Coratti: Hi, good morning, everyone. My name is Kris Coratti. I’m vice president of communications and events here at The Washington Post. Thank you for joining us this morning. Today, we’re going to discuss corporate and government sustainability efforts. We’ll look at how some of America’s biggest companies are making sustainability a part of their business model and we’re going to hear about the work being done to promote equitable environment standards. So before we begin, I’d like to thank our sponsors: The University of Virginia Darden School of Business and Samsung for supporting today’s program and now, I’d like to get started and introduce to you The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin. She’s going to lead today’s first discussion. Thank you.
One-on-One with Lisa Jackson:
Eilperin: Good morning, everyone. I’m Juliet Eilperin, the senior national affairs correspondent for The Washington Post. I’m here with Lisa Jackson, who is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and currently serves as vice president for Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives at Apple. She is also the only cabinet member I’ve ever interviewed who has sung Stevie Wonder in the course of an interview. Another claim to fame. [LAUGHS] And before I get started, I’d like to remind everyone in our audience and those who are watching online that you can tweet questions for Lisa using the #WorldinBalance and I will take a few of those throughout our conversation with the help of an iPad.
So with that, Apple has pledged to shift to 100% renewable energy and I understand you’re now at 96% for your global facilities. I was wondering if you could talk about what’s been some of the hardest aspects of meeting that goal and perhaps what’s been easiest about that.
Jackson: I think the real innovation came for challenges like datacenters. So Apple was the first to run a datacenter 100% on renewable energy and it’s kind of easy. In California, where we have energy choice. So you can say, “I want to purchase clean energy to run by datacenter in California.” But it’s harder in states like North Carolina or Nevada where you actually have to work with the utility and the community to actually build and develop clean energy. In those cases, it’s solar power. So that was a challenge because when you think about datacenters, they can never go down so you have to think about a solution that works, that’s resilient.
Eilperin: Well, what have you found? What’s your backstop? Are there particular—
Jackson: In the old days, the backstop was fuel cells. It’s still there in North Carolina as well as the fact that we’re connected to the grid, partially because you have to be. You can’t generate your own so you connect to the grid and then pull back. So the grid is a great backstop for us as well. We have to work with the utilities. As we’re building newer datacenters, what we’re finding is that especially in parts of Europe, the transmission grid is in better shape. It’s more resilient, more redundant and so you can actually have clean energy as your primary and as your backstop.
Eilperin: And have there been increased costs and how have you dealt with that or has it ultimately been cost-neutral to—
Jackson: No, we challenge ourselves to be cost-neutral or even sometimes, cheaper than what we’d estimate brown power to be. In some cases, we use PPAs and part of the calculation around the PPA is—
Eilperin: Can you explain it to our audience?
Jackson: A PPA is a power purchase agreement. It’s like a long-term contract, so obviously, you’re looking at the long-term costs of conventional power and you’re trying to decide whether construction development of new clean power, with the incentives that come along with it, but sometimes without; it depends. It can actually be better for the company.
Eilperin: So your more recent pledge has been to construct a closed-loop supply chain where products are made only using renewable resources and recycled material. You have your little robot Liam, right? Who is doing some of that work. Can you talk a little about how that’s a slightly different task and how you’re going about doing that?
Jackson: Energy—we’ll come back to energy because I think it’s so incredibly important but one of the things I loved about Apple and deciding to go was that we’re a product company. We make hardware and obviously, it’s what people use. We touch consumers there so there’s a moment where we can really get consumers to appreciate what we stand for, but we also use a lot of material to do that. And materials are mined from the Earth. There’s been studies, but I think it’s almost 100 different elements from the periodic table are actually in your iPhone and so people are starting to be concerned about that from the standpoint of what mining does to the planet. Also, the social implications. And so we run a really strong program to deal with those issues. And I think we’re the only ones in our sector thinking this was. What if we can start to think about a time when an iPhone is made from totally recycled materials or totally renewable materials, like a biomaterial?
So we’re starting our brilliant engineers to work on that. It’s really fun. It’s fun to sit around the table with folks who spend all day thinking about aluminum alloys, for example. And we’ve made huge progress. The iPhone 10 and 8—no, sorry, 8, because 10 has stainless steel in it but the aluminum that’s in the iPhone 8 and 8+ is actually much lower carbon than aluminum before and we did that through a combination of how the aluminum is melted. We’d like to find hydropower as a source there. But also just being a lot more efficient with aluminum and then I just should give a plug to our program that does work on supply chains. Just today, the Enough Project listed us as number one for our work on cobalt sourcing around the world.
Cobalt is used in batteries in our products. And Amnesty International yesterday said we were number one in our sector for the work we’re doing there as well.
Eilperin: And so you do a lot of travel in your job, including to China, of course, India, right? And Europe and I’m wondering if you could talk a little about what it is like given the new administration and the shift in positions on many of the policies that you and then your successor, Gina McCarthy put in place. What are the kinds of discussions that you’re having with leaders of other countries and what is it like also when in many ways, they might be touting what they’re doing, but we just had statistics that came out on Monday showing that carbon emissions globally are rising and that much of that is driven by China, although, obviously, the United States consistently comes in as number two. So could you talk about what these conversations are like and how you navigate your role, both as an American and as someone representing a major company like Apple?
Jackson: I think after the initial shock at the change in the position, we don’t spend—I don’t personally spend a lot of time talking about the policy because I’m not a policymaker. That’s not my job anymore. I certainly can’t explain policies for this administration. [LAUGHTER] But I do think that we spend a lot of time trying to deal with the challenges so people will often want to understand not only I work to be 100% renewable, but also, I work in our supply chain. So we’ve moved onto 14 of our suppliers around the world to pledge to be 100% renewable for their work with Apple and we’d like to get our whole supply chain there. China has real challenges, but I think the difference I see in the conversations even maybe from my days as EPA until now; so that time frame is—a lot of people cynically looked at China and thought, “Okay, they’re just saying whatever because they want the world to not be upset if they scuttle the Paris deal, for example.”
Now, when you’re in China, you see it as an imperative for them. Obviously, they have air pollution issue that are significant. But they also have a lot more people and a lot of densely populated cities and they know that their populations are moving into cities. So they’re really interested in clean energy; electric-powered vehicles, for example. Because they need to find a solution for traffic, which is a significant part of the air pollution they have. So whether it’s China—India the same way. I think what you find are people who are motivated by something other than politics because they have real-world pollution issues and they see the burning of fossil fuels is causing a lot of environmental problems, climate change being one. So when you start to address that and move to less intense carbon processes, you start to address more than one problem.
Eilperin: And while it’s true you’re not in your policy position, we’ll talk some policy and one thing is that last year, Apple did join Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley companies and Amazon and Microsoft as well to sign an amicus brief in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which right now, the EPA is in the process of withdrawing. Can you talk about what is the role of these companies when it comes to national policy, particularly in this area of climate energy and the environment? What’s your proper role in it and why is it that these firms decided that they wanted to file a brief in this case?
Jackson: Business needs certainty. It’s funny because when I was at the EPA, that’s what I heard constantly from businesses. They were like, “Listen, we want to comply. We want to be on the right side of your agency. We never want to see you, but we need to understand where this is going.” And so I think you find companies like hours who are saying, “We’ve made these investments because we believe it’s the right thing to do because we also believe they’re not bad for business; they’re good for business because we also know that our customers around the world—we’re a multinational business and we sell around the world—expect it from us and so what we’d like you to understand is that we’d like to continue on a trajectory that has a predictable reduction in carbon over time. We’ve sort of invested in a belief that the future needs to be low carbon and eventually, zero carbon. And we believe as Silicon Valley that innovation is really important in terms of getting there. And so for us at Apple it was—and our CEO has been really clear about this—we need to speak up for the things we believe in and one of the things we’re pretty strong on around the world is the need to fight climate change and to use materials responsibly.
Eilperin: And when you make that kind of business argument, right, which essentially you’re making a business and economic argument to, for example, whether it’s Republican officials here in Washington, whether it’s potentially on the Hill or in the administration or if you’re having those discussions with governors or in the states where Apple’s presence—are people receiving and hearing that and incorporating it? To what extent is that resonating with some of the maybe officeholders that might be less inclined to immediately sign on to dramatic climate initiatives and things like that?
