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Know The Number – If You Can Count That High

Chris Kaiser | Tuesday June 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

know_the_number_greenhouse_emissions.jpgHow can you fix a problem if you aren’t tracking it first? For example, it’s hard to work off those cheeseburgers and love handles if you don’t have a scale to track your progress. How would your parents have known you were getting taller if they didn’t mark off your height every few months on the door frame when you were little? If you don’t track something, it’s hard to keep tabs on it. If it’s out of your sight, it’s out of your mind.
This is why Deutsche Bank’s (DB) new efforts in regard to Greenhouse Gas emissions are so important. Last week on the Mapawatt Blog I covered DB’s “Know The Number” and their new Carbon Counter. I framed their efforts from the standpoint of an individual, but now I’d like to look at what they are doing from a business perspective.
I recently had the chance to speak with Mark Fulton, the Global head of climate change research for Deutsche Bank (DB). We discussed DB’s new website, Know The Number and how they are trying to bring the actual numbers behind Global Warming – greenhouse gas figures – to the public’s attention.


From their website:
“We are seeking to raise public awareness of climate change. As investors, we know the importance of measurement so that we can track progress. Our approach is to start by understanding the quantity, or concentrations, of long-lived greenhouse gases which are building up in the world’s atmosphere and are leading to global warming.”
Mark described how the idea for Know The Number came from the Times Square Debt Clock and the need for metrics in order to show the public what is happening in our atmosphere. Because the nature of climate change is so opaque (we can’t see greenhouse gases in our atmosphere), DB realized there had to be some way to display those values to the public. They enlisted researchers from MIT to help come up with an algorithm that could predict how much greenhouse gas was entering the atmosphere and display those values in “CO2 equivalent” figures.
We also discussed different ways the facts and figures can be displayed to further grab the public’s attention and influence change. I expressed my concern that just showing the public a massive number (as of Monday afternoon, June 29 the Carbon Counter currently sits around 3,642,816,159,000 metric tons of Greenhouse Gas in the atmosphere) may cause people to feel their efforts are inadequate. Mark and his team have thought about this and realize how important it is to eventually display any progress that is made or not made, so individuals will actually get motivated to chip in and reduce their emissions. They are also analyzing different ways they can display a number as massive as 3.6 trillion metric tons!
The Carbon Counter is just a start for Deutsche Bank and Mark Fulton’s team of climate change researchers. They are also getting advice from Robert Socolow, the co-director of Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative. Socolow helped come up with the “stabilization wedge” method of reducing carbon emissions. The wedge method is a systematic approach to solving the emissions problem, and DB realizes the necessity for a systems approach.
A systems approach means that issues are analyzed as part of a complete system (i.e. ecology), and not as an individual occurrence. For example, the U.S.’s efforts with corn ethanol highlight the importance of a systems approach as opposed to a single instance approach. From the singular perspective of the U.S. attempting to reduce imported oil, corn ethanol looks like a great idea. But when viewed as part of the larger system, rising food prices highlight the fact that maybe we shouldn’t be using the world’s food to fuel our cars.
While the business world is no stranger to metrics and accounting, it is normally just done to ensure employees can be paid and to keep stockholders happy. Financial accounting is as old as business itself, but in a financially motivated world Deutsche Bank is showing environmental accounting should not be left out.
Think about the business you work in or own. I’m sure you and your co-workers have discussed the need to recycle or turn off the lights, but are you monitoring and tracking progress like DB is doing with Know The Number? Are you looking at how many boxes of recycled material you produce each month? Do you post your energy bill on the wall and highlight improvements? From a systems perspective, do you analyze your product or service from the whole product life-cycle?
Whether it is done on a global, national, or local scale, it is important for measurement to take place so progress can be realized. Deutsche Bank realizes that and is displaying greenhouse gas emissions on The Carbon Counter to help individuals and investors make the right decisions to lower our environmental impact. Follow their lead: Set goals, measure your progress, and improve.


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Categorized: Climate Change|

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