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..

Next Page: How businesses can do better for their customers and efforts to quell the climate change.