Archive for ‘Current Events’

May 3, 2013

Spare Change

by Scott Lewis | Brightworks CEO

In an era of superstorms, and garbage gyres the size of Texas, where 1.2 people lack safe drinking water and, those of us working for change at scale feel a heightened sense of urgency around the issue of scale and impact.  According to a new report by the UN, climate change if not averted could push up to 3 billion people into extreme poverty by the middle of this century.  This is the Go Big or Go Home moment.

I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of having an aspirational vision – that incremental change is both uninspiring and insufficient.  But after 12 years in practice using sustainability strategies to help our clients address their most pressing issues and greatest opportunities around cost, risk, brand, talent and aligning their values with their work, we are finally gaining real proficiency in what I feel is the most powerful lever for helping our clients secure enduring competitive advantage.

Turbulent water overflow

Greenland Ice Sheet Melt – an impact of climate change.  Over the course of several years, turbulent water overflow from a large melt lake carved this 60-foot-deep (18.3 meter-deep) canyon (note people near left edge for scale).  A complete melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet would raise sea levals by over 20 feet.  Image credit: Ian Joughin, University of Washington; NASA

In the world of sustainability practice, the biggest barriers, challenges and opportunities are often perceived to be either technical or financial.  And while it is true that financial and technical innovations are urgent and important, we have found through our work on hundreds of projects with dozens of clients large and small, that the greatest challenges and opportunities are in fact neither technical nor financial.  Yes, we have to figure out non-toxic product strategies using renewable  inputs and closed loop recycling.  We have to figure out how to make buildings and communities that can run on renewable energy and function with a net-zero (or positive) environmental footprint.  And we have to figure out how to pay for these things.  But as Lester Brown observed in his inspiring exploration of possibility, Plan B, everything we need to do to achieve real sustainability, we are already doing, in places.  It’s a question of scale, resolve, fixing market failures like externalities, and overcoming huge issues like the corrupting influence of money in politics.  But the barriers are not technical, nor financial.  They are personal.

Sustainability = Change

We hear a lot of talk in sustainability circles of the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, prosperity.  And while the ecological and financial dimensions of the equation are regularly addressed, and the social equity component is gaining some momentum in some circles, when I talk here about the social dimension of sustainability, I’m not referring to the “sustainability has to reach all groups” aspect.  While that factor, the Sustainability For All angle, is certainly true, urgent and important, that’s not what I’m talking about here, now.  What I’m talking about is this: sustainability is about change.  It means doing things differently in the future than today.  And if we don’t think about that fact, get inquisitive and ask about its implications, we’ll be stuck writing inspiring sustainability plans that gather dust on the shelf while the ice sheets melt and species continue to vanish.  If we aspire to accelerate the transformation of an economic, social and political system that depletes the planet’s natural capital into a system capable of providing lasting prosperity for the majority of humanity, we must focus heightened attention, and we have to do this quickly and well, on the implications of the simple observation that sustainability means change.  Not doing so would be akin to trying to lose weight without eating less or exercising more.


Understanding what motivates people to change behavior is the most powerful lever to successful sustainability uotcomes.

The logic is somewhat straightforward:

Is our current system sustainable?  Answer: obviously not.

Do we wish to have a sustainable future?  Clearly.

Will we get there by continuing to do the things that created the situation we are in today?  No chance.

Therefore, we have to do things in the future differently than we are today.  Hence: Sustainability = Change.

This may seem obvious beyond words, but by not focusing on the implications of this simple truth, which we have found in our work to be the rule more than the exception, we allow tremendous amounts of energy to leak out the sides of our efforts, instead of moving us forward as quickly as we can go.

So what does this really mean?  What do we do about it?  How do we “operationalize” change effectively?  Believe it or not, there are good answers to all those questions.

Stay tuned and we’ll offer some thoughts, now that we’ve framed the question, in our next installment…

September 11, 2012

Is Innovation Always Progress?

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOBy Scott Lewis

 Brightworks CEO

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Global Forum on the Culture of Innovation, co-presented by The Urban Land Institute. The Culture of Innovation struck me as a fantastic topic to explore, since we are living in an era challenged to reinvent itself before it implodes under the obsolete economic paradigm of the first industrial revolution. As I arrived, I thirsted for inspiration and new ideas to fuel my own efforts as an entrepreneur, employer, and would-be economic innovator.  The Forum offered morsels of genuine insight – particularly from Fast Company founder Alan Webber, himself a walking embodiment of thinking outside the box (or realizing there is no box).  IDEO’s Fred Dust also offered some unique and interesting perspectives that enlivened the event.  There was much talk of livability in cities, of fostering innovation to drive economic development, and of the future of office culture in a mobile society.

