempt to give corporate buyers and end consumers more sustainability data about the products they are purchasing has had a somewhat tortured history. The Tesco experience in particular highlights a few big questions about green data labeling.

Tesco has been a leader in sharing carbon footprint information with consumers, having reviewed and labeled over 500 products. The company’s efforts came on the heels of Pepsi’s first foray into labeling with its Walkers potato chips brand, also in the UK. Since then, however, it has been running up against the most important questions about how to make data labeling work:

Which products “need” it? It makes a lot more sense to put information on a car, which is a purchase people research heavily and one that has a significant impact on a household’s carbon emissions. Your potato chips, not so much.

What type of information should be provided (if any)? Is the carbon footprint the most useful data for customers to have? Or total energy use during the product’s lifetime? The best thing to share will depend heavily on the product – the labels on energy hogs like light bulbs, air conditioners, and cars should tell us the total energy use and cost to operate over a year or the product’s lifetime. For milk or snacks, the energy used to get it to shelves makes sense, but again, may not be helpful for consumers. So even without the specific grams of carbon, a combination of qualitative and quantitative info, like on Chevy’s new labels, could still make sense in many cases.

Can you even summarize the sustainability of a product in a label? This is perhaps the toughest question and the literally hundreds of highly varying eco-labels out there attest to the challenges of trying. In some cases, like a car, maybe the concept of “sustainability” is fairly straightforward given how much of the impact comes in the “use phase” of the product — if you’re getting 50% better fuel efficiency, you know you’re reducing the impact a great deal. But how sustainable is 80 grams of carbon for a bag of chips? Heck if I know.

How much work/cost does it take to research and produce the label? Tesco made it clear that a core reason it’s stopping this process is that each product takes “a minimum of several months’ work.” It’s an interesting time to reach that conclusion because the tools for calculating footprint are evolving fast. But, and this is a big caveat, we’re a lot closer to knowing the “hot spots” in most product lifecycles (e.g., for detergent, the largest part of the footprint is the washing machine in the home), than we are to knowing the exact grams of carbon per product. That level of sophistication will come with better data and carbon allocation methods (mirroring, I suspect, the cost allocation tools accountants have developed for a century). But isn’t directionally correct information good enough in most cases?

Do consumers even care? This is the critical question, but the answer for now may not matter. Did people “care” about nutrition labels when they first came out? Probably not much, and it’s unclear if they do now, given how unhealthy Americans are in general. But then, maybe our obesity problems would be worse without the labels.

But what’s really interesting about all of this is that the consumer side of the discussion, while getting more media attention, has been less important in actually forcing change. It’s in the business-to-business world that the demands for more information on every product have really been rising. From the Sustainability Consortium for retail and consumer products — which saw its own shakeup recently with the exodus of its Executive Director after only 8 months on the job — to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition for outdoor gear and clothing, industry groups are coming together to gather data and set standards for measuring footprints.

I am confident that Tesco and other major retailers will continue to ask suppliers for carbon data and other sustainability data when picking products for their shelves and setting up special promotions. The greening of the supply chain is the most dependable of trends in the sustainability sphere because there is so much clear benefit to companies when they know their value-chain footprint, from cost savings to risk reduction to better brand storytelling.

So much of this data-gathering and ranking work will continue unbeknownst to consumers. Given how much power retailers and other B2B customers have to transform products and pre-select better options for consumers, maybe it’s actually better this way.

This piece was originally published on February 27, 2012 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

Missing the Point on Climate

The media seems intent on giving climate skeptics much more than equal time. In May, the New York Times printed a cover story about the last arrow in the climate skeptics arsenal, the argument that cloud cover will adjust to a warming world and let more heat escape to space.

The science of cloud cover is important for understanding how our climate will change and how fast, but the scientific debate here isn’t actually the point. The big problem with this article, and nearly every other discussion of climate change, is that it rests on a deeply false premise: the idea that tackling climate change will just cost too much. This is hogwash.

It does not cost more to reduce carbon emissions; it costs less. Companies, consumers, and countries save money when they reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Study after study — and the constant experience of companies saving billions in eco-efficiency — prove this point over and over.

Some great books cover this terrain well. See Climate Capitalism by Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, for example. Or explore the latest data-rich entry into the canon of eco-savings from one of its founding fathers, Amory Lovins. Just peruse the executive summary of his latest book, Reinventing Fire for the calculations.