Jackson: A lot of our work is at the state level in this country because there isn’t a major climate change bill moving forward right now in Congress. So there’s nothing to work on right now. But at the state level, states have seen the economic growth potential of investing in clean energy. So recently, I was in Iowa because we announced a new datacenter there. We’re definitely not the first technology company to go there but Iowa’s made a huge bet on wind energy because they happen to be very rich in it and it’s very compatible with another huge land use they have, which is agriculture. You don’t have to pick one or the other. What you might have to do if say you had a lot of mining or fossil fuel exploration and development and so what you find is that governors and mayors and it’s devoid of politics in terms of red or blue are looking at, “What are the opportunities for my people to get jobs in this sector?” And we had the same thing in North Carolina. We, of course, run into skeptics but our position is, “Look, we don’t want it to cost more for your customers or ratepayers in your state.” We’re not asking to be subsidized by them, but we do believe that this is an opportunity for us to show you that a business like ours, one we think is very future-oriented can run on clean energy.
Eilperin: And now I want to shift and talk a little bit about science and about how that, for example, plays a role in policymaking here. Obviously, you’re trained as a chemical engineer and worked for EPA as a career employee before heading the agency and a lot of what, of course, my colleagues and I spend our time writing about is how science is being done at the agency right now and other agencies. We certainly are both seeing a questioning of the agency’s own science by Scott Pruitt and others who argue that it’s led to predetermined outcomes. We’ve seen an overhaul of these outside advisory boards. There are 22 of them total where they’re saying that any scientist who has received an EPA grant should either choose between getting funding from the agency or helping guide its science. Could you talk a little about how you see science being done at EPA, both in the past and now and what is the interplay between how research and findings are made at EPA and how that leads to a policy outcome, since there’s been a lot of it.
Jackson: Pretty much everything the EPA does is subject to a lawsuit and it doesn’t matter who does it. It’s not me, it’s not the current administration, and so the really important underpinnings of defending those lawsuits are science. The other thing I would say—I am a chemical engineer by training. I have a master’s in it, chem E. I often say to folks, people ask me all the time, “I really care about the environment. What should I major in?” And I say, “If you can, engineering. If not, environmental science. But make sure if you have an interest in science that you try to put that forward.” Because people assume I think because the environment is trees and nature that nature must be simple. But it’s actually very complex. Air modeling, we used to make jokes about the folks at EPA who do air modeling. But they’re incredibly smart mathematicians.
Eilperin: Were you arguing they were geekier than other EPA employees? Was that the subtext?
Jackson: I’m not saying. But they have to be. They have to be incredibly good mathematicians because they’re trying to predict what will happen around the world if you’re talking about climate change or locally with pollution. And nobody wants dirtier air for their family. Nobody wants dirtier water. Nobody wants to live in a place that’s fouled by activity, development, or otherwise. And so I think that the payoff, if you will, for science is that you win more cases than you lose. I don’t think you can decree science and I also think that it is incredibly important to understand the motivations of people who are doing the science. So while I happen to know a lot of the scientists or did know them when I was head of the EPA, it was not unusual that scientists who were doing work funded by EPA came to very different conclusions and then had huge arguments about what the preponderance of evidence said.
And that is what the scientific process is. It’s exactly that and so I don’t think you can use fiats to dictate that process and I don’t think you should.
Eilperin: And in terms of the input that again, someone running the EPA should get from those on the outside. Again, as someone who has both been on the inside and then has been—not that you’re holding regular meetings with EPA, but obviously, I’m sure there are folks from Apple who meet with them. Could you talk a little about that? Because we now look at the schedules of cabinet members as we have in the past and clearly, there are patterns that have emerged, whether you’re talking about, again, the Environmental Protection Agency or the Interior Department where part of clearly the message we’ve gotten from the Trump administration and from top political appointees is they feel like the regulator community just didn’t have as much access to the leadership of these agencies under the Obama administration.
Now, they’re certainly making a huge effort to incorporate both their views and simply just sit down and talk with them, go to their board meetings. I’m just curious of, again, what was your approach to meeting folks in the past and how do you think you strike a balance between getting the input from say, the constituencies that an agency is regulating and the constituencies who are affected by some of the policies but might not be the actual folks who are being regulated financially?
Jackson: You have to hear from all sides and I prided myself on hearing from all sides and I heard it from all sides and it wasn’t unusual that everyone from the strong environmentalists to the proponents from some sector of industry would say, “You got it 100% wrong.” And some people are nice about it and some people are darn rude about it, but that’s the job. I did. I started at EPA almost 20 years before I became the administrator of the agency, and it is public service. It is public service and I cut my teeth at Superfund sites, where people would walk up to you in tears because their child was sick, and they were afraid it was something they had done or some negligence on their part because they gave them a bottle made with contaminated water. So the only other thing I’ll say is that the rulemaking process is transparent for a reason. Every rule that’s supposed to be put out is supposed to be put out for public comment and then it’s adopted and then it’s usually litigated, depending on the outcome of the rulemaking one way or the other.
Industry and groups that sort of live in this Washington bubble, they always have a voice. They have lawyers and trade associations that comment on rules all the time. The important thing is that the American people, sort of this body of people believe that the Environmental Protection Agency is there as their advocate for clean and healthy communities and you can argue where that line needs to be but that’s the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, and certainly, its leader.
Eilperin: We have a question on twitter from Zane. “What are your thoughts on the term “greenwashing”? Is it a legitimate critique of global tech firms’ corporate social responsibility commitments?” To what extent do you think greenwashing exists and that’s an issue?
Jackson: I think it’s a great sounding name. I think it’s cynical to some degree. I think the problem, though—and I’ve always thought this—is that the average consumer doesn’t really have a way to understand who is really doing something that’s meaningful and who talks a lot about it. And so at Apple, we try really hard not to put out a press release every day saying, “Look at all of the great things we’re doing.” But we do try to do them and then talk about them later. Actually, the one thing we’re doing that is not like that is this whole circular economy with the robot and taking phones apart and trying to recycle. So I can understand why you might be a bit cynical, Zane, which is, “Are you really doing it?”
Eilperin: And don’t you think to some extent some other—isn’t that an accurate description of what some companies do?
Jackson: Absolutely. You can think of companies right now whose commercials are all sunshine and tweeting birds but maybe not so much. And so I invite folks to go on our website, Apple.com/environment and you can read our annual report, you can read our Supplier Responsibility report, you can read a report for every product we make, and you can see why I say that the carbon used for iPhone 8, aluminum is much less than iPhone 7 and iPhone 6. You can see all of those numbers. That’s the best we can do, I think, but I think it’s really important to do.
Eilperin: We also have another question, which says, “Beyond Apple’s direct efforts on sustainability, can you expand on the role of your supply chain in achieving climate goals?” And I think, again, people often like to hear the specifics. Can you show how you’re working with suppliers to achieve what you’re doing, given the fact that Apple has such an extensive network of suppliers?
Jackson: Yeah, so 77% of our carbon footprint is in—of last year’s carbon footprint. We haven’t done it for this year—is in our supply chain. So that means these are places that manufacture—they may be mines, they may be a component manufacturer, they may do something—
Eilperin: And what’s the breakdown? And I don’t know if you know this off the top of your head. What breakdown is domestic and what breakdown is overseas?
Jackson: Most of the carbon emissions are overseas, but we definitely have in our top 200 suppliers—I can’t remember the number right here sitting, but we have a huge part of our supply chain—
Eilperin: Is domestic?
Jackson: Our component manufacturers, the covered glass is the one I like to use, with Corning. So 77% of the supply chain. So now, you have to get that supply chain to move to clean energy. Some people would say, “Well, if they don’t use clean energy, take them out of your supply chain.” There are two problems with that. No one’s using it yet, and so you have no supply chain and that’s a problem. But more importantly, if Apple stands for anything, it should be moving the supply chain leadership and what we find is a lot of what the supply chain energy managers need is help. They don’t have a staff of engineers and an energy department like Apple does and consultants who can help them find deals. So our program consists of two things: mainly, technical support and a web portal, where our teams go out and spend tons of time with suppliers trying to help them move to clean energy. To be honest, most of our suppliers in the U.S. don’t need the help. We’re talking about certainly in Asia but other suppliers around the world who need to understand, “How do I access clean energy in my country? I can’t just plug into a clean grid.” And then we also have done—
Eilperin: And are there stories that come to mind of here, whether it’s in Asia or Africa or Europe where you were able to connect a supplier and what does that look like?
