The World Resources Institute (WRI) works with corporate partners in strategically important regions to develop corporate climate change strategies, accelerate emission reduction opportunities, and further corporate understanding of climate policy design and its implications. WRI currently manages two successful regional corporate climate change collaborations: Climate Northeast, established in 2001; and Climate Midwest, established in 2006.
In early 2008, with support from the WestWind, Turner, Emily Hall Tremaine, and Robertson Foundations, WRI convened business leaders in the Southeast U.S. with its new program, Climate Southeast. These projects provide companies with strategies, insights, and a peer-to-peer learning process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build capacity for constructive corporate engagement on climate policy in the United States. WRI believes that companies that successfully adapt to a carbon-constrained economy are more likely to support meaningful climate change legislation.
In addition to their work with the private sector, WRI partners with other environmental organizations working on the ground. In the Southeast, WRI has been working closely with Southface Energy Institute, an Atlanta-based NGO working on sustainable building and energy efficiency. Southface Executive Director Dennis Creech praises the relationship, saying, “for over 30 years, Southface has promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy across the Southeast. Our partnership with WRI on Climate Southeast has built lasting capacity within our organization and led to new opportunities to advance our mission.
WestWind Foundation: How does WRI engage businesses on climate change? What is the process for getting companies to sign on?
Samantha Putt del Pino: WRI engages companies in small collaborative workgroups, with each group comprised of between 12 and 15 companies. This is small enough to be manageable, but large enough to allow for ample cross-sectoral sharing of experiences and lessons learned. Most of the businesses we work with are Fortune 500 companies. We reach out to them based on geographic and sector representation and, to some extent, their history of working on climate change issues. Some companies also are recommended to us by existing partners.
WWF: With which companies does WRI work? What are the compelling reasons why businesses engage with WRI on climate change strategies?
SPdP: In the Southeast, WRI is working with: Acuity Brands, Coca-Cola Company, Delta Airlines, Interface, Kimberly-Clark, Lenovo, MeadWestvaco, Neenah Paper, Rayonier, TOTO USA, UPS, and Wachovia. WRI is an attractive partner for businesses because we have a long history of liaising with the private sector and have a track record as a collaborator. We are a non-partisan organization and companies know they can trust our independent analysis. WRI also has developed numerous tools for the business community over the years, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard (www.ghgprotocol.org) for developing corporate greenhouse gas inventories and the Carbon Value Analysis Tool or CVAT (http://www.wri.org/publication/carbon-value-analysis-tool) which allows energy managers to factor in the price for carbon when evaluating greenhouse gas reduction projects.
WWF: What are the challenges to engaging companies? How is the program received by the businesses that participate?
SPdP: The Climate Southeast program has been very well-received. Although there are other excellent nonprofits in the region working on climate and energy issues, none were engaging the private sector in this type of forum, so it’s a new and welcomed opportunity for the business community. Common challenges that businesses face on this topic include keeping pace with fast evolving climate and energy policy dialogues, responding rapidly and responsibly to consumer and other stakeholder demands and maintaining climate as a priority in this period of economic difficulty.
WWF: Why is it important to partner with businesses in the Southeast U.S.? How does the region differ from WRI’s work in the Northeast and Midwest?
SPdP: We have found collaboration with business to be an effective means of addressing climate change challenges and advancing low-carbon policy and technology solutions. Specific challenges and appropriate solutions tend to vary in different regions, and the Southeast U.S. is unique for several reasons. First, with its rapidly growing population and heavy dependence on fossil fuels, the Southeast is on track to become the nation’s leading emitter in as little as 12 years. Secondly, relative to the rest of the country, the region has been slower to adopt climate and energy policy. Thirdly, the Southeast has some of the lowest electricity prices in the country, but has done relatively little to encourage energy efficiency or develop renewable energy resources. And national climate legislation is likely to have significant implications for the region. Not only is there a business and economic risk to inaction, but with its miles of coastline, a considerable physical risk as well.
WWF: All of the current presidential candidates advocate for some type of cap and trade policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. How are the businesses you work with responding to the likely passage of this kind of legislation?
SPdP: Most of WRI’s partners are developing corporate greenhouse gas inventories to better understand both the business risks and the opportunities associated with a carbon-constrained economy. Companies are pursuing a variety of emission reduction activities including in energy efficiency, renewable energy, high performance buildings and fleet management. Some partners are looking beyond assessing day-to-day operations to evaluate all of the business activities that define their value chain and understand where they have the greatest leverage for achieving emission reductions.
WWF: Fast forward to 2012. Climate Southeast has surpassed all of its stated goals. What does success look like? What have you accomplished?
SPdP: In 2012, we will have federal legislation in the United States and the next iteration of the Kyoto Protocol will have been negotiated. Climate Southeast partners will be part of these processes, as well as dialogues to create strong complementary policies in the Southeast. Southeast states will be encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy, enabling companies to develop and deploy the low-carbon technologies and business strategies that will help achieve national and global emission reduction targets. Climate leadership in major cities in the Southeast, like Miami and Atlanta, will be benchmarked against other leading cities around the globe like London, New York, Chicago and Beijing.