Corporations: The New Environmental Superheroes

Stephen Bay
Oct 1, 2019 · 5 min read

I grew up watching Captain Planet cartoons. These cartoons helped make me aware of environmentalism by showing me ordinary kids transforming into superheroes who were saving the planet week after week. However, you can’t have superheroes without super villains. Week after week, the planeteers battled against villains like Looten Plunder, Sly Sludge, Doctor Blight, Duke Nukem, and Hoggish Greedly. Again and again, the message was that somehow making money came at the expense of the environment. When it came to the environment, Captain Planet repeatedly reinforced the idea that capitalism, business, and corporations were the bad guys.

Unfortunately, many people’s ideas of environmentalism are quite literally cartoonish. We have been taught to assume that an environmentalist must lean politically left even though hunting organizations like Ducks Unlimited are some of the biggest preservers of the environment in the United States. And we have been taught to think that environmentalism requires levels of self-denial where we don’t shave our armpits, or eat meat and only shower once a week.

Frankly, this way of thinking about environmentalism is a turn off and it is self-defeating. For too many, environmentalism has been turned into something very similar to Medieval Christianity. There is a constant fear of a looming environmental apocalypse. Money is the root of all environmental evil. And every little choice from eating meat to using a plastic straw comes weighted down with guilt and shame for not behaving as virtuously as we should. This environmentalism is self-defeating because it alienates most people. Having a handful of people with zero carbon footprint doesn’t do the planet much good if billions of people think environmentalism isn’t for them.

After completing over 27,000 home energy assessments, the team at Eco Consulting, the company I founded, has learned that environmentalism needs a major rebranding. When I or any one of my specialists goes into a home, we don’t talk about what energy efficiency can do for the environment. We talk about what it can do for the homeowner. Weatherizing your home and installing the right HVAC system will make your home more comfortable, healthy and more affordable. The fact that it also will help the environment is a feel-good bonus for a percentage of the population. If environmentalists want to help the environment, we need to change how we talk about the environment. And, especially, we need to change how we talk about corporations. Casting business as the environmental bad guy every single time made for a great cartoon for kids but it makes for terrible environmental policy. Corporations are powerful and, in spite of what the media would have you believe, many of them are firmly on the side of the planet, employees and communities. By supporting the corporations doing the right thing, we can change the world. Patagonia uses recycled content in their products and they design their products to last a lifetime. CEO’s and investors are now beginning to understand that shareholders are not the end all when it comes to corporate responsibility.

“Every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society… Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate”

— Larry Fink CEO of BlackRock.

I founded employees.eco to help rebrand environmentalism for corporations and their employees. With the new tools we’re developing and the partnerships that we’re building, employees.eco will be able to customize environmentalism and find incentives that fit each and every person on our platform. My first company, Eco Consulting, has already worked with utility companies for years to help promote environmentally-friendlier choices; the cost to the end consumers, ZERO. The utility paid our company for all 27,000 home energy assessments we completed. For no cost to the end customer, Eco Consulting has been able to reduce ~9000 metric tons on an annual basis Now with employees.eco, I’m excited to work with companies in every industry and of every size to help incentivize and support sustainability anywhere and everywhere. Fortunately, I have already found lots of corporate allies. These corporate allies care not only about the health of the whole planet but also about the health of their employees and the communities they live in. They know that employees that come into work from a home that is comfortable, safe and free of toxic chemicals and moisture problems will come into work happier, healthier and more productive.

In fact, one of these corporate allies, Stacy Smedley at Skanska, has articulated this as the next frontier of corporate sustainability. Until now, corporations have been focused on emissions they directly generate, emissions generated from the energy they consume and more recently on greening their supply chain and minimizing their embodied carbon. These three levels of this corporate responsibility have been laid out as Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3. 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 Companies voluntarily report their emissions in line with Scope 1, 2 and 3. After having Skanska act as one of our pilot customers, Stacy has now articulated Scope 4. Truly sustainable corporations will also help green their workforces by using tools like those employees.eco is developing to help make homes, habits and commutes cleaner and greener.

Given that home energy use and people’s commutes are two of the biggest sources of environmental pollution in the United States, the impact that companies can have by reaching Scope 4 could be the biggest impact of the 21st Century. By working with corporations and their employees, we can significantly reduce both commutes and home energy use on massive scales along with driving consumers to sustainable brands. From there, we can help guide employees to smart choices that reduce waste and single-use plastics and conserve water. We can work with utilities and local governments to get homes properly weatherized and reduce energy usage across the country. We can work with employers and apps like Waze Carpool to incentivize carpooling. And, we can help incentivize homes to install solar and make more homes with a positive carbon footprint.

The world needs more environmental superheroes. It’s just that the cause of environmentalism is too important for us to be able to afford environmental supervillains. In fact, we believe that corporations are poised to be the new face of environmentalism doing far more for the environment than we could ever dream of doing individually. In so doing, they will not only be looking after the planet, they’ll be looking after the bottom line. After all, as David Wallace-Wells points out in The Uninhabitable Earth, a degraded environment costs us money. Investing in sustainable practices isn’t going against the incentives of business. Instead, sustainability helps ensure long-term profitability. The environment doesn’t need five planeteers…it needs the Fortune 500.

EarthUP

Save Money. Get Comfortable