Jackson: It looks like wanting to give all the credit to them because you want that moment when sort of they get the trophy, but we have several suppliers in China who we have scouted the deals and helped them understand and said, “Here’s the investment you would have to make. Here’s us assuring you that the energy will actually make it onto the grid so that it’s offsetting the energy you’re pulling from the grid.” We also did 485-megawatts of clean energy ourselves in China as a downpayment for our supply chain so that they could—
Eilperin: And was that solar or what kind of energy was it?
Jackson: Yeah, solar. Actually, we have one wind deal. Two as well. So solar and wind, but the idea is a little bit of do it, show somebody, teach somebody how to fish and then at some point, say, “Hey, we’re actually going to start favoring suppliers whose carbon footprints are lower. That will be one of the ways we evaluate you. We’re not doing it yet because we want to help you get there but the time is coming.”
Eilperin: And do you have a year where you’re hoping to achieve 100% renewable with suppliers or is that not fixed in stone?
Jackson: Yeah, we haven’t announced a year for that. We announced 4-gigawatts of new clean energy in our supply chain by 2020. We did that two years ago and we already have 2.8-gigawatts under contract and don’t quite quote me on that number, but over 1.5 already built. So we have a couple of more years but, of course, we want to finish early and so that 4-gigawatts would be a significant step in the right direction.
Eilperin: Well, obviously, we’re mainly talking about the environment in this context, but you have social initiatives as part of your portfolio as well.
Eilperin: And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and again, what is the role of a company like Apple when it comes to social policy and having an impact on these issues, whether it’s connecting low-income communities with technology or other things. What is the role that Apple aspires to play and how do you execute that?
Jackson: I was really drawn to Apple because of our CEO, Tim Cook and Tim says that companies should have values. Companies are made of people and they should stand for something in the world. So forever, I think Apple stands for making products that are amazing, the best products in the world. They work, they work well and they’re empowering products. They connect you. They enable you. You get the product and you decide what to do with it. But he’s been really very vocal about saying, “But we also stand for fighting climate change and living up to and being an environmental leader.” We also stand for education and that’s mainly because our products are often used in education but because our roots were the idea that a product like a computer; a Mac could change somebody’s outcome and really give them the power to learn and really move forward. We also stand for accessibility, meaning our products, when you think of them; most of them are smooth sheets of glass. Think about someone who is blind or someone who has other motor skill issues and they’re thinking, “How does that work for me?” And so one in seven people on the planet have a disability and if you don’t have one now, you’ll probably get one as you age. And so our products have software that’s built in and are widely seen as the most advanced in the world from the standpoint of people with disabilities; blind, deaf, motor disabilities, but also, developmental or learning disabilities. I’m really, really proud of that as well.
Eilperin: And we’re clearly at a moment, and this is in Washington and in Silicon Valley and Hollywood and elsewhere where the issue of women in the workforce in terms of whether it’s sexual harassment, opportunities kind of coming up and kind of the tenor of the conversation has changed in recent weeks and I’m curious—again, Silicon Valley has repeatedly come up as one of these communities that broadly is progressive but there have been real challenges for women getting ahead. Could you just, in closing, talk just a little about how Apple is tackling that or what does that conversation look like for—[OVERLAPPING]
Jackson: Yeah, Tim’s been clear that he thinks women are the future of Apple because we need the diversity of approaches that happen when your workforce reflects the world. It’s racial diversity, it’s gender diversity. And we’re really proud of the fact that if you look at sort of the folks we’re hiring in; much more diverse than folks who have been at Apple for a long time.
Eilperin: But I imagine on the senior level, it’s still significantly—
Jackson: Yeah, although, if you take a look at our senior leadership page, we just hired a new general counsel, Kate Adams. The new head of People, a woman. A new head, a managing director for China, a woman engineer. So I think Tim is personally committed to leading by example and I think we’re going to continue to do that but also, to do it in a way that values the employees we have. So there is no moment when you suddenly wake up and it’s just, “Ta-da. It has happened.” You have to respect the fact that the company, which has a really strong culture, is going to change over time.
Eilperin: Well, Lisa, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. Thanks for joining us. And now I’d like to welcome my colleague Steven Stromberg to the stage for our next conversation. Thanks.
The Business of Sustainability:
Stromberg: Good morning. I’m Steve Stromberg; I’m an editorial writer for The Washington Post. With me on stage to discuss the relationship between the private sector, consumers and sustainable business practices, I have Syd Kitson. He’s chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, a former NFL player, who now oversees a 17,000-acre solar town called Babcock Ranch in southwest Florida. Next, we have Sophia Mendelsohn. She’s the head of sustainability at JetBlue Airways. And lastly, we have—but not least—we have Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for polity and government affairs, at Advanced Energy Economy, a DC-based national association of business leaders working to benefit advanced energy companies. And a quick reminder to everybody—you can tweet for our panelists using #WorldInBalance or you can post your own comments to the comments on Facebook Live. I will try to take a few of those throughout our discussion. So, welcome.
I think we’re entering a period when the government—or at least the federal government—seems sort of determined to do less to mandate environmentally-sound business operations, which means it arguably, then, falls on businesses themselves to decide what they owe to society at large, as they also seek to make a profit. So, why don’t we start with a question that sounds pretty basic. Is there such a thing as corporate responsibility, at least outside of seeking profit and satisfying corporate owners? To what extent are companies responsible to society at large? Only to the extent that doing good encourages consumers to continue to buy, or beyond that? So, whichever one of you wants to start with that really easy question.
Mendelsohn: I think it’s a question of time frame. So, your first question is, what is the purpose of us trying to—quote—do good while making a buck? And, if it’s a quarter-to-quarter view, and you’re a short-term investor, the argument is arguably harder, especially if you have a longer ROI. Luckily, most of us are in business for the long run. We’ve built things; we want to establish reputations. The top Fortune 50 companies, multiple have been around for a hundred years; that’s what CEOs envision.
So, we have the opportunity here to fight short-termism, and really sell up the food chain to boards, to investors, that sustainability is another word for long-term smart investment.
Stromberg: And, what’s been your experience at JetBlue? Has it been a struggle to convince your bosses and your boards that the long-term view is the view they should be taking?
Mendelsohn: We’re a publicly listed company, so we have a quarter-to-quarter calls and I think that answers the question to a certain extent. The more social pressure there and the more expectations there are from consumers to behave in a certain way, the more it helps folks like me make a long-term argument without necessarily waiting for the regulation and needing to rely on the fear of regulations, carrot and stick.
Kitson: I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a responsibility to the private sector. And it is good business. And it is important to take a long view. Now, that’s easy for me to say, because I’m in the private sector. When we first took a look at Babcock Ranch, it was a 91,000-acre ranch; that’s 143 square miles. And we sold 73,000 acres to the State of Florida and Lee County, and the largest land purchase in the history of the state. And then we ended up with 18,000 acres. And of that 18,000 acres, we’re preserving half of that.
So, at the end of the day, 90% of the original ranch—Babcock Ranch—is in preservation forever. And that’s a legacy that people are going to be able to enjoy for generations, and we think that’s very, very important.
And then we ended up with this basically 9,000 acres, and we’re building a new town, but a very sustainable town. And we think it’s good business. So, when we started planning our new town, we went back 40 years and looked at plans to see how the natural flow-ways through this property kind of worked their way through, and that’s how we designed it. And we designed it on land that has already been disturbed.
And so, when you think about what you can do from the private sector and make it profitable, we believe it’s great business—A—but B—it’s the right thing to do. We have issues that we have to address as a society, and we think it’s our responsibility to do that. So, it’s very exciting to us. And one of the things that we talked about, the first solar town—one of our first initiatives was to say, how do we deal with the energy? We’re going to have almost 20,000 homes and 6 million people—I mean, 6 million square feet of commercial space.
Stromberg: I was going to say, that’s a lot of people. [LAUGHTER]
Woolf: Yeah, I was going to say—
Kitson: That’s more like a China city, but—no, it’s going to be about 50,000 people. But energy was the key for us. So, we spent almost nine years of time. We actually made the announcement here in Washington, D.C., that we were going to become the first solar-powered town in America. And Florida Power and Light has built a 75-megawatt solar power generating facility right on our property. It’s there today; we donated the 440 acres. They’ve installed 343,000 panels. So, when you’re at Babcock Ranch today and you look at the light in our town, it’s powered by solar energy, and at night, the natural gas then kicks in, and it’s part of our natural gas.