But what struck me most remarkably was the almost entire absence of any serious talk about sustainability.  Sure, I’m a sustainability guy, so my filters are a little hyper-attuned.  But if your ship has a hole in the hull and is taking on water, what they’re serving in the galley that night is sort of beside the point.

When the subject is culture and innovation, you’d think someone would talk about sustainability since the planet is besieged by the growing social, political, and economic impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. Where were Bill McDonough or William Kunstler when you need them?  (…and trust me, I’ve heard from both of them enough to be constantly on the watch for new voices to keep the momentum moving forward!)

Urgent needs for innovation

NOAA:  Significant Weather Events for Summer 2012

Significant weather events, summer 2012. Image via NOAA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just reported that July 2012 was the hottest month in the lower 48 states since the government started keeping temperature records in 1895.  The hot July also contributed to the hottest 12-month period ever recorded in the United States.

For this reason, when I hear the words “Culture of Innovation,” here are some of the questions that spring to mind for me:

  • How can we change the way science is performed to accelerate the commercialization of new clean tech and renewable energy opportunities?
  • If it’s true that we can meet all our energy needs for years to come with wind, water and solar energy, then what cultural momentum enables us to accept natural gas extraction that creates earthquakes in Ohio or coal extraction that literally dumps mountaintops in Appalachia into nearby streams?

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September 11, 2012

While You Were Out: Our Take on the Sustainability Stories of the Summer

Summer Vacation

Image via Laura Menenberg

Summer can be a hard time to keep up with the news – vacations, travel, and business planning for fall can take your attention away from the front pages. Before summer slips away, don’t miss these sustainability stories from summer 2012 that could affect your business in 2013.

LEED Gets Lobbied

In June, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it would delay releasing the LEED rating system’s next version after pressure from a wide variety of interest groups.  Those groups included building owners, concerned that the new version would be too stringent or difficult to document; business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and manufacturers of products panned by the new version of LEED.

read more »

May 24, 2012

Silence on Sustainability: Not as golden as it used to be

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Enterprise Solutions GroupBy Dave Newman, Enterprise Solutions Group

A sustainability thought leader shared a cautionary tale with me recently. His former company had received a sustainability questionnaire from a non-governmental organization (NGO). The CEO told him not to respond. The firm’s responses wouldn’t be ideal, and they weren’t sure how much to disclose. When the report came out, the cost of that decision became clear: The company received an “F” ranking. When the survey arrived the following year, the CEO instructed him to respond with whatever information the company had. Anything would be better than their current grade!

Companies are being publicly rated on sustainability criteria – whether they know it or not and whether they participate in the process or not. The newly updated Ceres report on corporate sustainability progress among 600 top U.S. companies is just the latest publicized ratings example. No doubt the results caught at least a few businesses off guard.

The challenge for businesses is that these inquiries from industry watchdogs, NGOs or clients call for complicated responses and are probably not on your ideal timeline (of, say, “later, maybe never”). As my acquaintance’s experience illustrates, sharing your progress is better saying nothing, even if you don’t have all the answers. And just asking the questions will give you a sense of what some of your next moves should be.

Why are large companies falling short of Ceres’ expectations?

read more »

January 3, 2012


by Scott Lewis | Brightworks CEO

The turning of the annual calendar always brings with it a range of associations, not the least of which is the idea of new beginnings.  We mark the occasion with a ritual of making resolutions that often vanish as quickly as our holiday leftovers, and yet, we still carry this intangible sense that after all, a new year is a chance for a fresh beginning.  It is the eternal human impulse to want a fresh start, to have another chance.

And somehow, deep inside, this desire for another chance has roots in an eternal optimism that says no matter how bad things have been in the past, there is still a possibility of a better tomorrow.

This resonates strongly for those of us in the sustainability business.  How can one look with open eyes at a world with so much trouble – from war and famine to financial scandal to the degradation of the vital ecosystems that sustain our prosperity and survival, and not simply despair.  The answer has to lie in some sort of deeper wisdom, which reminds us there have been challenges in the past, whose answers were not always visible at the time, yet human perseverance and ingenuity somehow provided solutions that could not have been imagined before they were invented.

