To Win the Fight Against Climate Change, We Need to Change the Game

Sometimes watching the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people over climate is like watching a tennis match, with each side blasting a powerful ground stroke across the net only to see their opponent do the exact same thing. The problem for those of us in the reality world (ie. the world where we listen to the overwhelming consensus of scientists), is that our opponent isn’t the only one smashing the ball our way. He has about a dozen tennis machines shooting balls at our side of the court as well. The climate deniers have an arsenal of money, media, think tanks, and lobbyists on their side so that they can take any argument, no matter how false, and turn it into a “valid” counterpoint.

ImageThe latest example of this is a radio and print ad sponsored by the National Mining Association (NMA), attacking forthcoming EPA carbon regulations on new coal fired power plants. The NMA ad takes a quote from a government official completely out of context in an attempt to scare people into thinking that reducing carbon from new coal plants will cause electricity prices to spike as much as 80%. The Washington Post Fact Checker says the ad doesn’t “pass the laugh test” and it’s clearly false. Not surprisingly, the 80% claim found its way into conservative media outlets such as the Washington Examiner and others in the right wing blogosphere. How long until conservative officials running for election start using it in their political ads this year? This completely bogus claim will become reality for a good part of the nation simply because it was repeated often enough by sources that are trusted by people of a certain worldview.

The fact that polluting energy industry groups will say anything to protect their interests isn’t new. I remember vividly sitting in the audience for a committee hearing on the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) bill that I championed, when the lobbyist for the state’s largest polluters said that if the bill passed, half the companies in the state would go out of business and the other half would leave the state. He was actually serious. He claimed that the bill would send electricity prices in Maryland up by 2 cents/kwh, which was about 20% of the total back in those days. Unfortunately, some legislators believed him, but luckily enough didn’t and we passed the bill. Needless to say, the RPS didn’t push rates up by anywhere close to his doom and gloom figure, and in fact may not have had any effect on rates.

For years, we in the environmental world thought the best way to counter such preposterous claims was to educate the public with the real facts, and then surely they would ignore the lies (ie. hit the ball back over the net). the Chamber of Commerce, seemingly in sync with the NMA, just put out a report saying these carbon regulations will kill jobs and the economy. I’m sure some on our side will put out a report to counter that bogus claim.  It’s important to put out the true facts. But with the tons and tons of cash behind these disinformation campaigns, combined with the echo chamber in the media, it’s really impossible to get our message across.  So, what’s the answer?

Some, like Tom Steyer, think the answer is to spend oodles of money on our own ad campaigns to counter the other side’s. Getting our own tennis machines may work.  But the campaigns the green side run have to be more than a recitation of the facts behind climate change and other environmental issues. The other side screams bumper sticker ads and we recite fact sheets. We have to adopt the challenger brand mentality, so aptly described in “Eating the Big Fish,” where brands with less resources and reach are able to compete with and beat larger, more established and wealthier brands. There are eight credos to the challenger narrative, some of which may apply more than others to our case here. I will be taking a look at the applicable credos and how they can help those of us in the real world think better about winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to action to fight climate change. The first thing we need to do is stop playing Tennis.

Advertisements

New Biz Group to Shake up Business as Usual in Chesapeake Area

Image

A good crowd of progressive businesses, elected leaders, and people gathered at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville today for the launch of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council (CSBC). Judging by the energy in the crowd and a changing public worldview, the time couldn’t be better to launch a group like this. The CSBC seeks to be the voice for businesses that want positive change, to make our corner of the world a little cleaner, greener and fairer. The idea that businesses can be on the right side of progressive issues is finally picking up steam, so let’s hope the CSBC is able to execute on its promise.

The B Corp movement is gaining momentum seemingly each day. There are now more than 1,000 B Corps in the world. When my company Clean Currents, became a B Corp just a few years ago, the lofty goal was reaching 500 B Corps. Now they’ve doubled it, and I’m confident we’ll see a world of 10,000 B Corps before too long. The whole philosophy behind B Corps is that business can be used as a tool to effect positive change. Yes, businesses have to make a profit (“no margin no mission”), but they can exist for more than just the benefit of shareholders. B Corps exist to benefit “stakeholders,” which includes employees, the communities where they operate, and the planet itself.

The CSBC now has a chance to take B Corps in this region, and bring them together with other businesses, people, and elected officials to do issue advocacy, public education, and networking. I’m excited for the prospects of this group because people now understand that there is such a thing as a progressive business voice. Deeper Green is proud to be a founding member of the CSBC. We look forward to engaging all the stakeholders in the Chesapeake region to work together for a better future.

 

Three Things Holding Back Energy Efficiency in the U.S.

Energy efficiency, or “ee” for those in the know, is the best investment we as consumers and we as a nation can make to reduce energy use, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and make a decent return on our money. So why does it always seem to play second fiddle to solar or wind power?  While I may not be able to offer a specific answer to the question, I would like to bring up three ideas to ponder, which may help us go in the direction of finding an answer.

