Carbonfund.org and National Geographic Society (NGS) have been partners in the fight against global climate change since 2009. Our relationship with NGS is managed by Mr. Hans Wegner, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Society whose leadership in the sustainability realm has been an inspiration to everyone at our Foundation.
In 2011, Han’s leadership with the NGS “Green Team” led to his team receiving our For People and Planet award in the “Media” category for their efforts to reduce carbon dioxide (C02) emissions.
These efforts included reducing emissions from their operations by 80% with an additional goal of reducing emissions from their magazine paper and printing materials supply chain by 10% by 2015. The team has succeeded at numerous other efforts from obtaining Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) Gold Status for their headquarters building to compost and recycling programs in their cafeteria.
Since the origin of our relationship, with NGS, the Society has been a key supporter of several of our projects including the Purus REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) Project in Acre, Brazil, and the Native Species Reforestation Project in Panama to offset the Society’s respective travel and office emissions.
We had the opportunity to speak with Hans on his impressive 41 years at the National Geographic Society and his broader work in the sustainability realm.
1. Please describe your current role as Chief Sustainability Officer at NGS and what lead you to that position?
I came to the Society in 1973, with a background in commercial printing. I came here to work in one of the photographic labs, compiling film for wall maps for 1.5 years and subsequently became responsible for the production and then the manufacturing of the Magazine. During that time I also handled all paper purchasing for the Society so I became very conversant with the issues related to paper manufacturing and the paper market. I took particular interest in learning all I could about the environmental impacts of all aspects of paper making; from seedling in the ground to recycling of old paper products. I took great pride in working with our paper suppliers to make sure they abide by or exceeded all applicable environmental regulations.
In 2006 I headed up a group of concerned NGS employees who felt we as an organization could do more to reduce the impact our operations had on climate change and to raise our collective awareness of our responsibility to conduct our business sustainably. Our groups focused on measuring the carbon emissions that we as a company were responsible for, including those emitted on our behalf by our suppliers. We knew we had to know our corporate carbon footprint, not only in the aggregate, but by product line or service sector so we could have a roadmap for the remedial actions we wanted to take. On the basis of this information, we made our buildings carbon neutral, achieved LEED-EB Gold status for our complex, and certified our campus as Energy Star rated and implemented many energy saving features.
On the basis of our success, I was designated Chief Sustainability Officer in 2009.
2. How did you get started in sustainability work? Who or what inspired you to go into a career in sustainability?
I have always had an inclination to try to be environmentally responsible and I like to think of myself as acting on what I know to be true. This is what led me to set environmental policy for our paper suppliers when I was handling paper purchasing for the Society, implementing a requirement to use best forest management practices, to exceed the guidelines of the Clean Air and Water Acts. In the mid 1990's I became increasingly convinced of not only the fact of climate change, but the reality that it was human activity that was causing this phenomenon. Additionally human activity was consuming finite natural resources at obviously unsustainable rates. I was of course aware that the Society was publishing or producing related stories in our Magazine and TV productions on these subjects so the problem was not a lack of public awareness of the issues but rather a problem of failing to act on what we know. I felt compelled to make a difference and to act, so I began talking to people and knew there was a critical mass of my colleagues who felt strongly, wanted to help, and were willing to volunteer their time to make a difference. That led to the formation of the GoGreen Committee (Now Green Team) which has been meeting monthly since late 2006 and is leading the sustainability initiative at the Society.
3. What personal accomplishments in the sustainability realm are you most proud of?
I would have to say being instrumental in starting the sustainability initiative at the Society and thereby creating an awareness that we as an organization and as individuals could and needed to do more than we were.
As to specifics: 1) Focusing our efforts on knowing our carbon footprint and focusing our efforts at reducing that that footprint by eliminating waste where we found it and thereby eliminating the cost of that waste. 2) Setting and then achieving the goal of becoming a carbon neutral facility and qualifying our Buildings for LEED-EB Gold certification. 3) Doing the most comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) ever done on a Magazine in cooperation with our paper and printing suppliers. This was completed in 2009. 4) Convincing the Society to become a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) driven company in 2012. 5) Committing the Society to the idea of offsetting our scope III carbon (all indirect emissions except for purchased electricity, heat and steam). To date, we have reduced our scope III by over 20% since 2008.
4. What are you currently working on in the sustainability realm?
We are working with our suppliers of printing and digital media storage to document their emissions on our behalf and to look into renewable energy for those emissions. We are working to achieve carbon neutral status for everything we do, and to send zero waste to landfill. My goal is to have sustainability become part of the culture of the Society.