And that is precisely where we stand today in the endeavor to create a post-carbon, socially equitable sustainable economy.  As Paul Hawken said in his brilliant 2009 commencement address to the University of Portland graduating seniors:

If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

That captures it pretty well:  ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

Ordinary people doing the extraordinary.  That’s what it’s all about.  As 2012 dawns and sparks in us that sense of new beginnings, won’t you join us in doing something extraordinary?

Happy New Year.

November 15, 2011

Climate Neutrality: A Viable Corporate Strategy?

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems GroupBy Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Sustainable Systems Group

In September 2011, the London 2012 Olympic Games made news by dropping plans to offset the event’s carbon emissions. The Games organizers said offset projects would have taken place away from Britain, and they prefer to maximize their environmental efforts locally.

The London Olympics 2012

Development for the London Olympics in 2012, photo via

This dramatic change made me wonder what caused the London Olympic organizers to renounce their offset plans, besides the estimated $4 million price tag. Climate neutrality was considered a leadership position back in the mid 2000s. But in recent years the value of climate neutrality has diminished, mostly because carbon offsets have fallen out of favor.

What changed the landscape for carbon offsets? Could it be trendy sustainability measures are losing currency as companies find and adopt strategies whose business benefits better align with their needs?

What is a Carbon Offset?

A carbon offset is a “promise” to avoid creating a ton of carbon emissions somewhere else in the world, typically in a developing country.

An example of a carbon offset project is a factory in Indonesia replacing an oil-fired boiler with a natural gas boiler. The sale of these carbon offsets would provide the necessary return on investment to pay for the cost of the new gas boiler. The owner paying for the gas boiler can sell carbon offsets equal to the amount of CO2 they will avoid emitting by upgrading their equipment.

It was an elegant idea, but eventually problems surfaced:

  • Many projects did not produce the carbon offsets they promised or their measurements could not be independently verified.
  • Investigations revealed many of projects would have occurred regardless of whether carbon financing was included – thus the purchase of a carbon offset produced no added benefit.
  • Many U.S.-based companies want local carbon offsets so they can be seen as helping their own communities, but offset projects are typically located in the developing world.

Unclear ROI: A Recipe for Disaster

The cost of carbon offsets ballooned in the late 2000s, selling anywhere from $8 to $20 a ton. Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) became a very popular substitute for carbon offsets and were much cheaper, priced from $.50 to $3 a ton. The use of RECs came under heavy criticism as they were used by some companies like offsets to reduce a firm’s overall carbon footprint. Whether businesses purchased carbon offsets or RECs, they incurred costly annual expenses from offsetting their CO2 emissions.

Most companies featured these programs in corporate responsibility reports or related marketing efforts, but they began to ask: Should a U.S.-based company invest in carbon offsets to achieve climate neutrality goals when a large percentage of the U.S. population does not believe climate change is real? Do U.S. or global customers care if a company has either achieved or established a climate neutrality goal?

As these questions became harder to answer, many companies re-examined climate neutrality as a corporate goal: If consumers don’t believe in or care about climate charge, why make the investment?

The deepest liability of carbon offsets, and the reason their ROI is so hard to quantify, is they are frequently just a band-aid on business-as-usual practices. Environmentalists frequently saw them as a way for companies to pay their way out of their carbon “sins.” This made them unsatisfying for the audience companies wanted to win over with their environmental initiatives.

Environmentalists were frequently right. Many companies were not making offsets part of a broader effort to take sustainability deeper into their organizations, find recurring cost savings and spark innovation (Click here to read some success stories of companies that did). As a result, these companies were not capturing any real value or public relations value from their offsets.

Every Business Case for Sustainability is Different

The Business Case for Sustainability, Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Every business will find its own unique mix of business benefits from sustainability (learn more about the Business Case for Sustainability). Buying carbon offsets alone seemed to be of less value than many companies hoped when this trend took hold. But there are still exceptions. About one month after the London Olympics announcement, British Petroleum (BP) and their not-for-profit carbon management arm, BP Target Neutral, announced they would purchase carbon offsets to cover the emissions from spectator travel to the London Olympic Games at no cost to the ticket-holder.

BP Target Neutral is hoping to sign up enough spectators to set a new world record for the largest offset as measured by number of participants. Participants can sign up using BP Target Neutral’s London 2012 web page or its Facebook page.