 

  1. The Prius Effect – Energy efficiency is the Honda Civic hybrid while solar is the Prius. Many of us remember when the first hybrids hit the roads not too long ago. Both Honda and Toyota thought they had winning models. For Honda, they simply took the already popular Civic and inserted a hybrid engine with very few bells and whistles. It seems clear they were betting on the popularity of the brand to carry over into the hybrid category, which would in turn make people feel very comfortable switching to a new-fangled technology. The hybrid Civic and the standard Civic looked almost exactly alike.  Makes sense from a marketing point of view, where you are essentially adding features and benefits to an existing popular product. Toyota, on the other hand, created an entirely new brand, the Prius, with a distinct look and with some nifty new bells and whistles. Their bet seemed to be that the deeper green consumer who would be the initial target customer would like to have something that acts as a public billboard for hybrid cars. They were right. As we all know, the Prius went on to become the best-selling hybrid car by a big margin. Toyota made a very wise decision. Likewise in energy. People who buy solar are exhibiting some of the same motivations that the Prius consumer shows. They want a billboard advertising clean energy to the rest of the neighborhood. Energy efficiency, unfortunately, acts a lot like the hybrid Honda Civic – your house looks pretty much exactly the same, but just performs better. Changing this outcome will have a huge impact on the popularity of energy efficiency.

 

  1. The Name Game – I have yet to see a name that captures the sex appeal of energy efficiency. Let’s face it, the word “efficiency” is boring and brings up connotations of engineering, not exactly a marketing buzzword. Other names people have tried – “smart energy,” “negawatts,” “home performance” and others. I don’t think there’s a single name out there that captures the value proposition of energy efficiency.  It seems like a hard sale to get consumers to buy “less” even though it’s good for them. “Fuel efficient” cars did not sell well for years, but “hybrids” do a lot better. There has to be a term that connotes the many benefits of energy efficiency – from having MORE money in your pocket, to producing MORE energy with less effort and less resources, to making your home or business MORE energy independent.

 

  1. Skewed Rules – Our current system is set up to give you almost no incentive to change your energy use, at least as far as efficiency goes. Imagine if you purchased airline tickets and they were the same price no matter when you went on your trip, whether high season or low season, a red-eye flight or daytime. Now imagine booking a hotel room at an island resort and the price is the same no matter if you book in the middle of the big vacation season or during the dead of winter when the beaches are empty? Both cases seem weird to modern consumers because we understand that during the peak times of use, airlines or hotels will charge more. It’s the simple law of supply and demand. Yet the very same rules apply to energy use and we are stuck in a “pay one price” model that no longer works.  You can run your dishwasher in the middle of the hottest summer day or you can run it on a moderate spring evening and you’d pay the same price for the electricity you use to power the machine. It’s pretty clear to grid operators and power plant owners when the most expensive time to consumer power is and when the cheapest time is. Yet these costs are not shown to consumers, who then make choices based on incorrect information. Updating the rules that govern our electricity markets is a necessary step to really spark a major energy efficiency revolution in this country.

 

These three ideas are merely the start of a longer conversation about how to bring energy efficiency to scale. It will take many of us, pooling our brain power to come up with solutions to the challenges these issues raise. I look forward to being part of this important journey.

New E.D. @Greenpeace and the Chance to Build a Broader Green Community

Annie Leonard has been named the new Executive Director of Greenpeace, and to my ears, it sounds like she’s talking the right talk. Leonard, the creator of “The Story of Stuff,” says “corporations can apply their ingenuity to environmental progress, not destruction.” This is the heart of what Deeper Green is all about. We are working with corporations and other groups to focus creativity and hard work towards a deeper green ethos, to earn the trust and respect of people like Ms. Leonard.  But as it turns out, this is a two way street. Ms. Leonard wants to earn the support of the rest of the green minded community beyond Greenpeace, including the business world.

An article in Grist has a headline that asks, “Can Annie Leonard help Greenpeace reach beyond diehard greenies?” While I may differ with their word choice (I prefer the term “deep green” consumers to “diehard greenies”), I am pleased to see the direction Ms. Leonard appears to want to go. In the Grist interview, she says her first priority is to get Greenpeace members to move from being “isolated and concerned” to being “together and active.” Her next priority is to be more skillful and experimental in how Greenpeace communicates beyond the core.

So, here we have an inflection point in our green world. The new leader of the most iconic and hard charging national environmental group (disclosure – I used to work there) is planning on expanding the green movement to include more partners that are not in the deep green heart of things. In the business world, that’s great news. It means that businesses that go beyond greenwashing and actually take action to move the environmental needle have an opening to reach the deep green consumers. But with this opening comes a huge responsibility to actually mean what you say. No greenwashers will be able to fool this crowd, thankfully. Credible, real green brands, however, like many of the companies that are certified B-Corps, will get their foot in the door. And let’s not forget the ultimate goal here. It’s not to get in with this crowd and just sell them more stuff. It’s to  empower communities to create a living, breathing movement of people, businesses, faith groups, and many others working together to make our world cleaner and greener.

Our Background

Gary Skulnik is the founder and owner of Deeper Green.

Gary is an entrepreneur and activist focused on helping businesses reach environmentally conscious consumers in an authentic and credible way. He was the co-founder and President of Clean Currents, which he grew into one of the premier clean energy companies in the Mid Atlantic with $22 million in revenue.  Gary led the company’s sales, marketing and sustainability efforts. His ground breaking work opened up the market for clean energy, with many others following his lead. Gary has been a leading proponent of B Corps, calling for entrepreneurs to use their business as a force for positive change in society. He has extensive experience advocating for progressive environmental legislation at the national, state and local level, and was the co-author and lead advocate of Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law. Gary also worked at CNN as a writer/producer. He has a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A from the University of Miami, Florida. 

Deeper Green Snapshot

We are in the change business, helping organizations reach out to deep green consumers by implementing real, credible green practices. No greenwashers allowed. This is about taking action above and beyond business as usual because switching to a clean energy future cannot wait. Deeper Green is a direction, a path forward. We invite the best sustainable brands to join us and show how businesses can really be a force for positive change in the world when they join together with deep green consumers.