So, the combination of those two make it the cleanest form of energy of anywhere in the country, but the next step is storage. How do we take this to a whole other level? And if we can store the energy and not be on the grid, then we’ve really, really accomplished something, and that’s where we’re headed towards. But that’s good business.
And just one quick story. We had an event where we said, “Come see our progress at Babcock Ranch,” and—because everything was under construction, and people wanted to see what was going on there—and we were hoping a couple thousand people would show up. That’s a lot of people, a couple thousand people coming in to see what you’re doing. Well, 20,000 people came to see what was going on at Babcock Ranch, and every single person there was asking, “We want to see the solar. We want to see what’s going on with the solar.” So, Florida Power and Light has agreed to build an observatory so people can actually see the scale of this.
Stromberg: They want to see the plant itself?
Kitson: They wanted to see what it was all about, and how it actually worked, and they were very—and so, Florida Power has put a kiosk in to explain how it works, and then they’re going to have an observation tower so people can actually see really what the scale of what they’re doing.
Woolf: Huh. I think what this conversation has already shown is that sustainability might have been leading-edge 20 years ago. It’s pretty mainstream today.
Woolf: I think it’s been embraced by corporate America. In fact, 71% of Fortune 100 companies have specific numeric renewable greenhouse gas targets that they’ve committed to achieve. They’re accountable to their board and shareholders to achieve that. When you go to the Fortune 500, it’s over 43%, and growing. So, this is already pretty mainstream with the large companies. I think it’s growing down to even the smaller-sized companies. And when you look at the size of the advanced energy industry, the clean tech industry that powers our economy—this is not a future industry; this is a current big business, a $200 billion U.S. industry, over three million jobs, roughly the size of retail, and growing three times faster than the U.S. economy, when you don’t count ethanol.
So, this is a fast growing, already existing industry, which just underscores that sustainability is now mainstream, in at least corporate America.
Stromberg: And just to be clear, the advanced energy economy is—
Woolf: So, we’re all forms of kind of cutting-edge advanced technology. So, it’s the renewable guys—winds, solar, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, fast-acting natural gas, modular nuclear reactors—all the forms of technologies that may not have been competitive 20 years ago, but are competitive and being deployed today.
Stromberg: And are you feeling demand for this sort of sustainability from shareholders, boards? I mean, is it across the board, or is there within kind of corporate structures, there are some who seem to be more interested than others. Can you detect a pattern?
Woolf: Sure. I think there is a pattern, certainly. The larger companies, more sophisticated companies a long time ago started this; they were the tip of the spear. Walmart, for example, announced their sustainability goals—100% renewable energy commitment—in 2005. You know, that was a different administration, a different time. This is not a fad that comes and goes with the political administration. This is a long-term commitment, and that has not progressed much beyond kind of those leading companies to be mainstream.
And I think there’s a few reasons why they do it. First of all, it’s economic now. There’s not necessarily a cost. You can sign wind contracts at two and a half cents a kilowatt hour; solar is coming down below four cents; energy efficiency utilities are doing it at about four cents. So, there’s not a price premium you have to pay; you just have to ask the question.
And there’s a real social value that corporations have. They’re part of their communities; they want to sponsor the Little League team. They also want to have a sustainability commitment to show that they’re good stewards. And increasingly—at least what I’m hearing from our members—is that they’re asked about it. They’re asked about it by their employees. Millennials want to work for a company that they feel good about. And they’re being asked about it by shareholders.
Stromberg: Sophia, you’re nodding your head a lot.
Mendelsohn: I agree. And I think this is a perfect example of what we’re really dealing with is the hangover from the reputation that sustainability and environmental social governance used to have. And it’s like, 10 years ago that was true. But it takes a long time for society to move on with a conversation. And so, we come to conversations like this and we’re still starting it by saying, “This is good business.” When I go to a finance conversation, we don’t start it saying, “Making money is good business,” and, “We should have lots of different people doing it, regardless of the administration.”
So, the sooner we put that conversation aside, the better, and I think one of the many ways that that change is happening is by having small, medium enterprises begin to take the message to their consumers, so it’s not just the top brand value—JetBlue, Disney, Coca-Cola—saying, “We have to do this to protect our reputation with consumers.” It’s beginning to be woven into society.
Stromberg: On consumers—because I think this is a fascinating question of when do they care? When do consumers care? It actually surprised me a little bit when you mentioned the interest in solar, because I would have assumed at Babcock Ranch the real appeal of the sustainability that you have built into the development is you have nature around; you have trails; you have shining sun and animals and green, right? It surprised me that there would be that much interest in the solar generation per se.
So, but more broadly to all of you, when do consumers care? I mean, do they care whether the Starbucks in their local strip mall has a green roof? Do they notice that? Do they care that the cups have recycling labels on them? Do they care when they’re informed that the coffee beans come from a sustainable agricultural practice? Are there circumstances in which consumers seem to care more about sustainability? And if so, how do you either cultivate those circumstances, or expand the customers’ sort of conscientiousness?
Kitson: I think they absolutely care, and what’s interesting, it’s not just the Millennials, but it’s the Baby Boomers. I think both really care about what we’re doing as a society, and one thing people equate it to. It’s, first of all, cost is a big issue. We really need to think about—the way we term it is, better quality at a lower cost. And so, money does matter, and what comes out of the pocketbooks do matter. And as much as people want to be sustainable, it still has to make economic sense for them individually.
Also, it’s proven that if you live in a healthy environment, you’re going to live longer. That’s absolutely a proven fact. So, I think people think about that also. So, when you start to put all these things together, from a consumer perspective, it’s not only accepted right now, but people are seeking it. They’re looking for that type of a lifestyle. And from a product perspective, and from what we’re doing from a more of a community perspective.
I read a lot about how everybody’s talking about building these smart cities, and we’re already doing that. All those things that people have talked about, whether—how we talk about the environment—on the education side, we started with a school. We didn’t have anybody living there, and we started with the school, and it’s amazing how that filled up almost instantly. We have our solar energy.
Our transportation is going to be with autonomous vehicles. We actually are starting next month with an autonomous shuttle, an electrically-powered autonomous shuttle. So think about this: we have autonomous vehicles that are powered by solar energy, and it’s transporting people from point to point, and the whole idea here is, what we’re hoping is people right now basically have two cars in their garage. We think very shortly people are going to be looking at one car in their garage. And then, shortly after that—we hope within the next ten years—they say, “Wait a minute. We don’t need any cars in our garage.”
And think about the societal benefits, and what that does to—not only for consumers, but for our landscapes and just for society in general—the societal benefits are absolutely incredible. We’re doing that right now at Babcock Ranch.
And so, health and wellness, really then, ties into everything you were talking about, with the trails, and we have occupational therapy and physical therapy and eating well. Everything is farm to table. Those things people really care about. When they come in and they know that our restaurant is farm to table, they talk about it, and they come back, and they come back, and enjoy it. So, those things—the sustainable part of what we’re doing—is selling homes, and it is something that in our mind is very economically feasible.
Stromberg: Um-hm. So, you started off by talking about how, sort of the obvious point, consumers are cost-sensitive, right?
Stromberg: At the same time, you seem to be saying that they’re a sort of sustainability premium that people are willing to pay. Is that what you’re saying? And is there sort of a balance that you have to establish between the two? I toured this sort of smart solar-powered town and model city over in Japan last year, and everything was gleaming and very efficient, and very nice and new. Except it was a little expensive. So, how do you compete against the non-sustainable developers?
Kitson: I think you have to make it economically feasible for the consumer. And so, I think those are very, very important. Again, better quality at a lower cost. So, everything we’re doing, we look at how can this—whether it be autonomous vehicles, or how people are living their lives in their homes. The availability of the trails, and giving people a choice.
But we’re looking at keeping those prices down. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I don’t think just because it’s sustainable—just because you’re doing it the right way—means it needs to be more expensive. And we’re proving that out. It really doesn’t, even how you build homes. Part of the issue is—we’re greenfield, so we’re coming out of the ground right now. On the technology side, we have a gigabit to every, single home, fiber to every, single home—
Stromberg: This is internet access?