Making the offsets an interactive event with customers is probably an effort to build goodwill and customer engagement. BP and its subsidiary perceived a business value from purchasing carbon offsets that just wasn’t there for the Olympics organizers.

That’s the business case philosophy in action – sustainability makes sense for everyone differently. The trends of the moment won’t last if they can’t create real value for businesses. As companies think more deeply about how to create and capture the sustainability benefits they need most, we can expect carbon offset programs to continue falling away.

November 8, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Scott Lewis is founder and CEO of Brightworks

Well, the bad news is that 2010 had the highest annual net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide ever, a 6 percent increase, with China and the US leading the pack.

2010 CO2


This coincides with the human population passing 7 billion people for the first time.  Not a coincidence, perhaps.

World Population Reaches 7 Billion

7 billion and going strong. Source:

The good news is that the world is just brimming with opportunity for rapid transformation to a renewable energy economy, if only we could get those dang policy makers – the ones who make the rules about what kinds of energy get most heavily subsidized, incentivized and regulated or not regulated – to make decisions in the public interest rather than the interest of their funders.

Seriously, the good news is that when enough people clamor loudly enough for real change, the technology and resource capacity is not the barrier: Scientific American published a plan to power the whole world with 100 percent renewable energy back in 2009.  Here’s to the possibility of a future with lasting prosperity for all, just waiting to emerge.

October 6, 2011

Are You Ready For The New Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards?

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems Groupby Dave Newman, Senior Strategist

Ready or not, Scope 3 is here. And you’d be well advised to understand what it means for your business and prepare for its impact sooner rather than later.

Two new international greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards — known as Scope 3 — were launched October 4 at events in New York and London. They were released by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a global collaboration led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol previously released GHG emission standards for owned manufacturing and operations (known as Scope 1) and for purchased energy (known as Scope 2). The two are considered the de facto standard for global GHG emissions reporting.

Scope 3 ups the ante considerably. It enables companies to fully measure and manage emissions across their value chains and product lines for the first time. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have estimated two-thirds of U.S. industries would overlook 75 percent of GHG emissions if they neglect reporting on Scope 3 emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The new Corporate Value Chain Standard helps companies discover the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions within those parts of their supply chain (manufacturing, transportation) they don’t own. The new Product Life Cycle Standard enables firms to measure the GHG emissions of an individual product, including its use by the consumer, using a credible international approach.

Among the businesses affected by the introduction of Scope 3 are consumer products companies whose value chains can stretch around the world, as well as suppliers to these companies. Scope 3 will lead companies to look both upstream and downstream in their value chain for ways to reduce GHG emissions, lower fossil fuel consumption and cost and decrease risk exposure due to future spikes in fossil fuel prices.

Here’s where it gets interesting. All companies are either producers or suppliers. And in one role or another, there’s a good chance your business will be brought into Scope 3 reporting — maybe happily, maybe kicking and screaming.

As a producer, you may choose to embrace Scope 3 and turn it into a competitive advantage. Or you may ignore Scope 3 altogether — until you can’t. At some point, a large customer is likely to ask your business to report your scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions. At that point, choosing to ignore any of the scopes will no longer be realistic.

Walmart is the most prominent company to lean on its suppliers to report emissions and other sustainability measurements. However, that expectation or demand is becoming increasingly prevalent among larger companies and promises to gain momentum as Scope 3 reporting catches on.

Adopting Scope 3 proactively or in response to customer demand will seem daunting to many small to medium sized businesses. It will mean tracking GHG emissions, for example, from:

  • Employee commuting or from their choices of transportation and accommodations when traveling on business
  • Product movement as goods are transported from factory to store or warehouse; this would include factors that influence emissions, such as carrier type (air, ship, ground) and volume and weight of shipments
  • Materials, manufacturing, customer use and disposal of the company’s products
  • Firms that outsource their supply chain management may have little visibility into the makeup and sustainability performance of their suppliers. Similarly, they may struggle with how to gauge emissions from customer use and disposal.

Assessing, managing and reporting GHG emissions and other environmental impacts are fundamental steps for companies interested in mitigating risk (see our free webinar on the subject) and creating competitive advantage.  Our consultants have years of experience in sustainable design, manufacturing and transport for companies like Nike and for suppliers to major retailers like Walmart as they have managed Scopes 1 and 2. Clients like these sometimes need help to map their value chains and product lifecycle components to locate and gather the appropriate data, effectively engage suppliers to provide Scope 3 data and produce reports that are appropriate for customers asking for emissions data, or for other constituents interested in the client’s sustainability performance.

