This year marks the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 40th year. Far too many companies dismiss or even fear the EPA as a “regulator.” True, that is part of the EPA’s function, as it is charged with protecting human health and the environment, and it’s why a Republican, Richard Nixon, proposed such an agency and eventually signed legislation establishing the EPA in 1970. But the EPA also runs programs that collaborate with business as a partner. One such program, the EPA’s Climate Leaders program, works with companies in tracking and reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Since 2002, the Climate Leaders program has helped companies develop effective GHG reduction strategies, gain cost savings through energy efficiency, and reduce risks that emanate from climate change. About half of its partners are Fortune 1000 companies, but Climate Leaders works with companies of all sizes
Yesterday I spoke with Susan Wickwire, Chief of the EPA’s Energy Supply and Industry Branch in Washington, DC. During our talk, she explained how the Climate Leaders program has matured and her words, is now kicking this initiative “up a notch.” As of June 30, Climate Leaders will require companies to reduce their emissions on an absolute basis only instead of allowing intensity-based goals to be set, as was previously allowed in the program. Furthermore, companies have to offer greater transparency and make their GHG inventories public on the Climate Leaders Website. The result? Fewer companies would qualify for this program, but Climate Leaders can be more effective in helping companies that are serious about reducing their GHG emissions. In other words, the emphasis on quality over quantity . . . could end up reducing the quantity of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
The program has evolved to the point where the Wickwire’s staff can be “choosy” in whom they invite to participate in the program. Many companies inquire about joining—often because their competitors have become involved with Climate Leaders, and therefore they do not want to lose their competitiveness—not to mention the public relations battle. When Climate Leaders started, Wickwire explained that they had to do some “hand-holding” . . . but now the EPA expects these companies to have a corporate-wide GHG inventory, outline a five to ten year emissions reduction goal, and report that data annually. “We expect companies to do their homework,” Wickwire explained, “and in turn we offer them support from our technical team to guide them through the process.”
What do these partners gain in return? Credibility, free technical assistance from EPA staff, and national recognition through events that the EPA organizes throughout the year.
At a time when Congress is kicking the can down the road on any legislation addressing climate change or energy policy, Wickwire explains why a company would voluntarily join this program:
Climate Leaders is helping companies that want to make a difference by being proactive, instead of waiting for regulations in the future—giving them a competitive advantage while building trust with their customers, stakeholders and suppliers.
The companies participating in the Climate Leaders program span across many industries, including Caterpillar, Clorox, CSX, Pfizer, and Raytheon. Case studies on how these and other firms achieved energy savings and met their GHG emissions reduction goals are located here.