Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 21, 2010

Looking at our carbon footprint

'Planet Hero' Hunter Lovins to speak in Pleasanton

by Samantha Campos

Born into an activist family, Hunter Lovins spent a lot of time in the '60s raising a fuss - presumably with picket signs and peace symbols - until she realized the "traditional activist approach" just wasn't going to work. Since then, Lovins has built a bridge between big business and environmentalism, promoting sustainability while consulting with oil and utility companies - and some of the largest corporations in the world - with her nonprofit group, Natural Capitalism Inc. She was named millennium "Hero for the Planet" by Time magazine in 2000.

Pleasanton's Committee on Energy and the Environment is hosting a talk by Lovins on "Energy Efficiency and Long-Term Sustainability" at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 25, at the Senior Center, 5353 Sunol Blvd.

Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Lovins:

Q. Why do big businesses often say they're interested in "going green" and then oppose legislation that supports climate change efforts?

A. Often, sustainability initiatives start in the marketing department. They think it's a good PR move - they don't see it as core to their business. The work that we're trying to do is to get businesses to see sustainability as essential to their corporate strategy, and as such that the traditional knee-jerk business reaction of "oh, anything environmental must be bad" is actually damaging to their PR. We've a ways to go yet.

Q. What more can be done to reach corporate America?

A. What you purchase on a daily basis, it really does make a difference. Anytime you buy something, ask the vendor, "Was this sustainably made?" The vendor's likely to say, "I have no earthly idea what you're talking about."

Q. I get that all the time.

A. But if enough people ask that, the vendor will start to pay attention. ... what one individual does in silence doesn't make that much of a difference, but what groups of individuals do very noisily will absolutely change the planet. If you look at the socially responsible investment movement - the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an effort by, literally, a group of kids. Young people out of the UK a few years back said, "We're going to ask the biggest companies on earth - the FT 500 - what their carbon footprint is." About three years ago, 66 percent of the biggest companies on earth reported through CDP their carbon footprint.

Q. Can you give an example of a large company that is actively changing the way it does business?

A. Last year Wal-Mart hired CDP to go to China to ask their suppliers about their carbon footprint. This is something no government could do. Between Wal-Mart and the Carbon Disclosure Project, Chinese companies are now having to reveal - which means they have to assess, they have to understand - what the carbon footprint is, which is a very strong signal to all these companies. And indeed, last October Wal-Mart went to China, called their thousand largest Chinese suppliers together and said, here are the standards by which we are going to decide whether or not to buy from you. ... Now, is Wal-Mart green? Hell, no! But is Wal-Mart moving the needle a heck of a lot more than I could? Absolutely.

Q. How are the green efforts in America different from European countries?

A. You walk into the equivalent of a 7-Eleven just off the Champs-Elysees in Paris and half the products are proudly badged as "organic." It is considered normal in the UK to take your little-wheeled shopping cart and walk down the street to your local green grocer and local butcher and buy stuff that's been produced within 100 miles, that's badged as such, and then wheel your little cart home. Americans think nothing of jumping in their SUV and driving 20 miles to a supermarket, where they have no idea where the products came from.

Q. What do you think is the government's role in all this?

A. We practice a kind of capitalism that Randy Hayes (founder of the Rainforest Action Network) calls "cheater economics," whereby we subsidize unsustainable behavior, which makes a certain set of products look cheaper than they really are. That's just bad capitalism. We ought to have full-cost accounting. Right now the cost to your lungs, to unborn children, to green-and-growing things around the planet aren't counted in the purchase price of cheap goods.

Q. Green issues seem to illicit a lot of eye-rolling from the far right. Why is that?

A. Environmentalists have made a serious mistake of casting this as a moral message, rather than - how is it that we achieve what it is that people want? Which is a high-quality life, prosperity and greater security? The corporatists have done a very good job of badging their product in convincing people that if you buy their product, you will be happier, you will find meaning in your life and it will convey stature and well-being, you will look younger, sexier ... some of us have started working with the ad industry in helping them to help companies badge themselves as green in authentic ways.

Q. So going green will also bring a gusher of greenbacks to our economy?

A. It's also the way to enhance security. This country has been borrowing something like $2 billion a day to buy imported oil from folks in the Middle East who don't like us. The next wave of revolution is clearly going to be the green technologies. You will get 10 times the number of jobs from investing in energy efficiency and renewables than you get investing in building coal or nuclear plants. We do not need to be investing in these old technologies - the technologies of the last century: We want to be investing in the technologies of the future - oh, and by the way, doing that solves the climate problem.

--Samantha Campos is a reporter for the Pacific Sun, part of Embarcadero Media.

Sustainability

What: Dr. Hunter Lovins speaking on "Energy Efficiency and Long-Term Sustainability"

Who: Sponsored by Pleasanton's Committee on Energy and the Environment, the first in its free lecture series.

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 25

Where: Senior Center, 5353 Sunol Blvd.

Cost: Free. Call 931-5500 for reservations.

In addition: Also speaking will be Elliott Hoffman, co-founder and CEO of Natural Capitalism and Chairman of the Board of New Voice in Business

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