We can cut out huge quantities of carbon from our economy while saving literally trillions of dollars at a high IRR by investing in energy efficiency — just looking at the built environment, buildings have nearly $2 trillion of untapped savings over the coming decades at an IRR of 33%. (For this story at the microeconomic level, watch this video of Tony Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, talking about the business benefits of the energy retrofit of the world’s most iconic building — a 38% cut in energy use, less than 3 year payback, higher rents from tenants.)

And none of these purely fiscal calculations include the significant health and national security benefits, which alone are enough to justify a quick exit from a carbon-based economy.

So it’s absurd, yet not shocking, that the Times lets two seemingly damning quotes in the article go completely unchallenged. First, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: “There are people trying to tell us that we have got to accept draconian changes in our way of life.” Second, the climate skeptic and self-proclaimed cloud cover savior featured in this article, Dr. Lindzen: ” “If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions.”

Very few people are looking for “draconian” changes at this point — radically more efficiency perhaps. But explain to me how insulated buildings with top-notch windows that make us more comfortable at far lower cost…or cars using no oil and causing no money to go to petro-dictators abroad…constitute threats to our way of life? Still, Rohrbacher is right to some extent but not how he intends: the longer we listen to naysayers like him and avoid making smart investments in our future, the harder the change will be. We will most certainly face draconian changes if we wait any longer. And Lindzen’s comment that we’ll save money by continuing to pump carbon, which is a waste product, into the atmosphere is just false. 

Let’s be clear: These denier statements are big, fat, ugly, dangerous, and very expensive lies.

This piece was originally published on May 1, 2012 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

 

Local Food or Less Meat? Data Tells the Real Story

produceIn an effort to hear from the leading voices in sustainability, Sustainable World Coalition will be bringing these voices to you on this blog. Our first guest is Andrew Winston, co-author of the best-seller Green to Gold and author of Green Recovery He advises some of the world’s biggest companies on environmental strategy. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewWinston. This piece was originally published on June 27, 2011 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.

In recent years, one part of the food business has rivaled organics as the hot growth area: “local” food (defined vaguely as coming from the same state or from less than 100 miles away, for example). It’s a market segment that has just about doubled in sales and number of outlets over the last decade. The world’s biggest food buyer, Wal-Mart, jumped on the bandwagon last fall and announced that it would double the amount of local food it sells (to 9 percent of all its food sales).

The idea of buying locally is not new, and farmers’ markets have been big for years. It’s become almost gospel that the food on our plates has traveled about 1500 miles to get to us. So it would seem logical that the best way to shrink your food-related carbon footprint associated would be to buy from near by. But it turns out that this assumption is wrong.

Thankfully, a couple scientists took a harder look at the data and published an analysis in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. The abstract for this article is a prime example of clear writing and good lifecycle analysis — which don’t usually go together — so check it out. But here’s the essence:

  • Food is transported a long way, going about 1,000 miles in delivery and over 4,000 miles across the supply chain.
  • But 83% of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.
  • Different foods have vastly different greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, with meat requiring far more energy to produce, and red meat being particularly egregious, requiring 150% more energy than even chicken.

So the journal article adds this up to an obvious conclusion: if you want to reduce your food’s carbon footprint, eat less meat. In short, “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”

As a numbers geek, I love this kind of analysis. Now for the caveats: none of this data should dissuade anyone from eating locally also. The footprint benefits are real, even if dwarfed by food choice. And the benefits to local economies and smaller farms are very important.

But let me repeat: just moving away from meat for one day a week is more effective than buying everything you eat locally. This number will be surprising to most people, but it’s partly why the global call for “Meatless Mondays” is gaining steam, with school systems and universities adopting the approach in cities around the world, from Baltimore to Tel Aviv.

As companies keep discovering, it really helps to run the numbers. As I’ve written about before, Pepsi discovered that the largest chunk of the footprint of its Tropicana orange juice was not in production (squeezing oranges) or in distribution (shipping heavy liquids is fuel-intensive), but in growing the oranges with natural-gas-based fertilizer.

Smart, knowledgeable execs are consistently surprised when good lifecycle data trumps seemingly solid assumptions. So we shouldn’t expect consumers to figure out the right choices themselves. Buying local food seems like the obvious choice — until you run the numbers.

We have a lot of work to do, both in companies and in our homes, to tackle climate change. Good data and analysis will let us focus on the quickest paybacks and get the most out of our efforts.

This piece was originally published on June 27, 2011 at AndrewWinston.com and is reposted with permission.