The Evolution of the Carbon War Room's Gigaton Awards

The Carbon War Room has upped the ante for its Gigaton Awards, a program that's considered the Oscars for climate change leaders.

In 2010, its inaugural year, the Gigaton Awards recognized six companies from a pool of 29 that had made major strides in reducing their carbon footprint. This year only 15 companies made the cut for consideration for an award and the number of award categories have narrowed from six to five.

The Gigaton Awards, so named to illustrate the scale of carbon reduction needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, were designed to honor only the best of the best efforts.

The new table stakes [see colleague Tilde Herrera's report on the new methodology] have made it even tougher to qualify an award, a Lucite prism designed by Yves Behar that encases a chunk of coal and symbolizes efforts to combat and contain the causes of climate change.

I caught up with Carbon War Room CEO Jigar to find out what's behind the change.

Leslie Guevarra: What prompted the Carbon War Room to raise the bar?

Jigar Shah: We're quite proud of what we did last year but, you know, everything that's new gets improved ...

The name of the awards ceremony is the Gigaton Awards and that's because the science basically reveals you have to save 17 gigatons of carbon by 2020, annually, to stay below 2 degrees. [Scientists have said that it's necessary to stabilize temperature change caused by humans to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avert climate disaster.]

So given that we're in 2011 heading into 2012, we wanted to make it clear that at this stage in the evolution of climate change solutions, you really do have to go big or go home.

Part of what we want to do is only feature the sectors where going big matters [which led to the focus on the five award categories: utilities, telecommunications, industrials, consumer staples and consumer discretionary]. There's a lot of sectors where people are doing great work, but the total amount of carbon that they're implementing is maybe 20 million tons. With 20 million tons, you're hard-pressed to see how you get to gigaton scale.

[Also] this year, we wanted to make 100 percent sure that each of the firms that win awards deliberately tried to reduce emissions -- and then did. I'm not suggesting any of the winners last year were doing the opposite of that. But to use the pool analogy, we want to make that they actually called the pocket.

LG: Will the awards continue to evolve?

JS: Absolutely. Right now, these awards are really around the emissions profiles of these companies themselves. Over time, what we'd like to do is actually move towards [also] rewarding people for selling gigaton-scale solutions.

For instance, Siemens is one of the nominees, but Siemens is really being nominated for their own carbon reduction within the company, not for the carbon reductions that come from the technologies that they sell.

LG: There are no repeaters among nominees from last year to this year. Is that intentional or coincidental?

JS: It was purely coincidental. We had a new approach, as we described, but we certainly did not have any criteria whatsoever of only picking new folks. We were quite actually surprised that we didn't pick any overlaps.

LG: We talked about expectations and what companies need to do in order to be considered. What do you expect of the companies that win a Gigaton Award?

JS: If you win this award, then you're not only doing something well, but you're doing something that if the rest of your brethren within the community that you're in -- the rest of the industry sector -- were to copy you, you would reach gigaton scale.

So what we would hope is that these companies: 1) would take credit for the great work that they're doing and serve as inspiration for the rest of their industry members, and 2) that they might actually even want to actively share what they've done with their industry competitors as a new revenue stream.

We want to highlight the fact that this is really good for business. This isn't just double bottom line or triple bottom line – this is actually really good for the first bottom line.

The Gigaton Awards ceremony is being held December 3 in Elangeni Durban, South Africa, at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change (COP17). The winners are selected by a 20-member independent panel called the Gigaton Award Academy, which includes Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and Ashok Khosla, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Council.