Assn. of Climate Change Officers' Kreeger discusses changes to sustainability practices

Have corporations changed their long-term view of sustainability and emissions-reduction practices as a result of Washington's inaction on climate policy? During today's OnPoint, Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers, discusses trends among businesses in the United States on sustainability and climate. Kreeger also addresses the biggest hurdles to greening the federal government.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers. Dan, it's nice to have you on the show.

Daniel Kreeger: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Dan, your association hosted the GreenGov Conference here in D.C. this week, along with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and it focused on how government operations can curb waste and save energy. What do you see as the biggest hurdles the federal government is facing right now as it attempts to green itself?

Daniel Kreeger: Well, the federal government is a massive operation. They've got more than 1.8 million employees and they are disparate, they are bred out across the country and in other countries. And so one of the real challenges that they have is just an education and engagement paradigm. One of the things that was really interesting to us last year was that of all of the nine program tracks that we had, which covered clean energy and climate and waste and a broad range of topics, education and engagement was the track that was most attended. So, being able to get them to collaborate with each other to aggregate their interests, to educate and train the personnel, 10 years ago these people weren't doing this work, even five years ago they weren't doing this work. So, how do you get from a paradigm where it's not a focus to all of the sudden where it is a mandate and an executive order? And to do so at a time when budgets are being constrained, so it has to be in line with making sure that operations are effective, efficient, successful and sustainable.

Monica Trauzzi: It's a big challenge.

Daniel Kreeger: It is an enormous challenge, but it's one that I think they're up to the task to take on.

Monica Trauzzi: You worked closely with CEQ and getting this conference together. What do you think a Romney CEQ would look like and do you think that some of the discussions that you had this week at the conference might change under a new administration?

Daniel Kreeger: Well, you know, it's interesting, so the symposium is a result of convening federal government employees and those who support them outside of the federal government on best practices related to implementing the executive order on sustainability. And, as such, you've got an executive order that comes from this administration. However, CEQ has long had this charge of looking at environmental issues for the federal government not just in the U.S., but for its operations. And, in fact, GreenGov is a legacy to what CEQ used to run under previous administrations called the Regional Environmental Management Symposiums. So it's rebranded. It was consolidated from two, an East Coast and a West Coast, into one national. And what we're seeing is, is the agencies are really stepping up. They're really eager to take this on and what we've really made sure of is that they're actively engaged in the process. This leadership within CEQ consulted the senior sustainability officers, they consulted interagency workgroup chairs and so all of those folks, some of whom are political appointees, but many of whom are not, a lot of those folks will be here in January, February and beyond regardless. And they'll be driving this change. And I think four years has been a great start for embedding this and this is really parallel to what's going on in industry too, is two or three leaders is not enough. You have to embed this into the workforce and into the management level.

Monica Trauzzi: So, let's talk about what's happening in industry. Are companies setting strong enough long-term targets for emissions reduction in order to have a significant impact on emissions and climate change?

Daniel Kreeger: I think we're starting to see more meaningful reductions. Microsoft recently announced that they're taking on a six-year carbon neutral commitment. That's an extraordinary commitment at an expense to them of hundreds of millions of dollars. Are we seeing it across the board? Are we getting to the levels that would be consistent with what climate scientists would say need to happen? I think the answer is no and the result is, to be honest, I've started looking and shifting my mindset and our members have as well towards looking at climate as a risk management paradigm and a risk assessment and an opportunity. And as they start going in that direction, we start seeing people come back around to, wow, these are the risks. This is the quantification of those risks. Then we're starting to see more focus then coming back onto the mitigation side as a result.

Monica Trauzzi: So, without policy on the books here in the United States, is it still then economically viable for corporations to move forward on this track?

Daniel Kreeger: Absolutely. You know, people ask me all the time whether or not I think climate change is happening and I'll say, OK, hypothetically, I'll take the flip side of this argument and say it doesn't matter. The reality is the business case for responding to these issues is here, it's present, it's now. If you're in a large company supply chain, say Walmart, and they're saying to you that they're going to make procurement decisions based on environmental attributes, it no longer matters whether or not they're right or wrong or whether or not climate change is happening or whether or not it's man-made. The reality is if 20 percent of your sales come to that one customer saying we're going to make decisions based off of this, you have to adjust your practices. The other piece that happens to come into play though is that it so happens that moving to a more sustainable set of operations happens to actually be better long term for the bottom line. It helps with brand management. It helps with recruiting efforts. It helps with the happiness of the workforce. It works with -- it helps with efficiency of operation. So, in the long-term, a lot of these programs are actually better for the bottom line of these companies.

Monica Trauzzi: So, how has the role of climate change officers at these corporations shifted then from the time where there was a heavy policy focus, whether we were going to have cap and trade or carbon tax, to now, where there's not as much of a focus?

Daniel Kreeger: Well, this has been a really interesting journey for us. We started ACCO, we incorporated in January of 2009 and for the first year or so of our programs and for programs on climate that I had managed in my previous role, we saw the people who were participating as being environmental health and safety professionals who are regulatory compliance oriented or government affairs folks, who are shaping or trying to shape policy. One of the things that's really changed now is that the people who we're seeing at our events are sustainability practitioners, they are energy managers, they are facilities managers. These are people who are on the operations side of the house. That function is rolling up under a CFO or a COO and now that's a different mindset. So now you've got a group of people who are not policy focused, but actually business bottom-line focused and operations focused.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you, Dan, thanks.

Daniel Kreeger: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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