Committing to a Smaller Carbon Footprint with Climate Counts’ Mike Bellamente

July 3, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us right now Mike Bellamente. He’s the Director of Climate Counts, which is a national nonprofit aimed at bringing consumers and corporations together on this climate change issue. Welcome to Green is Good, Mike Bellamente. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Hey, thanks for having me, John. Glad to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is great. This is important stuff. We all know the climate’s changing and we’ve got all sorts of things going on with the climate now. The world is a much different place than when we were growing up. So, talk a little bit about, first of all, how did you get to this position, Mike? What’s your journey to become the Director of Climate Counts? MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, it’s funny. You know, if you would have asked me 10 years ago if I was going to be an activist directing a climate change organization, I would have said you’re nuts. I came from the private sector. I was in communications for a company called Level Three out in Colorado, and it was meant to be the next big Microsoft with Warren Buffett being invested in it. It was really an exciting time in communications, but I decided to go back to school. It was right about the time that climate change was a hot topic, and I focused my M.B.A. on sustainability and corporate sustainability, and before you know it, now I’m rating companies on their commitment to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and their carbon footprint. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Can you tell us a little bit how Climate Counts came to be, and what’s the aim of the organization? MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, totally. So, you know, it was started by Gary Hirshberg. He’s an environmental visionary and also the founding CEO of Stonyfield Farm, if you know the yogurt. It was his idea, his brainchild, about seven years ago. Climate change had such a negative vibe around it, such negative juju, primarily because it’s become such a politically polarized topic. What we aim to do is take out that negativity and be more solutions-driven and solutions-oriented, and really just say, “Hey, the average Joe on the street doesn’t know much about the science, doesn’t know much how to weed out a lot of the green marketing and greenwashing that goes on. Wouldn’t it be cool if we developed a report card where we can boil down all the things that companies are doing into one score?” That’s what we do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. For our listeners out there that are just joining in, Mike Bellamente is the Director of Climate Counts. Check out all his great work at climatecounts.org. So, Mike, talk a little bit about what are some of the findings of these scores of your latest companies’ scoring results. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, absolutely. So, for the listeners that might not know the scorecard, it’s almost like any report card that you get in school. The closer to zero, you’re not doing so hot. The closer to 100, companies are really blowing it out of the water and they’re doing some really cool stuff with investing and renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, and overall managing their greenhouse gas emissions. Our recent findings — we do this annually — is that this is becoming more the norm than the exception. For this year, 66% of all companies have some kind of publicly available climate and energy strategy in place that anybody can access. That is a lot different from when we started, when about a quarter of the companies, so about 25%, actually had a climate and energy plan in place. I’d say there’s this big push by big companies like Unilever, who makes Dove soap and Axe body spray, and companies like Nike, to do what’s called sustainable growth, to find that balance of sustainable growth. For Unilever, that means they have something — and I urge your listeners to go check it out — called the Sustainable Living Plan, where they plan to double the size of their business by 2020 while reducing by half their environmental impact, which is a very, very incredible goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great goal. So, talk a little bit about this. You know, everyone says they’re waiting for the government to make changes or laws to happen. You’re really a great proponent of corporate leadership transcending the government and laws and stuff like that, and doing the right thing as sort of conscious capitalism and conscious business leaders in terms of moving the needle with regards to the climate discussion. Is this true? MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. You know, John, it’s tough because I come from a very much capitalist background, and I understand that the business of businesses is to stay in business and to make profit. And I think we all realize that we need a strong economy. People need jobs. People need stuff. We just need companies to operate in a way that’s more harmonious with the environment, and you’re not seeing any laws or regulations. We’d rather not see so much regulation from the government that’s going to really stymie economic growth. At the same time, I think we absolutely do need to see some guardrails, where you’re saying, “OK, there’s going to be a price on carbon because of the negative externality that we have to internalize for these companies,” and that’s why this Climate Declaration that’s just going on now with the great folks at Ceres in Boston is such a real cool thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, explain what that is please. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, so the Climate Declaration was started by Ceres. Ceres is a public interest group, and they have an arm called BICEP. BICEP stands for Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy. Essentially, it’s gathering a lot of great companies. They basically say, “Hey, we realize that there’s risks to our business,” so whether they’re regulatory risks, whether they’re operational risks, so let’s say there’s this extreme weather events and they can’t get their products to market or they can’t get products from the supply chain, or there’s reputational risks, consumers saying, “Hey, we need to get on the stick here as a society.” These companies absolutely realize that there’s an inherent risk to climate change if it is left unchecked, so they all came together and they signed this thing called the Climate Declaration, which doesn’t have anything prescriptive in it. You won’t see anything in the Climate Declaration about tar sands, about Keystone Energy, about the XL pipeline, about carbon price. They’re just saying — it’s 40 companies who signed on this thing — and you can look at it at ceres.org and you’ll see the Climate Declaration. It just says, “Hey, we as companies see this as an economic opportunity for the United States, and we see this as something that needs to happen just because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s what we need out of our corporations, to be honest. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, so we’re down to the last minute-and-a-half or so. So, talk a little bit about optimism. Are you optimistic, given that you’ve got your sleeves rolled up and you’re right in the middle of something that can sometimes be a polarizing discussion? How do you feel today, hopeless or hopeful? MIKE BELLAMENTE: I’ll say hopeful with an asterisk, right? JOHN SHEGERIAN: OK, fair enough. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, so, you know, I think the greatest part about this country is that it’s a democracy, and to be a democracy, you ultimately need compromise. I think we’ve gotten so far away from just saying the give and take, right or wrong, and there’s nothing in the middle anymore. We’ve got to get back to that thing that made us great. We say, “Hey, OK, we’ve got a give and take here.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. You know, for our listeners out there, share a little bit about how can they become the next Mike Bellamente? There are a lot of young people that get inspired by what your work is, and what you’ve chosen to do, Mike. Give a couple last pearls of wisdom to the next generation behind you. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Yeah, absolutely. I think we have such a great young population coming up through the ranks now that know this technology stuff inside and out. There is so much that can be done with technology. Use whatever your strength is, whether it’s writing, whether it’s programming, whether it’s sales, use that to the benefit of the good, you know? You can make money, you can do well by doing good, and I absolutely think that’s what I’ve been able to do, and I’m very happy to be where I am today. Just follow your heart and try to do something positive and bring something to the table. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so great. You know, for our listeners out there, please go to Mike’s great organization, his website, and help the mission. Climate Counts is a collaborative effort to bring consumers and companies together to address solutions around global climate change. Mike, we really appreciate you coming on the show today. We want our listeners to go to climatecounts.org. Keep up the great work. You’re a great thought leader and truly living proof, Mike Bellamente, that green is good. MIKE BELLAMENTE: Thanks, John.