Introducing Wood Turner Of Climate Counts - "Green Electronics: Only Half of the Story"?

Wood Turner, Project Director, Climate Counts is going to be guest posting with us for a bit. His focus is on voluntary corporate climate change efforts. Please join us in welcoming Wood and his team!

Climate Counts is a non-profit campaign that scores companies annually on the basis of their voluntary action to reverse climate change. The Climate Counts Company Scorecard -- launched in June 2007 -- helps people vote with their dollars by making climate-conscious purchasing and investing choices that put pressure on the world's most well-known companies to take the issue of climate change seriously. Launched by organics pioneer Stonyfield Farm, Climate Counts functions as a proxy for the average consumer in tracking the world's largest companies and believes everyday consumers can be the most important activists in the fight against global warming. New Climate Counts company scores will be available in April 2008.So-called green products are everywhere. Consumers increasingly face a barrage of marketing messages that tell them the way to demonstrate environmental enlightenment is to buy products that are conspicuous in their greenness. I couldn’t agree more that when consumers wear their green literally on the sleeves, it sends a message to people around them that the time for environmental awareness has now. But does a green product itself actually solve to the problem or simply cast it in a different light?

In the electronics sector, this issue looms large. A number of studies including one by scientists at the United Nations University have drawn attention to the fact that the vast majority of the environmental impact of our electronics – whether in the resources used or toxics created or energy expended -- occur before it is purchased, not during its use. That’s not to mention longer terms impacts of product disposal. For the class of product - the kind where use-phase is dwarfed by upstream impacts - the negative impact a huge multinational company can have on the environment will, in the end, greatly outweigh the positive cumulative impact that consumers can have in using the products they sell.

Consider estimates that suggest that if the world’s 100 largest companies simply reduced their own greenhouse gas emissions by just 5%, it would be the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road. The actions of individuals are critical in fighting climate change, but they actions of the world’s largest companies are essential. We’re seeing examples of companies that are accomplishing these emissions reductions through major renewable energy investments, as is the case with Google, or by incentivizing substantive action from employees and suppliers.

Others like UPS and its competitors in the consumer shipping sector are realizing that efficiencies in their core business can make all the difference. Ever seen a UPS driver make a left turn? No? That’s because they don’t. Too much idling, too many greenhouse gas emissions, too much fuel – and dollars wasted.

Some companies hear the larger call. They are reducing their footprint AND offering consumers better choices at every level. Those are the companies I believe we should support. These are the innovators that have made company-wide improvements during design and production that lead to measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s time for less green marketing and more measuring and reducing. It’s time to do at least as much doing as talking. Frankly, it’s the doing of climate protection that is going to yield the greatest dividends, particularly as stakeholder groups and consumers more generally will begin to demand to see results.

Businesses can avoid taking a more defensive approach and can use voluntary but meaningful action to save money through reduced energy costs, to shore up consumer loyalty, and to have a real impact on the climate crisis.

How can consumers know how serious a company is about stopping climate change and how they compare to other companies in their sector? There are four particularly illustrative benchmarks that get to the heart of the matter:

+ Have they measured their climate footprint?

+ Have they reduced their climate pollution (what we usually call greenhouse gas emissions) or established clear goals to reduce?

+ Have they supported or suggested intent to block progressive climate policy initiatives at the local, state, or federal level?

+ And have they publicly disclosed their climate actions clearly and comprehensively to consumers and stakeholders?

In fact, these are exactly the benchmarks – framed by 22 detailed criteria – that help us at Climate Counts get a solid read on what companies are doing to see who’s striding (tops in a sector), starting (middle of the pack), or stuck on climate change.

Of the companies we’ve evaluated so far in the electronics sector, notable climate striders like Canon, IBM, Toshiba, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Sony are setting the standard (I’ll let you visit www.climatecounts.org to see who’s falling short). Our new scores slated for release in early spring will tell us much more about the progress being made (or not) by the companies we’ve scored.

So the next time you get set to send an overnight package, buy running shoes, shop for a computer or even go out for a beer, let Climate Counts help you whether the largest companies whose products you have to choose from are actually working to lessen their impact on climate change. We even have a tool that lets you get company ranks right on your cell phone as you shop. It’s called Climate Counts On-The-Go, and along with our down-loadable pocket consumer guide (also available from us in printed form), it helps ensure that consumers have access to climate scores not just when they’re sitting at home on their computers but when they’re out and about trying to make the most informed purchasing decisions they can.

Collectively, we can have a huge positive impact on the environment simply by how and where we spend our money. Just remember that supporting an environmentally responsible company can be exponentially more powerful and positive than merely buying the latest green product to hit the shelf.

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