Kitson: Exactly. So, when you have that kind of speed, if you were trying to do that in other towns, you’re digging up lawns and creating all kinds of havoc, and it’s very, very expensive. So, in a brownfield situation it might be a little bit more expensive. But I the greenfield, doing these things the right way from the beginning is very important.
And if you’re in Florida—anybody here from Florida—you’ll know that we have a thousand people a day moving into our state net. We need to accommodate that, and we need to do it in the right way. And so, if you think about doing it the right way from the beginning, those costs aren’t nearly as onerous as you think they are.
Stromberg: Malcolm, I think you have something to say?
Woolf: Sure. Just going back to your earlier question, I think business is really following demand here. The demand is there, which is why they’re responding, whether it’s Energy Star labels that customers want, or LEED-certified buildings that businesses want to keep their costs down—there’s a whole array of market signals that businesses are responding to, and they found that it doesn’t cost more. That old concern about a price premium simply—to talk about the housing example—orientation of the house. You just frame the house, thinking about, “Hey, how is this going to be sustainable?” doesn’t cost more to maybe turn it 15 degrees to get the kind of community you want.
So, I think folks are beginning to realize they don’t have to choose between price and sustainability; they can get what they want and still be competitive. And if you don’t do that, people are going to walk an extra block to go to the organic cleaners, or the more sustainable coffee shop.
Mendelsohn: Your second question exposes the weakness of your first question, your first question being, “Do they care?” and your second question immediately being, “But how much are they willing to pay for that?”
Mendelsohn: Because the answer is—universally, when we’re done with all the nice stories—is not very much more. And we sell all kinds of expensive things all the time—like purses to women—and people pay a lot for things, and it doesn’t seem that that luxury premium will necessarily translate to—quote—doing the right thing when you’re walking to the cleaners or the grocery store.
So, for big companies, I think it’s actually a straw man to ask if consumers care. And we should just be working with our current marketing structure, which is very well established at all of these companies, and say, “Why do people buy our products in the first place? Okay, yeah. They want to get somewhere?” Because they want to feel good about themselves. They’re always going to care about that. That’s the basic marketing question.
So, rather than asking them to care about something esoteric and special and far-off and distant that they still learn about, just ask to care about themselves—like they have been the whole time—and let me work within the product—much like Lisa was saying—to change the supply chain so they don’t even have to think about it, just feel good with the brand.
Stromberg: I have a question from Savannah on Twitter. “Sophia mentioned that companies will be more likely influenced to be more sustainable when the public expects and demands it. How can consumers best voice their desire for more sustainable practices within companies?”
Mendelsohn: There are two ways. One is, your individual purchasing power, which is now greater than ever, with the microphone of social media. And the other way is as an investor. Individuals are the ones behind the banks. It’s us saving our money for the long-term for our long-term goals. Tell your company who manages your 401k; tell your money managers and your mutual funds that you want them to be looking out for your money in the long run, that you didn’t put this money away and save it to use tomorrow; it’s for in 50 years, so you’d like it to be with a company that can at least think out 50 years.
Stromberg: When we think about sustainability, we often think about sort of wind turbines on the horizon, or solar farms with an observation deck. But arguably, more important is driving efficiency. So, what are you trying to use less of in your various spheres, and how are you doing it? Who wants to go first?
Kitson: I’ll take a quick stab at it. As an example, water is very precious, and so we have our own water treatment facility. But, everything in the entire community is irrigated with reuse water to replenish the aquifers and to make sure that—again, thinking about sustainability and the long term—
Stromberg: And by reuse water, you mean you collect everything that—
Kitson: Absolutely, it comes back in and goes right back out. But there are other—
Stromberg: Do you have on-site water treatment to do that?
Kitson: Yes. That we own and we operate, and have made sure that it’s done in an appropriate way. I think some of the other things, too, are in design. So, when you pull into Babcock Ranch, you’re not going to see a lot of grass. You’re going to see natural areas along the boulevards. And therefore, you don’t have all of the leaf blowers and the lawn mowers and everything else constantly burning, and spending the time mowing those areas. Instead, they’re natural. People love it. They go, “Well, why don’t we just always have this?” because they’re beautiful areas.
And the other thing we’ve done is used natural, native plant materials. One of the things down in Florida, we do have wind events every now and then. And so, the things that survive are generally native, native plant materials. So, and not only are they native, but they require less water. So, we have committed to making sure that we restrict the amount of turf that people allowed on their homes and that the majority of all of the landscaping has to be native plant materials. That’s just one example.
Mendelsohn: That type of thinking from a CEO, a decision maker, at that level is exactly what we need with the Fortune 500s. And again, it goes to long-term versus short-termism. BlackRock has a great statistic where they interviewed a couple hundred CFOs, and 50% of the CFOs said they would forego investing in a smart project in their supply chain that saved money, saved fuel, et cetera, if it meant they were going to miss quarterly earnings by a penny.
Stromberg: Hm. Wow.
Mendelsohn: That’s the pressure that is put upon large public companies, which is allowing small private companies to move in a way that we necessarily can’t.
Stromberg: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Woolf: The cheapest next kilowatt of power is the one that’s not needed, so there’s all sorts of ways that companies, individuals can reduce their energy consumption, but you deal with that short-term thinking. When you go to an LED lightbulb, the payback period is a matter of months, but there is that upfront cost. So, you’ve got to get past that. And I think increasingly more and more of the market is, and that’s driving the systematic change.
Stromberg: Malcolm, you’ve been working with major companies to buy renewable electricity, advanced electricity of all types. It might sound strange, but, you’ve also sort of criticized government regulation at times as a barrier to doing this. Would you please explain when the government helps and when it hurts sustainability efforts?
Woolf: Sure. Advanced Energy Economy has actually created an advanced energy buyers’ group for large corporate buyers who have their sustainability goals, but they’re finding it difficult and far harder than it should be to do so. So, for example, if you’re a business in North Carolina and you want to lease your roofs for solar, you don’t want to get into the solar business, but you want solar panels on your roof—you can’t do that. That’s illegal. In another half of the country, if you want to sign a deal for wind power, you’re not allowed to. You can only buy what you’re regulated utility allows you to buy.
So, I think there are a whole array of areas where regulation has gotten in the way. The industry is not asking for mandates or subsidies—we may have needed that 20 years ago—we are competitive today. What we want is the market to work. And there are propels out there now to subsidize uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, which we think is a troubling development. There’s other proposals to impose tariffs on solar panels, to change the tax code and change the existing phase-outs of these subsidies, which is going to disrupt the markets.
All we want now is, leave us alone and let us complete. Let markets work.
Stromberg: You have also said that the federal government is sort of deferring to states more often now on sustainability questions; but, that a lot of the states don’t really know what to do. As a former state energy official yourself, are there some that are sort of getting it right and others that are getting it wrong? Or is there kind of a—are we universally at sea here?
Woolf: I think there’s a fundamental change that’s happening in the electricity world that’s going to take some time. But, one state that I think is doing it well is New York. And just to shar a quick example, in Brooklyn—I understand Brooklyn has become hip and cool again, and Millennials are moving in, so it’s one area in the northeast where there’s load growth. And to upgrade a transformer, which would be needed to meet that growth, would cost north of a billion dollars. A billion dollars.
So, the regulators decided an innovative approach. Rather than simply allow the billion-dollar upgrade and charge rate payers, they challenged the utility to spend $200 million and see if they could solve the problem. And instead of saying, “Do it by upgrading the substation,” they said, “Find a solution. Go out to the market for solutions. Don’t pick a technology.” And the market responded. Between energy efficiency and solar and storage, they are going to be able to solve that problem for $200 million instead of a billion.
But now, look at it from the utility’s perspective. Right now, they get a rate of return on how much money they spend. So, if they spend a billion dollars, they get a rate of return on that, versus $200 million. So, New York is trying to change the incentives, so that you can incent industry to make money by doing the things that’s right for rate payers.
And so, that kind of change—there are a few leading states—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, actually, Minnesota, Hawaii—there are a number of states that are looking at how do we evolve the utility business model to get what we want for cheaper?
Kitson: You know, it’s been interesting. We’ve been very fortunate working with Florida Power and Light in Florida, and they’ve been very progressive in thinking about renewable energy, and how they can further it in the state. I mean, they’ve really taken a lead in building multiple 75-megawatt solar farms throughout the state. And then, what’s really been interesting—and not everybody wants to hear this necessarily, but—they’ve been challenging us about how they can be more sustainable, and how they can get the word out about every time that they drive their car, what it means, versus if they’re solar-powered. And letting people truly understand what it is we’re trying to do, and—whether it be storage, which is hopefully the next level for us at Babcock Ranch—we’re very engaged with them to try and take that to a next step.