While Scope 3 may appear complex and confusing, the two new standards have been in development for more than three years with numerous stakeholder events, multiple drafts, comment periods and road testing by more than 60 companies. So the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has taken good care to address and remove obstacles to rapid adoption of the new standards.

The question is: are you ready to add Scope 3 to your list of sustainability advantages?

September 15, 2011

Politics, SuperPACs and the Planet

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOBy Scott Lewis,Brightworks CEO

As another political campaign season heats up, we reflect on the role of politics, elections and policy on the prospects for a sustainable, equitable future.

Those of us who would aspire to influence the future – to help foster the emergence of a world that provides for the well-being of all people and our fellow inhabitants of the earth – must constantly take a hard, honest look at the context in which we work.

And no single contextual element carries as much leverage as the political – the world of laws, administrative rules and regulations, and the people who enact and enforce them on a daily basis. Local, regional and national government — and the rules made or not made, enforced or not enforced, by the people who go to work daily in those public offices and agencies — determine how much arsenic comes out of power plant smokestacks, which species will survive or go extinct, or how much of our energy mix will come from climate-changing fossil fuel or renewable solar and wind power.

We must scrutinize and reform the political mechanisms that determine who holds office and what powers they have, if we intend to shape the trajectory of our future and that of our descendants.

Laws Matter

Whether you get involved or sit on the sidelines, our laws have a HUGE impact on outcomes: ecological, economic, and social justice. Make your voice heard.

Pay Attention to the Extreme

In a political system as large and complex as ours, there are good guys, bad guys, and like most of us, people who can be counted on most of the time but make occasional missteps. The problem for the planet, I would contend, lies mostly at the extreme end of the spectrum, where the corrupting influence of money on power reigns. The forces at work there are so large, the decisions so far reaching and the impacts of those decisions so profound, they overwhelm the expanse of otherwise honest, everyday policymaking.

For example, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, mulitnational oil and gas companies are set to enjoy $53 billion in royalty-free drilling over the next 25 years and $36.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies over the next decade. Whether this fact correlates with the industry’s $282 million of political spending since 1990, including $17 million of political contributions to congressional campaigns in the 2010 election cycle alone, one can only speculate. In that one election cycle alone, over 20 congressional candidates received at least $100,000 from people and political action committees associated with the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It seems safe to assume a causal linkage more probable than the possibility that those companies give away millions of dollars purely out of their charitable good will.

One Congressional friend of big oil and gas, for example, is Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. His claims that global warming is, after the separation of church and state, “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people,” would perhaps be more convincing if the senator had not received over $600,000 from the oil and gas industry and electric utilities in the past five years.

read more »

June 3, 2010


by Scott Lewis
Brightworks CEO

As the “one of the greatest environmental calamities of history” continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, we may take the opportunity to reflect.

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island 6.3.2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

If like me, you drive a car that runs on fossil fuel,

If, like me, your home is heated, cooled or lit with energy generated from fossil fuels,*

If, like me, you aren’t doing everything possible to convince – no, demand – your elected officials (local, regional and federal) that they take immediate and strong action to end our deathly addiction to fossil fuels,

Then – like me – you are complicit.

We are all complicit in the greatest ecological catastrophe of modern times.  And we are all complicit in the destruction of the rainforests, the increasing toxic chemical loads in the bodies of our loved ones, of raptor and polar bears, and ourselves.

So.  This is a great opportunity to re-commit.  To remind ourselves that there is, in fact, a viable alternative.  As Lester Brown is wont to point out, everything we need to do, to get to a sustainable, equitable future, we are already doing, in different places, at different times.  We have the know-how.  We have the technology.

For example, a path to a 100 percent renewable power world is both technically and financially feasible.  As we have observed previously in this space, the issue is not one of technical or financial ability, but one of political will.

So let us not let the still-unfolding Disaster in the Gulf be for naught.  Let it be the final straw – the one that pushes us over the brink of our complacency.  Our complicity. Henceforth, let us all be complicit instead in a global conspiracy to create lasting change – to a sustainable, equitable future.  If enough of us try hard enough, surely we will succeed.

* [stay tuned for news a of our new “net zero, no-fossil fuels” solar home which should go online 12/2010]

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