In The Shadow Of Climate Change – Interview With Kate Gaertner

Originally published on on September 24, 2021

The largest global companies understand they need to and can transition away from fossil fuels to sourcing 100% renewable energy. And they are!

Industry, Fossil Energy, And Sustainability In The Shadow Of Climate Change – Interview With Kate Gaertner.

Kate Gaertner is in the business of helping companies determine carbon neutral paths. She is the Founder and Managing Director of TripleWin Advisory, a sustainability insight consultancy, and the author of Planting a Seed: Three Simple Steps to Sustainable Living.

What is the relationship between sustainability and climate change?

A sustainability mindset recognizes that our current way of living and operating no longer serves the inhabitants of our planet, both human and non-human. Equally, sustainability acknowledges that we have and continue to over-tax, over-pollute, and over-extract resources from Earth and that mentality must end and end now.

Sustainability as a strategy has long been embraced in the consumer mind as “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” That moniker simplifies the concepts of industrial ecology that must be implemented by companies to lessen and neutralize industry’s impact on the environment: use only existing (not virgin) materials within a supply chain, decrease material throughput in our economic system, and return materials to their natural place: biological back to Earth, and technical/synthetic back into the manufacturing system. 

Core to any strategic sustainability approach is a wholesale rejection of fossil fuel use for 100% renewable energy. Sustainability is a desired outcome because if it is embraced fully, completely and holistically, we as a humanity can stop and reverse climate change and support the well-functioning of the planet for current and future generations. Sustainability is both a response to climate change and our only path through it.  

Planting the Seed

The stakes of climate change have hit home quite literally for many in 2021, with record heat, wildfires, and floods destroying property and lives. Can these events be attributed to global warming?

Scientists know with near 100% certainty that human-induced climate change is creating the conditions for extreme weather events to happen more frequently but attributing one-for-one extreme weather events to the climbing trendline of global warming over years and decades is not a relationship that is easily proved.  

To be “attributed” is to be caused by.  As a lay person who understands and trusts science, yes, global warming is causing extreme weather events to occur more frequently and to have more intensity than if they were to occur in the absence of climate change.   

What is the main hurdle for Americans to adapt to a greener lifestyle, such as driving an EV or putting up solar panels?

The technologies that power electric vehicles and residential solar panels must be made affordable to the average American family, with or without incentives.  Ford’s announcement of its 2022 EV F-150 Lightning Truck that provides a range of 300 miles, seconds as a back-up generator, and sells for less than $40,000, is brilliant. 

Allowing individuals to haul big loads for long distances and use their personal vehicle to power lawn equipment, electronics or their homes during a power disruption should make this Truck technology a no-brainer for most Americans. 

Personally, if I could offer everyone a ride in my BMW i3 EV car and show them how zippy and fun it is to drive, I’m sure I could successfully win over the hearts and minds of most of them.  

Kate Gaertner author

Are you optimistic about company and industry pledges for becoming carbon-neutral by 2050?

I am cautiously optimistic and I must take that stance; I’m in the business of helping companies determine carbon neutral paths for themselves. 

The largest global companies understand they need to and can transition away from fossil fuels to sourcing 100% renewable energy. And they are! Today, more than 300 companies have committed to sourcing renewables exclusively.  These are critical commitments and absolutely necessary transitions. 

It’s no small thing that the Biden/Harris administration set the national goal of achieving net carbon neutrality by 2050 and progressing 50-52% of the way to that goal by 2030, nine years from now. This is a strong, positive signal that will have trickle-down implications on industries, sectors and companies of all sizes. Companies could benefit from teethy legislation at the national and state levels. The SEC could bring about a sea-change at public companies if it were to require GHG emissions and climate-risk disclosures. 

Which large American companies are leading the way in sustainability?

Some great strides are being made in the IT industry, specifically calling out HP with its 100% renewable energy goal by 2035 and its material circularity with ink printer cartridges; Microsoft for setting up internal carbon pricing and committing $1B to The Climate Innovation Fund to drive technology investment in clean energy solutions; and Autodesk taking the lead in achieving 100% renewable energy across its facilities, cloud services and work-from-home employees, and for attaining net carbon neutrality by the end of 2021

General Mills and Whirlpool are setting important precedents for setting science-based targets (SBTs) in-line with the Paris Climate Accord goals of 1.5oC and 2oC respectively, on their full corporate value chains.

General Motors is moving in the right direction declaring its intent to set SBTs for its full carbon footprint by the end of this year and to become carbon neutral by 2040. 

Best Buy is tackling environmental impacts at multiple levels, all critical, including setting a target of reducing its carbon footprint by 75% by 2030, collecting and divesting more than 160 million pounds of ewaste from landfill (2020) and notably, setting water usage targets of 15% use reduction by 2025.  

Lastly, Procter & Gamble is also working at multiple levels with particular note on its water conservation efforts by reducing water use in manufacturing facilities by 20% per unit of production and by reaching a challenging but achievable milestone of 100% zero waste to landfill in manufacturing in 2020.  

The oil and gas industry and conservative politicians frequently say that one of the best reasons for protecting the fossil fuel industry is the thousands of jobs it supports. What can you tell me about that?

New Scientist in 2019, ‘long’ before the Biden/Harris administration renewed the government’s focus on renewables, stated that the renewable energy sector in the US employed nearly 9.5 million people, more than 10 times those employed by the fossil fuel industry on whole.  Those numbers refute any argument for protecting and continuing to subsidize the fossil fuel industry.

The infrastructure to support fossil fuel distribution and use, including the pipelines, the oil rigs, the petroleum refineries et al., have been built long ago.  The systems to support fossil fuel use exist and just require ongoing maintenance; they are “well-oiled” machines, to use an industry-apt phrase.  

But renewable energy systems are newer technologies requiring diverse levels of investment; new innovation development; systems manufacturing; ongoing infrastructure build-out; supportive distributed storage systems; marketing and sales to commercialize, scale, and grow adoption of the technologies; and installations at all levels: municipal, industrial, commercial and residential. 

Each of these ‘areas of activity’ to build a scaled renewables energy sector requires different areas of expertise, intellectual knowledge-sets, and skilled labor. The renewables industry needs to scale fast, within less than 30 years, to meet the Paris Climate Accord goals of keeping global temperature rise below 2oC. Fast growth combined with much to accomplish means tremendous opportunity, which equates to lots of jobs.  


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