So, there’s a large company that is really looking at sustainability, and they’re passionate about it, and how they can take that to a whole new level.
Stromberg: We have Ben on Twitter, who asks: Sustainable purchasing options seem mostly readily available for middle and upper classes. How can, or do, sustainability efforts of private industry reach those of lower economic standing with less purchasing power?
Mendelsohn: Well, Ben, I’d say that’s a great question that’s been solved already, Walmart being a perfect example of a very accessible brand, set of goods that have solved this problem, or are solving this problem for the consumer so that you don’t have to care about it, just like we don’t ask you to care about any other internal workings of the company.
And as JetBlue is New York’s hometown airline, and I’m a young, hip, Millennial, so I’m glad—yeah, in Brooklyn—so, I’m glad to hear that. But again, it really—I’m sorry, the question that you were originally answer about—
Stromberg: The kind of states that are trying to lead the way in this effort.
Mendelsohn: Yeah. Thank you. The success stories here are all because this has been depoliticized. And it’s been depoliticized through the common sense of money. And so if there’s one message for this room, one tone we could take away—that, if we leave this in the hands of business, we will be able to handle it logically.
Stromberg: We probably have time for one more question from Twitter here, from Isabelle, who asks Syd: Was Babcock affected by the recent hurricane? If not, how does the ranch’s vulnerability to climate change and weather disasters factor into their operations and sustainability plans?
You mentioned this a little bit already, but is there any more?
Kitson: That is such a great question. So, Babcock Ranch is 30 feet above sea level. And we’re well above the storm surge.
Mendelsohn: Is that a lot?
Kitson: In Florida, that’s a virtual mountain.
Mendelsohn: Okay. [LAUGHTER]
Kitson: And so, we’re above the storm surge. We didn’t build in any wetlands. We’re not building in any flood plains. And we’ve hardened the community. So, thank you for asking that question, because the eye of the hurricane went right over the top of us. And by the way, all of our utilities are buried underground and everything we do, we think about that resilience, so that people don’t have to leave; they don’t have to evacuate if, in fact, there’s a storm in Florida.
And so, I think the responsible thing we should be thinking about is where we build. Sometimes—and people don’t like to hear this—but, if we’re building in flood plains, and we’re building in those wetlands and those low-lying areas, and there’s a storm, there’s going to be damage, and then we’re all going to have to pay for that, and that’s consistently what happens.
What we’re doing at Babcock Ranch is a totally different model, where we’re well above the storm surge, and because we’re hardening the construction, it’s really safe for people. They don’t have to worry about jumping into the car and getting out and finding a safer area. People are going to be coming to our community to be in a safe area.
And there are so many lessons learned through Hurricane Irma, and we’re going to take those lessons and continue to improve. But the eye of the storm came right over the top of us, and I would say within two days later, you would not have known that Babcock Ranch was hit by a hurricane.
Stromberg: The National Flood Insurance Program thanks you. [LAUGHTER]
Panelists, that’s all the time we have. Thanks for joining us and sharing your expertise.
Before the next panel comes to call your attention to the screen. The Washington Post spoke with two people who are leading efforts in Puerto Rico and Patagonia and working hard to make progress on sustainability and conservation across the world. Here’s a look at what they’re doing right now.
Moving Toward Environmental Equality:
Fears: Hello, everyone. I’m Darryl Fears. I’m a national environmental reporter for The Washington Post and for our final segment today, we’re going to be talking about environmental quality and efforts to promote environmental standards, and justice in the United States and across the world. And with me to talk about this are Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development corporation, which seeks to address the root causes of poverty by seeking sustainable solutions. Dune Ives, executive director of the Lonely Whale, an organization that works across public and private sectors to promote market-based and policy change to help reduce ocean waste. And finally, Brendan Shane, regional director for North America, C40 Cities climate leadership group, where he supports C40 cities in the United States and Canada, in their climate action and sustainability initiatives, and facilitates inner city, regional, and global collaboration.
Just a reminder to tweet your question for our panelist at #WorldInBalance, and we’ll take a few of those during the conversation. Panelists, that’s all—oops, I’m sorry. Okay, so let’s get that conversation started. I’d like to ask if there’s anything opening—a statement that any of you would like to say about this issue in your part of the world.
Flowers: Well, I can start. Being from Alabama, thank you for this opportunity to be able to present and talk about environmental justice. I work in a community that’s located between Selma and Montgomery, and there, as we talk about dealing with environmental issues, people there still don’t have the basic right to sanitation. When they flush their toilets, it’s either going out on the ground, or it’s coming back into their homes, and we need to address that in this country. We partnered with Baylor’s National School of Tropical Medicine, and did a study that revealed that—where we found evidence of hookworm and other tropical parasites here in the United States of America.
And I believe that that’s an atrocity at this particular day and time, and especially when there’s discussion around ending the efforts of the EPA, and other kinds of efforts around climate, and here we have the perfect marriage of environmental justice and climate change, where we’re starting to see tropical illnesses that normally are not seen in the United States, but because the climate is in fact changing, people are being exposed to that, and it’s going to be—and they’re going to move further north. But these are infrastructure issues that we need to address in rural communities, that have never been addressed.
Fears: And Catherine, how unusual is it to see a widespread case of hookworm in these communities in this day and time?
Flowers: It’s very unusual. Actually, if you look at the literature, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission takes credit for eliminating this in the first part of the last century, and we’re talking about 2017. And we see evidence of it, so much so that it is garnered international attention, that here in the United States of America, where we have one of the richest and most robust economies in the world, there are a lot of people who have been left out.
So, as we talk about how we build sustainability, we need to first of all look at those communities that we’ve left out, and have never addressed these issues in the first place, because I want to bring solar power to my community, but I also want to make sure that they’re not on homes that are energy inefficient—mobile homes, that people living in don’t even gain value.
Fears: Speaking of waste, Dune, how much of our garbage winds up in the ocean? How much plastic is out there, and what can we do to sort of start mitigating that?
Ives: Well, at the risk of being the bad news panel here today—and thank you for having me on the panel this morning. It’s really a pleasure to be here with all of you. Every year, we produce 300 million metric tons of new plastic. Only 10% of that is recycled. About 78% of that becomes waste. A lot of that actually ends up into the ocean, either through rivers and lakes as part of oceanic, or directly into the ocean itself. So, we know that annually, between 8 and 12 million metric tons of plastic is making its way into the ocean.
Once it’s in the ocean, it’s nearly impossible to extract it. A lot of plastic is breaking down into what’s called microplastics; straws, cups, lids, plastic bags. There’s a lot of low value plastics, they’re called, that don’t have an end of life market presently available to them, to be able to be purchased, but they break up into microplastics, and they become really attractive to fish. They are ingested by—and the estimate right now is 100% of all seven species of turtles ingest plastic. Many of them become entangled by plastic, as well, so it’s pervasive.
Fears: Right. I recently wrote a story about plastics, and of the 9 billion tons of plastics produced in the world since the invention of plastics around 1950, 7 billion tons still exist. And so, we’ve only gotten rid of 2 billion tons of plastic. The stuff stays around forever. There is a campaign to do little things, like eliminate straws and stuff like that, because a straw got stuck in a turtle’s nose. Can you tell us a little more about the danger that these plastics pose to these animals, and what’s happening out there with them?
Ives: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. So, the estimate right now is when an animal ingests plastic, it has a 50% mortality rate. Straws, bags, I think everybody has seen the video of the turtle with the straw in its nose. It’s heartbreaking. We recently received a photo of a fish from Indonesia that had a straw in its belly and a chip bag, and a biodegradable plastic spoon. Plastic bags are showing up in the bellies of whales. These animals can’t recover, and it’s our waste that’s causing it. I think also important, and I love what Governor Schwarzenegger recently said from COP23 when he said, “We have to start talking about these environmental issues in a different way. We have to think about it in terms of our human health,” and that’s where we get back to the environmental justice conversation. Plastic pollution impacts us as a species.