5. What is your personal biggest sustainability challenge?
Changing behavior at our company and getting more companies to start addressing climate change. Behavior changes are hard. Energy has always been cheap in the US, and the challenge is to change that perception and get people to change their behavior and use less. The other challenge is for all of us to personalize climate change and take responsibility for that change. At the end of the day each of us must make a commitment to change if we are to solve this problem. We all have the tendency to wait for someone else to start. Don't wait for someone else. You do it. Each of us can start today by: not leaving lights on, shortening the showers we take, using mass transit, recycling everything we can, etc.
6. What is going to be the biggest challenge for sustainability in the next 20 years?
Complacency on the part of most of us. Dependence on someone else to do the job for us. Ignoring the noise from the fossil fuel industry to say everything is OK when it is clearly not. A Congress that is divided to the point of dysfunction, so no federal leadership is possible. The naysayers that persist in trying to say that this is not a problem, and it is bad for the economy to address this issue. The fear mongers who wish to use this issue to divide us rather than to say here is a challenge we can unite on and fix.
7. For the next generation of environmental professionals, what advice would you give?
You do not have to be an expert. Read and act on what you know. Make the business case that waiting is paramount to throwing money away and that America cannot compete with clean economies around the world. Make the business case that inaction, or little action, is far, far more expensive and costly to jobs and prosperity than the most drastic actions we take today.
8. How did Carbonfund.org help you achieve your sustainability goals?
Carbonfund.org has been able to find projects for us to help us offset our use of natural gas to heat our buildings and use in our cafeteria. It has also helped us find projects that offset our business travel. My question to any offset provider has always been: Can you get me a two 'fer or three 'fer? By which I mean I am looking for projects that not only reduce carbon buildup in the atmosphere by adding sequestration capacity, but does doing so expand the habitat for an endangered species (either flora or fauna) in an area, thereby enhancing the possibility of that species' survival? So I am always interested in finding projects that have multiple benefits with the primary one being carbon emissions reductions. So far, Carbonfund.org has done a really good job finding such projects for us.
9. Why did you choose to work with Carbonfund.org?
In keeping with the idea of sourcing locally, I liked that Carbonfund.org is in fact local to Washington DC metro area. I also like the fact of Carbonfund.org being a not-for-profit, as I believe that addressing climate change should not be a profit driven undertaking. That is not to say that we should not do business with for profit entities, it is just that if not-for-profit is an option; that is my preference so we can put more dollars into emissions reductions.
Forever Cheese is already renowned for their commitment to sourcing the finest cheeses and specialty foods from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia and it has now been seven years since they have begun a commitment with Carbonfund to actively help the planet and further renewable energy.
“We are focused on wind and solar energy not just as a way for the future, but for now.” states Michele Buster, President and Co-Founder of Forever Cheese. “We hope to be a role model for other companies, catalyzing them to support the development of renewable energy resources.”
Since 1998, Michele and her business partner, Pierluigi Sini have been finding unique artisan cheeses and specialty foods to introduce into the US. They hand-select each item directly from the producers.
Some of their more famous products include Genuine Fulvi® Pecorino Romano, Rustico®, Drunken Goat®, Naked Goat®, Mitica® Marcona Almonds & Fig Almond Cake. Look for the brands Fulvi®, Sini® or Mitica® to find Forever Cheese products.
Carbonfund.org is very proud to have this great partnership with Forever Cheese to provide significant benefit to renewable energy projects around the United States along with additional support toward national reforestation projects.
"We greatly appreciate our partnership with Forever Cheese," said, Executive Director, Eric Carlson, "they are true industry leaders in their commitment to supporting renewable energy."
For more information, please visit www.forevercheese.com.
Most of the time, we do not take into account the complete costs to producing or consuming a good or service. This is because we focus on the explicit costs. For example, if we were to bake a loaf of bread, we would take into account the cost of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, milk, and butter. Perhaps we would even calculate our labor time to make the dough and the cost of running the oven, but would we account for the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere for the delivery truck that delivered the baking supplies? How about the CO2 emissions from the power plant burning fossil fuels to generate the electricity to run the oven? The problem is that we are not required to bear the full cost of production. Some of the costs to bake that loaf of bread were shifted to society as a whole.
Even if we did not bake the loaf of bread ourselves, we’re still shifting costs to society as a whole just by consuming it. Our cars burn gasoline to drive to and from the grocery store, and regardless if we walked or biked, gasoline was likely also burned to deliver the bread to the grocery store in the first place. Sure the delivery truck paid for the gasoline, but many companies do not pay for the carbon emissions their operations generate.
We need to make some drastic changes to avoid the ills of global warming, which we are beginning to see affect our daily lives, but the logistics of transforming our world’s energy system can be intimidating. The first thing we need to do is get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources. Easier said than done, I know. It will be a complex and time-consuming process converting power plants, vehicles/transport systems, homes and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, time is not on our side here. We really need to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.
