Raising the bar on action: 2013 Climate Leadership Award winners

Raising the bar on action: 2013 Climate Leadership Award winners

Decades ago, protecting the environment was often seen as counter to profitability. As the winners of the second annual Climate Leadership Awards have proven, taking strong action on climate change not only isn’t a barrier to success — it’s a path to it.

On Feb. 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in collaboration with the Association of Climate Change Officers, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and The Climate Registry, honored 23 corporations, public agencies and individuals for their outstanding work to manage and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in internal operations and throughout the supply chain. A variety of industries was represented — construction, finance, defense, transportation, retail, energy and technology. See the full list here. Award recipients demonstrate a commitment to conducting their operations in a more sustainable manner, which also makes good business sense. These representatives see value in diversifying their energy supply, mitigating fuel cost risk and cutting their energy-related emissions.

Some organizations may also be feeling pressure from their customers, clients and investors. Consumers have become increasingly savvy and are looking for substantive action on climate when choosing a place to take their business or invest their money. According to a recent Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute study, the average voter support for environmental and social shareholder proposals more than doubled from 2005 to 2011.

Organizations can play an important role in reducing GHG emissions nationwide because their visionary actions have ripple effects.

One trend we’ve seen is that companies are integrating GHG emissions reporting and goal-setting into supplier business scorecards, and are taking this information into account when awarding contracts. That means that when one business takes a step on climate, it can affect the whole supply chain. Cisco Systems, IBM and San Diego Gas & Electric were all recognized for GHG leadership in their organizational supply chain, a key area of importance for reducing an organization’s carbon footprint.

Others are making substantial reductions in fleet vehicle emissions, with increased efficiency of locomotives, as well as expanded use of electric and compressed natural gas vehicles. While some actions may be considered smaller, they can add up. For instance, several recognized leaders have employed officewide changes, from adjusting temperature set points and installing lighting motion detectors to using real-time interactive energy measurement and management tools. When employees see their electricity use and patterns, they can make comparisons across offices, engage in healthy competitions and make adjustments to meet their climate goals.

Exemplary initiative is occurring in the public sector as well. In 2006 the Sonoma County Water Agency in California committed to an aggressive goal of operating a carbon-free water system by 2015. They’ve led a countywide electric vehicle program for local government, initiated financing for clean energy projects and steered efforts to fund energy and water efficiency upgrades at schools and public buildings in the county. They’ve also forged innovative programs and policy frameworks that build bridges between local governments and nonprofits, resulting in other municipalities replicating best practices. The Port of San Diego; City of Austin, Texas; and Boulder County, Colo., have also taken aggressive steps toward carbon-neutral operations and have mobilized large networks of partners to enable change, serving as models for their peers.

Two individuals honored for extraordinary leadership in their organizations’ response to climate change cannot go without mention. Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, senior director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft, and J. Wayne Leonard, retired chairman and CEO of Entergy, both demonstrate that clear vision, creativity, collaboration and perseverance can generate tremendous results.

The tides are changing for large corporations when it comes to clean energy. A recent report by Ceres, WWF and Calvert Investments found that nearly 60 percent of the companies that make up the Fortune 100 have set a renewable energy commitment, a GHG emissions reduction goal or both. This reinforces the message that acting on climate change has both economic and environmental benefits.

This year, the EPA will challenge organizations to think even more creatively and comprehensively about making GHG emission reductions. We encourage organizations to take advantage of the valuable free resources that EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership provides, especially as the urgency of climate change increases.

For more information on the awards, visit www.epa.gov/climateleadership.

Image by Sashkin via Shutterstock

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