*by Meg Schneider
*Views presented in this article reflect those of the author and should not be construed as the views of Wharton, IGEL or the University of Pennsylvania.
Bill McKibben, the environmentalist who wrote the high-profile Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”, came to Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church November 17 for his “Do the Math” tour for 350.org. The talk began with a short speech from Swarthmore student Sara Blazevic on her campaign to encourage Swarthmore’s divestment from fossil fuels in its endowment. Josh Fox, best known as the director of Gasland, also talked about grassroots organizing.
Bill McKibben outlined the importance of reducing emissions. In his opinion, one of the few takeaways of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, was that two degrees Celsius temperature rise was agreed to as the number of “calamity”. McKibben then said that environmentalists should be engaged in a “endgame against a company that is evil and destroying the planet”: encouraging institutions (work, schools, government) to stop investment in any companies that have fossil fuels as their core business plan. Still, as McKibben doesn’t advocate any lifestyle changes, conceding that people will still need “their cars and to get to work every day”, encouraging divestment seems like an empty pledge.
Reducing emissions is extremely important not only to mitigate climate change but also as a smart business practice. Most corporations still have “low hanging fruit”, or efficiency practices with quick paybacks that are relatively easy to implement. Additionally, the idea of a carbon tax has revived with the fiscal cliff; a company that reduces their carbon footprint now may have a first-mover advantage. To achieve this goal, firms should begin by monitoring energy, resource, and risk at every stage of their supply chain. Once monitored, companies can begin evaluating the most effective green strategies.
Some companies may find the biggest efficiency gains in their manufacturing process, such as global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline. Still others may find surprising ways to reduce emissions. For example, Tide realized that one of the most carbon-intensive parts of its value chain was not from its manufacturing process, but rather the end-use. Using cold water instead of hot makes the biggest impact in reducing carbon from the lifecycle of the product. The Aspen Skiing Company, as described in Getting Green Done by Auden Schendler, found it could use its high-profile to lobby Congress on introducing national carbon legislation. However they achieve it, corporations can play a fundamental part in reducing carbon emissions.