Thursday, October 23, 2008

Climate Does Count

“When consumers come together, companies absolutely listen,” says Wood Turner, a Duke graduate and Project Director for Climate Counts, a non-profit organization that scores the nation’s largest corporations every year on their efforts to reduce climate change.

By providing information about the green or not-so-green activities of companies through pocket-sized pamphlets and its website, Climate Counts hopes to “activate the choices and voices of a climate conscious consumer,” Turner told a Duke audience this week. An informed consumer can “vote with their dollars” by supporting companies that are taking action to combat climate change and avoiding companies that are not.

The organization scores companies based on 22 criteria in 4 categories. Based on their scores in these four categories, corporations are rated as being environmentally “stuck,” “starting,” or “sprinting.” All of the organization’s scores are verified by a third party. Climate Counts targets the country’s largest corporations because they are the biggest emitters, releasing untold tons of greenhouse gases every year.

“If the 100 largest companies reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, it would be equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road,” Turner said. “It’s the same as meeting the goals of the Kyoto protocol.”

Turner asserted that while Climate Counts takes a hard line on companies’ actions to prevent climate change, the organization is essentially pro-business. “We’re trying to motivate companies, not hammer on companies.... We’ve set out to be a positive collaborator with business.”

Turner raised the point that companies can actually save money by reducing their carbon footprint, because inefficiently used energy is just money spent. The fast food industry, in particular, could benefit from increased efficiency; 80% of its energy is wasted through inefficient buildings and food storage. In its ratings, Climate Counts gave McDonald’s 27 points out of a hundred. Burger King and Wendy’s International, on the other hand, received goose eggs. Not very promising.

However, 84% of the companies Climate Counts rated last year have improved their scores. This improvement cannot be attributed to the efforts of Climate Counts alone, but Climate Counts certainly has a great potential to “call out” companies for their lack of attention to environmental issues. Climate Count’s website,, allows visitors to send email directly to the corporations that are rated. Some companies, overwhelmed by hundreds of emails, are shamed into taking action to reduce their impact.

“Environmental issues have been relegated to the bowels of these companies for a long long time,” Turner said. “Our process has moved these issues from the bowels to the boardroom.”

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