What's Next for Frustrated EPA Climate Leaders?

What's Next for Frustrated EPA Climate Leaders?

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The termination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Climate Leaders program has left many companies disappointed and looking for an alternative.

The EPA Climate Leaders Program is a well-regarded, voluntary carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction and registry program run by the U.S. government. Many Fortune 500 firms expressed frustration at the news it would be phased out next year. Here are a few representative comments we received:

"We were taken completely by surprise. The EPA Climate Leaders' methodology is the one we use globally. We now need to look for another scheme. It would have been nice to have some advance warning before the rug was pulled out from under us."
 
"We were very surprised by the timing, especially one month before the annual conference."
 
"It caught us off-guard. Now the internal debate will be whether we should join another program."
 
"Yes, this was a surprise and it will impact our public commitments."
 
"It was a surprise. Over the last year the EPA has been working with its partners to revamp the program to make sure it's still a 'leader' program. But never did they suggest it was going to be ended."

 

Voluntary registry programs such as Climate Leaders provide value through legitimacy, public recognition, training and networking. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, voluntary programs focus on companywide CO2 emissions, reduction goals, and disclosure. Companywide reporting raises senior management awareness of, and commitment to, sustainability progress. 
 
Conversely, legally mandated carbon regulations predominantly focus on facility-specific metrics. As a result, mandatory CO2 emissions regulation quickly falls off senior management's priority list and becomes yet another regulatory issue for the local plant or EHS team to manage.
 
Companies face an alphabet soup of voluntary program options, including the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), Chicago Climate Exchange (CCE), and The Climate Registry (TCR), to name a few.

While having one less program from which to choose is an obvious benefit, the frustrating aspect of the Climate Leaders' demise is that the program actually worked. Participating in a well-respected registry program enhances credibility with stakeholders. As the world's largest economy, a national voluntary program made sense for the U.S., while ending the EPA Climate Leaders program creates a void.

What should EPA Climate Leaders do now? Most are already members of CDP, which is useful as a global reporting channel and has the support of large companies such as Walmart and IBM, but it's not sufficient because of a lack of technical standards and the difficulty for smaller firms to participate.
 
The Climate Registry (TCR) is particularly well positioned to become the de facto national program. It already has very well-respected guidelines, tools and programs for reporting and verification. 

Denise Sheehan, the new executive director of TCR, gave me five examples of how EPA Climate Leaders could benefit from joining TCR:

• Leverage your existing investment in EPA Climate Leaders by building on your existing greenhouse gas (GHG) data and public goal setting with the TCR program, the only program recognized by all U.S states and Canadian provinces. Share information and best practices with peers from across North America. Access TCR's expert training, tools and technical support.

• Increase credibility with investors by measuring and verifying that your carbon footprint is in line with high quality, international standards.

• Increase the confidence of your Chief Financial Officer (CFO) as she or he assesses climate risk for the purposes of reporting to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Provide your CFO with real, accurate data about your carbon risks.

• Enhance your company's brand image with customers, employees and NGOs. Use TCR's high quality reporting standards and have real data to back up your leadership claims.

• Take advantage of one-stop shop reporting by disclosing your global company emissions, as well as North America emissions, to TCR to measure your progress over time.
 

While it remains puzzling why the EPA hastily ended its program, joining TCR could help sustainability leaders leverage existing investments and established goals, maintain momentum, and enhance the credibility of their sustainability programs.

Paul Baier is vice president of sustainability consulting at Groom Energy and a senior contributor at GreenBiz.com.

Underlying image licensed by stock.xchng user mandilee.