Calling on CEOs to Become Nature's Heroes

A little over a year ago, I found myself in an unusual place, for a boot maker from New Hampshire -- at the White House, in a suit.

The setting was a small group of CEOs -- principally, utility and power company execs -- meeting with heavyweights in the administration to discuss ways to advance climate and energy legislation.

It was an impressive group and an important opportunity … and served as an interesting case study of the chaos of democracy. I listened to one power exec explain that while they were sure glad to be working to get this bill passed, they wanted to make dead sure the administration knew that what they wanted in return was the government's support for new nuclear plants.

Hmm. Horse trading in a fancy room at the White House.

In the end, I went home fairly optimistic, and resolute for sure. Climate change legislation felt within our reach. The Waxman-Markey bill, which turned out to be imperfect as heck, now seems like a dream.

Flash-forward to fall 2010: Energy legislation, not to mention climate legislation, is off the table until after the November elections at the earliest and the bellwether of U.S. climate policy, AB 32 in California, is being attacked by those who claim that it will ruin our economy.

Oh, how far it seems we have fallen from the optimism of a year ago. While a few companies representing opposition to AB 32 might have money to lose in this policy battle, what we have at stake is our entire livelihood. While policymakers and a handful of businesses don't seem to get that, the rest of us in the business world have moved on.

We at Timberland have been working at building a business model that says we can earn real profit for shareholders for more than 30 years. And we do this, while pursuing our passion for preserving the place where we and our consumers love to recreate.

Over the last four years, Timberland, compelled not by policy but by common sense, led not by theory but by a desire to run a more profitable and sustainable business, has cut our carbon emissions by more than 36 percent.

Policymakers keep talking, and we keep cutting, saving money, building more sustainable products. Our approach wasn't mandated or designed by committee; it was the result of a sound business model coupled with passion for the outdoors and desire to preserve our business. It's not nuclear power plant science, it's just good boot-making business..

We can do better.

Consumers want to do the right thing. They count on their elected representatives to make good policy, and expect brands and businesses to play fair and do right. And when it comes to climate change, they want simple and clear ways to buy the goods and services they desire, in a fashion that won't destroy their planet.

Legislation putting the real price of carbon into the economy would be a good step in that direction. But only a step.

Brands have to get into the game, too -- to help consumers make the easy and good choices they want and expect.

Calling all CEOs: You can reduce your costs, increase your profits, delight your consumers and your shareholders … while helping to preserve our environment.

Jeff Swartz is the president and CEO of Timberland. A member of The Climate Group's international coalition of business leaders, he provided this post to mark Climate Week NYºC 2010. Articles, analyses and resource material about Climate Week NYºC are available at www.greenbiz.com/topic/climate-week-nyc-2010. For more information and event developments, visit www.climateweeknyc.org and Twitter @ClimateWeekNYC.
 

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