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Aspen’s Schendler On Corporate Greening: ‘Who Are We Kidding?’

Much corporate environmentalism boils down to misleading statistics and hype, according to a Business Week article. To make real progress, genuine accomplishments will have to be sorted out from feel-good gestures.

“Who are we kidding?” says Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs at Aspen Skiing Company, a resort often pointed to as a green leader. Despite all his exertions, the resort’s greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise. “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do,” Schendler says in the article. “How do you really green your company? It’s almost f—— impossible.”

One problem, according to the article, is that companies continue to assess most green initiatives with the same ROI analysis they would use with any other capital project.
In 2003, for example, FedEx announced it would deploy 3,000 hybrids a year with the goal of replacing the company’s 30,000 medium-duty trucks over the next 10 years. Four years later, FedEx has purchased fewer than 100 hybrid trucks. The problem? At $70,000 and up, the hybrids cost at least 75 percent more than conventional trucks. “We do have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders,” environmental director Mitch Jackson told Business Week. “We can’t subsidize the development of this technology for our competitors.”

One of Schendler’s big disappointments is in Renewable Energy Credits. Even as he helped launch a REC campaign, Schendler says he suspected the credits weren’t literally offsetting anything. Schendler says that he made a mistake last year when he pushed the resort to say it had “offset 100% of our electricity use” through REC purchases. Schendler now concedes the boast was empty. (See more on REC criticism here.)
Schendler is not the only person who feels this way. Johnson & Johnson spent $1 million on credits it says are equivalent to 400,000 tons of emissions. Asked about the doubts surrounding RECs, Dennis Canavan, the company’s senior director of global energy, concedes that the credits “aren’t ideal.” They don’t really reduce J&J’s pollution, he says.

It was recently announced that Aspen’s entire 2007-08 winter ad campaign will focus on global warming.

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3 thoughts on “Aspen’s Schendler On Corporate Greening: ‘Who Are We Kidding?’

  1. He has got a point. Sustainability as a key part of business is still in its infancy.

    Standardized metrics should be the baseline, so that companies can’t cherry pick the impressive reductions in intensity metrics.

    Conflating RECs with offsets is an error by Businessweek and Schendler.

    RECs are perfectly appropriate for offsetting grid electric consumption. It is in California statues, WRGIS & Green-e.

    Carbon Offsets on the other hand are the wild west. Caveat Emptor.

  2. These kind of concerns are very legitimate – ‘CSR’ is becoming a massive industry, but unfortunately one that is more akin to marketing than to the real operations of most large companies.
    The abolition of petroleum lobbies in the USA would be one step. The diversionary tactics created by the biofuel and carbon offset industries are another, in that they effectively allow corporations and consumers to continue in an energy-profligate, ‘business as usual’ way rather than addressing the serious demand-side changes needed to act properly on climate change. Tax breaks on renewables and taxes on fuel (especially aviation fuel) are one necessary way to go, as is the introduction of mandatory and standardised CSR reporting requirements for corporations so that those trying to greenwash their way into credibility. Of course this is only a start and probably one that is too late. For data on which companies are really making changes, see http://www.corporatecritic.org (B2B) or http://www.ethiscore.org (for consumers).

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