94% of our drinking water in the United States is polluted with plastic. That should scare us, that we’re drinking plastic. We know plastic fibers are showing up in the flesh of fish. When the vast majority of the world’s population relies on marine-based protein as their primary source of protein, that’s injustice. So, it is harmful to animals. I think we’re only now beginning to see what the potential impact is to us as species, and as a mother of a three-year old, I no longer serve my child fish sticks.
Fears: Brendan, you do important work that few people understand, and few people know about. So, why don’t you start by explaining to us what a C40 city is, and exactly what it is that you do.
Shane: Yeah. Well, we are a network actually not of 40 anymore, but of 91 of the largest cities in the world. So, that’s about 650 million people, and a large chunk—about a quarter of the world’s GDP. So, these are the mayors in all parts of the world that are most dedicated to pushing for climate change action. But I think to follow on the comments you just heard, what these mayors really want to do is improve the health, the sanitation, the air quality, the delivery of services for their constituents, whether it’s in Africa, Asia, or here in the United States.
And so, we are a climate-focused organization, but much of the emphasis we have right now is looking at what’s the nexus between the equity outcomes, the improving inclusion and inequity in communities, that you see with the same type of actions we need to take for climate protection, whether it’s solar, whether it’s better water resource management, and in particular, whether it’s waste management. Our cities, not to cast dispersions, but the waste you’re referring to is coming, in large part, from our cities, and much of that from southeast China, from the Philippines, from cities—and they’re taking these issues very seriously. And so, our role is bringing the mayors together, bringing the technical staff, NGOs, and partners together to try to tackle those with the best available solutions.
Fears: And so, what do we have in the way of results so far?
Shane: Well, they vary. These challenges are extremely difficult and so we see good progress in a number of communities; in, let’s say, more developed cities. You see really rapid movement. We’re going to see cities that are indeed carbon neutral; that are down to the point of no net emissions, in the next decade. And then in parts of the developing world, you see really strong advances around, let’s say, mobility, in particular. Mobility—just the ability to get around in cleaner transport that improves air quality and lets people live a healthier, better life.
So, but all those regions are challenged by any number of issues; air quality problems, even if your city in Europe is pushing hard toward a low-carbon economy, and no emissions, you’re still getting polluted air. You’re still eating fish out of polluted waters. So, the challenges keep rising, and that’s sort of what we try to do. We call ourselves the climate leadership group, because we’re trying to keep pushing hard on ourselves, on our own leaders to kind of keep upping the ante. You just saw it at COP23 this past week in Bonne, all the nations coming together and realizing what we’ve committed to so far is good, but it’s not enough. And it’s not enough for the climate, but it’s also not enough for the oceans, or for sanitation and health of communities.
Fears: Catherine, you’re representing people who are—who have very little sort of resources, who are poor, who have very little representation and political power. And across the United States and of course, the world, you have these people living in the most vulnerable areas near shipping ports, near waste treatment facilities, near superfund sites—toxic superfund sites—because they don’t have any power. And so, does the government have a responsibility to sort of rescue these people from this to create policies, and how do you get them to create these policies that sort of alleviate some of these problems in their communities?
Flowers: Well, first of all, I think that the government is a factor in some of these dirty industries that have located in these communities, because a lot of times, the government is providing incentives for them to locate there. And often times, they’re left to the their own devices, and if they’re poisoning the community, like in Uniontown, they’re bringing in coal ash, the people there are suffering as a result.
Fears: How do those people fight this? What can you do to mobilize opposition?
Flowers: Well, a lot of people are organizing and trying to fight it. I think that one of the problems that we have in rural communities is that the major media doesn’t—is not interested in covering stories there. Fortunately, there’s a lot of attention in Alabama right now. Hopefully, we can look at some of those other problems we have, too, so I think that’s one thing, because there are groups that are organized throughout Alabama, I know for sure, and throughout the Gulf coast region. A lot of people that I—when I go to Detroit, for an example, people are organizing there because they have water affordability issues, where people’s homes are being taken because they can’t afford the water bill. They put water mortgages on their homes.
So, these problems are happening around the country, and people are organizing. The problem is we don’t get the media attention. And lastly, I think in terms of how we address the policies, we’ve been working with Senator Corey Booker on developing some EJ policies. This morning I had a meeting with a group here that’s also working on that, as well.
Fears: Okay, I think we just got called out twice in one—so, Dune, you’re aware of some of the problems out there in the drinking water, and with plastics, but to a large degree, the very problems you talked about, people aren’t generally aware of them. And it seems that it’s easy to make them aware of it, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Are people aware? If they’re not aware, how do you make them more aware that their children and themselves may be drinking these pollutants?
Ives: I’m fortunate to live in Seattle, Washington, and every day, I get to look out my window at the Puget Sound, and I see the water, and it looks beautiful. It’s blue, and blue means good, right? It doesn’t mean that it’s polluted. I think ocean health issues are really difficult to solve for, because the ocean looks healthy. One, if we even recognize that there’s an ocean, and we think about it, which the vast majority of us don’t think about it on a daily basis. It covers the majority of our planet, but it’s pretty far away from us, and it’s pretty unattainable.
To be able to get on the water, in the water, requires means. And most of us don’t have those means to be able to do it. So, you’re right; people typically aren’t aware that there is an ocean that has issues, so we’re doing two things at Lonely Whale: one is we’re incubating these courageous campaigns so our campaign we have right now is called Stop Sucking, and it’s about single-use plastic straws. Every day in the United States, we use 500 million non-recyclable plastic straws. They’re not all getting into the water, but a lot of them are, but it’s really a token. It’s that token item to say, we have a relationship, we have a toxic relationship with single-use plastics, and we need to break that relationship. It’s effective in garnering attention and spreading the message. It’s in over 40 countries already, which is exciting, but we also know that we need market-based solutions, and we need policy change to really support this awareness building, and the change that we need.
So, we’re working really closely with Dell, based in Austin, Texas. Dell, in partnership with Lonely Whale, is launching a consortium of global enterprises, global companies, that together are trying to stand up. The first commercially viable and operational ocean-bound material supply chain, and in doing so, what they’ve committed to is integrating this waste product—plastic bottles, bags, nylon material—into their products and packaging. So, turning the faucet off while other companies are looking at recyclability and infrastructure development.
Dell’s leadership in this space cannot be understated. I love what you said about it really is the government allowing these companies to come in, and they do what they’re going to do. Companies have the opportunity to take a very thoughtful leadership role on these environmental issues that we’re dealing with. They have such leverage and such power to be able to influence within their own industry, but cross-industry, as well, so while those of us who are fighting the good fight on the ground, and raising awareness and building a global movement, we need the help of corporations like Dell to really push this forward, and I think what that does is it shows policy makers that the market is supportive of change. It becomes so much easier for policy to get put into place.
Fears: To bring this issue back to the audience, in this area, we’re fortunate enough to have the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, which is ongoing, and going for the next ten years. But the Potomac River, where most of you get your water, has a little problem with male bass somehow becoming female bass, because of—scientists think—pollutants in the water, from chemicals from the stuff that many of you pour down the toilet, in the sink, that’s affecting marine life there. So, the water sometimes isn’t as pure here as you might think. So, Brendan—
Shane: Can I just pick up on the last comment?
Fears: You did last time, too.
Shane: Yeah, I think that in the waste context, but also in the climate context, and just to refer to the effort that was just a very strong effort at the U.N. negotiations from the United States, we are still in campaign, which was talking about the dedication of states and cities, to the Paris Accords, to pushing for climate change. What that really, I think, recognizes is just what Dune was referencing; that we were there working with cities, but it really is that combination of government, state and cities, counties, and tribes, but then it’s the private sector. So, what you saw stepping up were thousands of companies, also universities, healthcare systems coming together because you have to—those are the groups across—or collectively, in particular, that can aggregate the demand to change the market the way you’re describing, and that might be changing it to say we have to have the 100% renewable supply that Lisa Jackson was referring to, or that we need to see materials that are either biodegradable or fully recyclable, or maybe just we’re not going to use those types of plastic products at all anymore. No more single-use for certain categories.
Ives: I think that’s right. And I think we also—there’s some really local issues that are very present, especially for the work you’re doing in Alabama and with C40, C91—you going to rebrand? C40, and there is a really important role for the U.N. to play in these conversations. The sustainable development goals give us a marker that we can work towards, so we work very closely with the U.N. environment program, and their clean seas initiative, which is tied to sustainable development goal 14. And that has shown already a galvanizing force of, I think it’s over 30 countries making a commitment to achieve a clean sea, and now beat pollution.
