Monday, June 26, 2006

Changing the Footprint

Have you heard the name Wangari Maathai? That was the question Bob Ferguson put to me. I'd met Bob for the first time that morning on the tennis court, after which we got some coffee. Bob was a distributor with Shaklee (, a health and wellness firm.

Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, became a Nobel Peace Laureate in 2004. The Shaklee Corporation donated $100,000 in order to help Maathai plant some one million trees in Kenya. In 2000 Shaklee had become the first organization to be certified "climate neutral" by the Climate Neutral Network (

More and more today we're hearing the term climate neutral, as well as calls for both individuals and organizations to reduce their environmental "footprint."

The phrase climate neutral refers to a company's product or service that has little or no effect on the earth's climate. In other words, emitting little or no greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chloroflurocarbons, carbon monoxide and small amounts of other gases).

In order to get certified a company must first make "internal reductions" within its own organization and then invest in offsets to reduce the remaining greenhouse gas emissions. Tree planting would be considered one of many types of possible offsets because trees take in carbon dioxide.

Regardless of the reasons why a company might embark on climate neutral strategies, it is in fact occurring throughout the world, from carpet companies and hotel chains to aircraft engine manufacturers like Boeing and financial service organizations such as JPMorganChase.

But as many organizations are finding out, it is often easier to declare climate neutral strategies than it is to clearly quantify and measure results. For example, when a particular company interacts with a diverse group of firms or suppliers in order to create and produce a specific product or service, how is credit divided up?

Joel Makower and ( have spent a good deal of time thinking and writing about climate neutral policies. Makower has pointed out that a world commodity market now exists for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. There's money in it--and the incentive for many an organization or investor to declare its climate neutral "worthiness."

In building an automobile, for example, how much credit does the aluminum industry receive when it improves existing technology or for that matter spends millions developing new technology, which ultimately ends up in new cars, making them lighter, thus causing carbon reductions? What about the automotive manufacturer? How do you quantify his credit for redesigning new cars, possibly making them less wind resistant and more fuel-efficient? What about government itself? To what degree do tougher regulatory standard drive the changes? Last but not least is the actual consumer. Does that person receive any credit for purchasing the particular car?

But if climate mitigation for the entire planet is a valued--and critical--objective, who should ultimately establish the overarching criteria and goal? Clearly a lot of bright individuals and farsighted organizations are now thinking about climate neutral ideas as well as implementing policies; but much is still missing, perhaps the most important component. The fact that there might be an enlightened company somewhere outside of Paris tells you one thing: One company outside of Paris has implemented some climate neutral policies.

According to the U.N. Climate Secretariat, carbon dioxide emissions went up to 15.1 billion tons in 2004 from 14.5 billion in 1990. The Greenland ice sheet, broad enough to cover an area the size of Mexico, is deteriorating faster than it was only a few years ago. How do we want to proceed? It strikes me as being somewhat more than a mere business school exercise.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I've ended up trying a few of Shaklee's products.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gone Hiking

Heading off to the Pacific Northwest to do some hiking, gaze at some beautiful scenery, and perhaps visit a couple of national parks to see if there is any noticeable deterioration. Under this current American government budgets have been slashed and staff cuts have been made throughout our national parks system. Some national park bookstores are supposedly carrying biblical fairytales stating that the Earth is only six or seven thousand years old.

On June 8, 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a law protecting the natural and cultural resources of the United States. The Antiquities Act, as it's known today, gives the President the authority to protect national landmarks. I suppose under this current American president we should be grateful we even have something like the Antiquities Act, to at least slow down human depredation. Developers and the fossil fuel industry are now eying these heretofore-protected areas.

Speaking of landmarks, pressure has been mounting from scientists to get the UN World Heritage Sites Committee to acknowledge that some of the world's most important sites have been damaged by climate change brought on by greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these sites include the great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef, the Waterton-Glacier Park along the US and Canadian border, and the Husascaran National Park in Peru.

The signatories to the Heritage Sites agreement (including the U.S.) state that they will not damage listed sites. The petition brought by scientists to the UN, if successful, could have poor countries being able to sue richer countries for not doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's expected that the United States government will oppose this petition.

No one said it would be easy!