So then the question becomes how can we transition the world’s energy infrastructure to sustainable sources by mid-century? One of the ways suggested is to implement a tax on CO2 emissions that begins low and gradually increases. There should be no mystery either about how much and at what intervals over time the tax will rise. Then people, businesses and governments can plan their fossil fuel exit strategy.
The revenues the carbon tax generates should be directed into subsidizing renewable energy innovation and overhauling energy infrastructure.
Ideally, the carbon tax should be global. Again there are logistical challenges to this climate change solution. The key is that we need a systematic and practical process. Isn’t it time we started taking responsibility for the full costs of production and consumption? Society is bearing the cost as a whole, and society as a whole needs to be part of the solution.
Ever wonder how large facilities in your state are doing regarding greenhouse gas emissions? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began collecting greenhouse gas emissions data in 2010 under the congressionally mandated Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting Program. In February 2013, the EPA's program released its second year (2011) of emissions data, which provides public access to emissions data by sector, by greenhouse gas, and by geographic region such as county or state.
The 2011 data includes information from facilities in 41 source categories that emit large quantities of greenhouse gasses. New this year is data collected from 12 additional source categories, including petroleum and natural gas systems and coal mines.
Highlights of findings from the 2011 data include:
- Power plants represent approximately one-third (33 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions, making them the largest stationary source of GHGs in the country
- 2011 emissions from power plants were roughly 4.6 percent below 2010 emissions, demonstrating an ongoing increase in power generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources
- Refineries represented the third-largest source of GHG emissions, which increased by a half of a percent over 2010 data
- Overall emissions reported from the 29 sources tracked in both years were 3 percent lower in 2011 than in 2010
Transparency is critical to a better environment and the key to conquering climate change. If companies, communities and individuals take a look at how large facilities are doing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and compare the latest data to national averages, perhaps we can find ways to cut these emissions and begin to curb global warming. Being better informed is also good for the businesses as they may identify opportunities to conserve energy and thereby save money.
Check out how individual large facilities in your state, county, and even zip code perform. Access this data through the Facility Level Information on Green House gases Tool (FLIGHT), which is a web-based data publication tool, or dig deeper through the EPA’s online database Envirofacts that allows information searches via zip code.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
Five years ago the CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, claimed that news coverage of climate change in his media outlets would improve gradually. However, a recent study indicates that not only has that not happened, but that the preponderance of climate change information on Fox News primetime and in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page is overwhelmingly misleading.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science-policy nonprofit, analyzed six months of global warming discussions on Fox News primetime programs (February 2012 to July 2012) and one year of Wall Street Journal op-eds (August 2011 to July 2012). UCS found that climate science was inaccurately covered in 93 percent of Fox News primetime programs and 81 percent of Wall Street Journal editorials.
The analysis found denial that climate change is caused by humans, dismissals of climate science as a legitimate science, and derogatory comments about select scientists. The worst part is that this misleading coverage encourages scientific distrust and portrays climate change as a left-wing idea, rather than based on scientific facts.
How many people are misled about climate science by these media outlets? Well the number is in the multi-millions. In 2011, Fox News Channel (FNC) was the United States’ most popular cable news channel. During prime time, FNC reaches a median of 1.9 million people plus. The Wall Street Journal has over 2 million daily readers and the largest circulation among American newspapers.
There is nothing wrong with fully examining and debating the merits of policies aimed at addressing climate change. However, it is ludicrous and irresponsible to deny the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that climate change is man-made and happening right now.
The analysis shows that sadly these media groups continue to waste time and effort that could be put to better use in combating climate change. Readers of this blog already know that global warming is man-made and many are putting their energies toward what they can do about it by supporting organizations such as Carbonfund.org. These climate change leaders seek out quick and affordable ways for individuals and businesses to calculate and offset the carbon emissions they generate.
The science is clear. Invest in renewable energy sources and support reforestation projects because the time is now to build a clean energy future.
According to data recently uncovered from the Energy Information Agency, electricity coming from non-hydroelectric renewable sources (solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass) has doubled in the U.S. to almost 6 percent in a scant four years’ time.
It’s a bit surprising that this significant fact hasn’t been splashed all over the news. Businesses are portrayed as not believing clean energy is worth the investment, but that is simply not true for all. Some companies see the wisdom and fiscal prudence in planning for climate change. The press appears to focus more on manufacturing problems in the sector.
While it is true that the green manufacturing industry is experiencing some growing pains, take solar panel makers for example, it’s worth noting that the green industry is growing overall, and quickly too. China made enormous investments in solar, and they are the face of rising competition. They’ve brought down the price of panels by 65 percent in a mere 18 months. So this leads to fewer and bigger solar manufacturers, which is what happens in all mature industries. However, the explosion of growth in the solar industry comes from the businesses that sell, install, and maintain solar.
