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(I originally posted this entry at http://www.together.com/us/blog).
The threat of rain had been looming in the forecast for the past week leading up to today’s event and the skies were grey upon arrival to Times Square. However, the greenery that colored Military Island remained dry even though the sun didn’t shine.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Climate Group CEO Dr. Steve Howard, JP Morgan Chase Head of CSR Bill Daley and ICLEI Executive Director Michelle Wyman took the stage, together with host Simran Sethi, to the sounds of cabs, pedestrians and the New York hustle and bustle. It seemed fitting that the event took place in the heart of America’s largest city, making everyone aware of the fact that nothing had stopped around us, as with the global challenges of climate change.
Dr. Howard began by introducing Together.com (and the Climate Group) as a global initiative, bringing businesses, individuals, NGO’s and political figures to the table, in order to provide simple, affordable solutions to climate change. Over the past year, Howard explained, through Together’s U.K. program, over 20,000,000 actions responsible for reducing over 500,000 tons of carbon. Even more impressive is the international scope Together is striving to cover, currently including Europe and the Americas, and expanding within the next year to India and China; environmentalists and economists unilaterally agree that as the huge populations of China and India begin to adopt the western, consumer lifestyle, the ecological consequences new goods to meet growing demand will be devastating if we do not accommodate and change our behavior now.
…and Mayor Bloomberg expressed those exact sentiments. New York City is not waiting for federal mandates or promising for change by 2050. Instead, Bloomberg instated PlaNYC, a set of over 125 initiatives in NY designed to green the Big Apple. A few highlights include the planting of one million trees, LEED certified city buildings, efficiency bulb retrofits, hybrid taxi fleets, and more. Bloomberg also acknowledged other cities and states doing their part, acting now, including Miami, Chicago, Seattle and of course California. (Even though he was unable to attend, Governor Schwarzenegger sent a note saying he would work with us all to say “hasta la vista” to climate change).
Later in the event I had the fortune of speaking directly with Mayor Bloomberg, and when I asked if he had a specific thought for today’s blog, he said that it is time to recognize that “damage has been done and we need to act.” We don’t need to “close down economies, but react now, swiftly.” Tomorrow is simply not an option.
Bloomberg’s spirit of “no time for later” continued through the speaking event. I was excited to hear Secretary Ban Ki-Moon’s words regarding the U.N.’s own plans for climate change. As an institution responsible for overseeing such an unprecedented range of international issues, the U.N. is uniquely positioned to understand the potential economic, social and political consequences of failing to act on climate change. As a call to action, Secretary Moon announced a U.N. report designed for low carbon titled “Kick the Habit” and stated that climate change could only be addressed by “concerted, collective action.” Secretary Moon stressed climate change was an issue too large for one person, country or company to address alone…only together can we achieve results.
Rounding out the morning’s event were Mr. Daley and Ms. Wyman, neither of whom I knew very much. But, they represent two extremely important players in the fight against climate change: the corporate voice (JP Morgan Chase as founding corporate partner) and the non-profit partners (ICLEI as founding non-profit partner). Mr. Daley described JPMC’s green programs including 20% energy reductions but 2012 and green branches. However, most significant was Mr. Daley’s recognition that addressing climate change is not just a moral obligation, but an intelligent, profitable business strategy. The sooner businesses follow JP Morgan Chase’s (and other Together partners’) lead in investing in and setting climate goals, the sooner we can reverse the idea that environmentally sound practices are irrecoverable expenses.
In turn, Ms. Wyman echoed Mayor Bloomberg’s words, committing to increase cities’ involvement in the Together project; as a goal she stated 1000 cities would be actively participating within one year. Ms. Wyman’s organization holds the key to large scale involvement from the political level over the next year. Federal measures will need to pass congress, bureaucratic hold ups and cost considerations, where as city level plans can take advantage of simple, immediate solutions for residents and municipality controlled regulation. Good luck!
On the whole the event was a positive intersection of industry, government and activist groups. Effectively, without the participation of one of these groups, climate change solutions will remain limited. The only remaining (perhaps obvious) piece of the pie is you and I…individuals committed to changing our daily habits, purchasing habits and most importantly, to incorporating environmental considerations into all of our decisions. Only together we can change the course.
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Recently I ran across a website dedicated to Wal-Mart’s “Live Better Index.” The index, launched in 2007 is comprised of five products the company believes to be indicators of green trends. The five products are:
1. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
2. Organic milk
3. Concentrated/reduced-packaging liquid laundry detergents
4. Extended-life paper products
5. Organic baby food
(This year they added green cleaning products and sustainable coffee to the list, but sufficient data has not been collected to discuss these with any accuracy).
From 2007 to 2008, green consumer product adoption rose 66% in total, with paper products experiencing the strongest rise of over 68% (see Live Better Index site for updated results.) Further behind, CFL’s saw an increase of nearly 20%, which is promising and expected with WalMart’s aggressive push to sell these sustainable bulbs.
Of course this is a simplified index, but it does serve some purpose. Principally, I would make two observations. First, there is a clear trend between health/wellness and green. Organic milk for instance is championed for its health benefits, but it serves the dual purpose of more sustainable cattle farming.
Many people praise the LOHAS market, and this is a clear indicator of its strength and growth.
A second observation is that price plays a factor, but not unilaterally across the board, as other factors are obviously involved. Looking at the different products one by one. CFL’s are easy; they save you money and energy over their lifetime. Organic milk, the poster child for organic products, is more expensive (sometimes double the price), but it has been one of the most storied organic product for some time. Paper products are an easy, visible way to become more sustainable…plus, pricing has dropped significantly for sustainable paper products. Baby food was the only product the experienced a slight drop in adoption, but it was very small; I have to research more, but my gut instinct tells me baby food, as a staple for parents, could suffer from the price discrimination. Finally, cleaning products have also become much more affordable and mainstream, which I believe to be the source of their increase.
On the whole, I retain a strong belief that most people would, if given the choice, would maximize their sustainable purchases. However, as the price differential remains significant, consumers continue to minimize their total costs instead of their environmental shopping footprint, while purchasing one or two sustainable products to feel good and make a difference. I remain confident that as supply increases to meet demand we will see adoption rates rise as prices fall with the majority of green vs conventional products.