There’s all types of pollution, and so having these momentum-building movements at that international scale can really help to shine a light where it should be shined on great progress being moved forward, and then also providing a pathway forward to what do we have to hit by 2025? In our case, to make sure that we don’t have more plastic by volume than fish in the ocean by 2025, we’re going to see a lot more transformation of fish than you’re currently seeing here with the males turning female.
Flowers: And I also wanted to mention, even with our work, we’re also working with the United Nations. We’ve sent in a request to the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who’s going to be coming to Alabama on the 7th and 8th of December.
Fears: Okay, I have another question, but I want to take a question from Twitter, and Ocogan asks: the last panel suggested business will take of sustainability concerns, especially as consumers demand it. Does this panel agree?
Ives: I—yes and no. Can we say yes and no, both? I think it’s important for consumers to make their voices known; to let corporations know what their interests are, what matters to them in communities, and what they expect from brand value propositions. So, if you have a favorite brand that you love, but you know that it’s polluting the ocean, or it’s polluting our communities, or it’s not doing enough around climate, we should make the voice known, and it’s really up to those thoughtful leaders within the corporations to determine whether or not they have the strength of leadership to respond.
Fears: So, does it depend more on the consumer to push this, or does it depend more on the companies to recognize it?
Ives: I think it depends on—
Flowers: I think it’s yes and no as well.
Fears: Yes and no is kind of—
Flowers: Well, let me just give an example. There are some companies that are perpetuators of the pollution. But then there are also those companies that are—that realize they have a social responsibility. There’s a company, for an example, I can’t identify who they are right now, that’s working with us, on finding technological solutions to the on-site waste water problem. I think that that’s—for them to even take that social responsibility step towards finding a solution is the key to how we get past where we are right now.
Fears: And in that instance, who approached who? Did they approach you? Or did you—
Flowers: They approaches us.
Fears: Okay. Out of the blue?
Ives: I think what—oh, I’m so sorry.
Fears: Go ahead.
Ives: I think what you’re going to see more and more of is thoughtful companies that are focused on their bottom line, taking these environmental and social issues more seriously. We have to have a more circular economy perspective in the work that we do environmentally as corporations, and those that are able to take that forward looking, long-term perspective on the health of the planet, are the ones that are going to be profitable. They’re the ones that are going to continue to survive. So, the question we should be asking is which corporations are going to be here for the long haul?
Shane: Yeah, and where is the real leadership coming from? I think it has to be the corporations and the government working together, and frankly, it has to be very strong leadership from each sector, which is hard and there’s only so many people willing to do that. And those are the mayors, or maybe the governor, the local leader, the local business, or a corporate—global, that is going to stand up and say, “We think we can do this better with less impact, or more positive impact on our customer, let’s say, but on the globe as well.”
Governments and businesses aren’t going to just solve it by themselves. You really have to be looking at where the leadership is coming from, and how quickly that can be shared out, and then ideally, the customers are going to demand that those better solutions pervade the market—take over the market.
Fears: Okay, we have a question from Alan on Twitter who asks: for disadvantaged communities, is there too much focus or overpromising of advanced technologies when incremental improvements could be made to more conventional technologies, to make them more sustainable?
Flowers: Well, I guess I’ll answer that question. I believe that—I don’t think that we’ve overpromised what’s available to other people around the country, and even within the state itself. I think the problem has been the structures have been in place where the funding that would go into support those type of technological—we’re not even talking about advances, the extension—we’re talking about communities where people are paying waste water treatment fees, and it’s still coming back into their homes.
So, at what point do they get from the outhouse to where they can flush their toilets and not have to worry about seeing the feces in their own homes? I think that we have the technology here to do it; the question is the access, and I think what we have to look at across the board as we’re talking about clean energy, as we talk about even these basic things, we’ve got to make sure that—we need to have a diversity program and an inclusion program in that movement, too, because it’s not there. And therefore, we wouldn’t continue to have these environmental justice issues that keep manifesting over and over again. And this is a basic issue that I think that we should have solved a long time ago, and the technology is there. The question is the will there? And is there the means to make sure that the money is spent equitably?
I’ll give you an example. Recently, there was a grant that was just given to a town of connected businesses who are having on-site waste water problems. However, within five minutes of the town hall, where people had raw sewage on the ground, they’re left to their own devices, and they’re being criminalized because they can’t afford the solution.
Shane: I think there is a risk that sort of the new, shiny technology overshadows the basic changes that in an earlier discussion about the need for efficiency maybe before renewables, or that the cheapest energy reductions you can get, or the energy you don’t use. So, I think there can be an imbalance in paying more for a new, shiny technology when a basic solution of delivering community-based services that bring efficiency, that bring better water quality whether it’s at Flynt, when you’re giving someone a filter for their water as an important first step before you spend $200 million retrofitting a water system.
So, I think there is some risk that even though you want the new technologies to be advancing, and to be getting ever-more efficient, and ever cheaper, so that they can really expand in the market, there is a risk sometimes that you overlook the basic needs and cheaper solutions.
Fears: Okay, we’ve got four minutes left, and I wanted to take two audience questions. The first is for Brendan. How do cities hold each other accountable as the actions of one has an environmental impact on the other? Quickly.
Shane: Quick. Well, that’s a tough question. When there literally are in close proximity, they can hold each other accountable directly. I think one of the problems with our issues is they’re big and they’re esoteric, and it’s about climate, and it’s about environment. So, the steps we take for them to hold each other accountable is through reporting and transparency, making a public commitment, ideally seeing that commitment to, let’s say, be carbon neutral or 100% renewable. Get that into the laws of your local community so that you’re accountable for it, and then be reporting. We’re working on protocols that allow people in all parts of the world to report apples to apples, essentially.
Fears: But aren’t states turning to the courts to solve some of these problems?
Shane: Yeah, well, a lot of people are turning to courts to solve their problems, and so there are options, as well, where one community is really being wronged by another to take those issues to court.
Fears: The next question is for Dune and Catherine. How do you connect local efforts in Alabama with those more globally focused to clean oceans? I think it’s a little unfair to Dune [NOISE] Alabama, but go ahead.
Flowers: Well, Alabama does have an issue. We share the Gulf coast. So, we’ve had the issues with the oil spills, and a lot of families have lost their livelihood that are fishermen, because of the BP oil spill. We also have a lot of issues related to the climate created more intensified hurricanes. So, we share those issues, as well. I think that what we have to do in terms of connecting with the global efforts, I had the opportunity to go to COP21. I’m also on the board of Climate Reality, and what we are doing is bringing climate training through the Center for Earth Ethics, to communities—environmental justice communities that otherwise would not have access to this information.
Fears: And Dune? The global connection?
Ives: Plastic pollution—nobody on the planet is immune from plastic pollution or the impacts, so we, with our campaign Stop Sucking, we decided to take it to a city and see if we could take over an entire city, and get them to go single-use plastic straw-free. We did that in Seattle, and what’s happened as a result of that is we have interest from all over the world to take that citywide takeover model, and apply it to their cities. 40 cities globally right now, is what the request is. And so, what we’re seeing is there is so much, I think—what’s the right word I want to use?
I guess disgust, quite honestly, with the amount of single-use plastics we have in our environment, that people are seeing the opportunity to take that success and bring it to their communities and make a difference.
Fears: Just as a point of reference, what’s the estimate for how many straws are used per day in the U.S. and around the world?
Ives: 500 million in the United States alone. The estimate that I’ve seen that’s not verified yet is 1 billion per day, annually. And we know that there are a few brands that have their fair share in the stake of how many straws are put out there. At the end of the day, it’s really about our relationship to being a to-go culture and society. We love taking our coffees to go. We love taking our ice teas to go. And we’re probably not going to change that, so what we need are real solutions around different kinds of materials we can put into the market.
Fears: Straws are very pervasive. You can go to a restaurant and order water, and they will bring it out with a straw in it.
Ives: You will get a straw. Or your cocktail that has the two-straw plastic garnish. It’s amazing.
Fears: Right. I’d like to thank you very much for appearing on the panel today. That’s all the time we have. Thank you again for joining us, and thank you to everyone for joining us here at The Washington Post and online. For highlights of more upcoming programs, visit WashingtonPostLive.com
Flowers: Thank you.
Ives: Thank you.