Perhaps renewable energy seems like small potatoes since it’s only a fraction of total electricity generation. But the magic is in the industry’s potential for exponential growth. If non-hydro renewables were to double three more times, they would provide nearly half of US electricity needs. That’s more than we get from coal or natural gas right now.
The renewable energy industry’s growth is not just limited to the U.S. either. Countries such as Portugal and Germany have transformed their power grids to generate 25 – 45 percent of their electricity needs from renewable sources.
The big question is if non-hydroelectric renewables can continue to double every four years? Well let’s start by taking a look at what kind of growth would be required to do so. Non-hydro renewables need 19 percent annual growth in order to double every four years. Some sectors grow that much or more. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar sector is growing 30 percent annually.
The bottom line is that the payback time for investing in renewable energy is getting faster every day. Wise homeowners, businesses, and governments are ahead of the curve because they see that the future is in renewable sources.
The desire for renewable energy world-wide is on the rise according to a pair of recently released studies commissioned by wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas. Eighty-five percent of global respondents want more renewable energy in the market, says the Global Consumer Wind Energy Study. And 49% of those surveyed would be willing to pay more for renewable energy. The survey also illuminated that 45% believe climate change is one of the big three challenges facing the globe.
The survey polled 24,000 respondents in 20 countries and also found that 62% would buy products from companies who use wind energy. Almost three quarters of consumers indicated they would feel more positive if companies used wind as its primary source of energy.
The second study examines what companies do voluntarily for renewable energy production. Bloomberg New Energy Finance writes the Corporate Renewable Energy Index, which found that global investments in renewable energy capacity are overtaking those of fossil fuels; $237 billion compared to $223 billion. Furthermore, companies are increasingly committing to renewable energy. They purchased 40% of renewable energy last year.
The trend of businesses planning for climate change is not news to readers of our blog. However, it is encouraging to see companies actually making investments in renewable energy. It only makes sense as it lowers their risk. So these studies point to both consumers and corporations demanding more renewable energy. Isn’t it time governments join the trend too? The scale goes from smaller to larger effects when consumers, businesses, and governments work together to lower global carbon emissions. We are looking forward to a clean energy future powered by renewable energy sources.
We can do a lot as individuals to combat global warming. But it is undeniable that governments can do more since they harness the power of the collective. The Obama administration’s strategy is to control global warming emissions through regulation. This week a huge victory was given to both the administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia. The decision was unanimous in upholding the agency’s landmark rulings to control greenhouse gases.
The issue seems like a “no brainer” that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases. However, dozens of lawsuits from industry groups and 14 states challenged four rules that aim to limit greenhouse gases. The biggest rule is the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding” and the foundation on which the other three rules rest. The EPA contended, and was vindicated in this ruling, that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions constitute a danger to public health and therefore could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The three-judge panel acknowledged and gave credence to climate change as a real and legitimate threat to public health and safety. So now climate change deniers have less of a leg to stand on; the EPA based its case on sound science and careful research which stood up to a rigorous judicial review and emerged victorious.
The ruling cleared the way for the EPA to proceed with clean car standards and restrictive permits on power plants and other major industrial polluters. Perhaps now power plants will put increased effort into developing cost-effective and reliable methods to capture carbon emissions, or at least offset them. If not, the future will certainly be in renewable energy sources now that there are stricter limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.
If you read our earlier blog post on the connection between extreme weather and climate change http://carbonfund.org/blog/item/4605-un-climate-panel-report-links-global-warming-and-weather-extremes, you’re already aware of this issue and have connected the dots to an extent. But perhaps you walked away from the blog post asking yourself, what can I do about climate change? Well here is an event in which you can participate. This Saturday, May 5, 2012 is Climate Impacts Day.
Climate Impacts Day is a global day of action that spotlights people around the world who are connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change. The focus of individual events varies among assorted communities spanning the globe. Follow this link to find an event near you. http://act.climatedots.org/event/impacts_en/search/#
Next steps after connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change are to connect the dots to solutions. Clean energy, food-based initiatives, and political organizing for climate action are just a few solutions anyone can put their efforts toward to address climate change and its impacts.
There are also a couple things we can do regarding the impact of climate change. We must adapt to the impacts that are we are already seeing, and the impacts we know are coming. Then it’s important to organize to make our governments and businesses take the bold action needed to prevent the truly catastrophic effects of climate change, the effects to which we cannot adapt. This includes eliminating the use of fossil fuels and moving to renewable power sources as soon as possible.
Extreme weather and climate change may seem like a far-off problem, but it is here and there is something everyone can do. Attend a Climate Impacts Day event. Learn more at http://www.climatedots.org/.