July 12, 2001

Seattle goes climate neutral

  • City Light teams up with the Climate Neutral Network to fight global warming.
    Rocky Mountain Institute

    Amid the questions about global climate change and claims that it would ruin the U.S. economy, there are several organizations that are working hard to demonstrate the opposite — that in fact addressing climate change can have multiple positive benefits.

    The Climate Neutral Network stands out with a creative and profitable approach to start reducing our impact on the climate.

    The network has been working with Seattle City Light for some time now exploring how its innovative zero-greenhouse gas commitments could bring bottom-line value to local companies and communities as part of the network’s certification efforts.

    Network and City Light leaders recently got together with Seattle area businesses, universities, not-for-profits and county governments at a meeting hosted by Seattle City Light on June 19.

    At the meeting, Sue Hall, executive director for the Climate Neutral Network, explored City Light’s opportunities to use climate neutral innovations to leverage its groundbreaking commitment to zero emissions. The opportunities would build some unique comparative advantages for the city over other locations and that could attract new business investment, including major conventions and new headquarters locations.

    What is climate neutral?

    Climate neutral refers to products, services and enterprises that have little or no effect on the Earth’s climate. This is achieved by reducing and offsetting global warming gases associated with the production and delivery of products, services or total operations emissions for an enterprise to achieve a net zero impact on the Earth’s climate.

    “Developing climate neutral products and services is an exciting new way for environmentalists and businesses to work together to create value for companies, communities and the climate,” said Daniel Lashof, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel.

    The Climate Neutral Network, a small nonprofit organization based in Portland, has built an impressive coalition of companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and academics committed to bringing climate-neutral products and services to market. The organization encourages and supports companies in developing a new marketplace in which climate-neutral products and services can be offered competitively to a range of interested buyers.

    The network has developed a “gold standard” certification process, supported by leading environmental groups such as Conservation International, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute. The certification is designed to give companies reasonable assurance that their efforts will have credibility and the buy-in of the mainstream environmental activist community.

    Companies calculate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their products, services or operations and demonstrate their commitment and efforts to reduce those emissions. To negate the remaining climate change impacts, they then invest in certifiable offset projects that will reduce the equivalent quantity of greenhouse gases. The resulting net impact from both the corporate activities and the offsets is zero additional greenhouse gases emitted.

    There are a tremendous variety of offset options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — for example, installing solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity, which reduces the need to burn fossil fuels; or planting trees, which absorb global warming gases.

    Certification brings advantage

    In 2000, four U.S. corporations were awarded climate neutral certifications for their groundbreaking efforts: Interface, Shaklee U.S., Saunders Hotel Group and TripleE.

    Climate neutral certification brings competitive advantage to companies. In all such cases, companies have found advantages through market differentiation, increased market share or being identified as preferred suppliers and environmental leaders. Such initiatives can also reduce costs, increase employee or customer loyalty, and demonstrate business leadership to government regulators, politicians, the media and other stakeholders.

    TripleE, the first U.S. travel provider to offer air travel with net zero climate impacts, was also at the workshop in Seattle exploring opportunities to partner with like-minded companies to provide them with climate neutral air travel. Having this certification has already helped TripleE expand and bring in new corporate clients in a highly competitive marketplace that typically offers very similar products.

    Seattle’s initiatives

    The city of Seattle is addressing the climate issue in several ways. Seattle City Light has been actively promoting energy efficiency and other resource conservation measures to local businesses and institutions. The agency offers many “energy smart” services that help businesses small and large, as well as residential customers, reduce their energy consumption — saving money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Seattle City Light is also promoting voluntary “climate wise” partnerships with local businesses that commit to addressing and reducing their contribution to global climate change.

    For more information on participating, go the City Light’s Web site:

    Seattle is a true pioneer in climate change and is currently exploring climate neutral certification. It was the first city to establish a net zero greenhouse gas goal.

    On Earth Day last year, the city passed Resolution 30144 which commits City Light to a long-term goal of meeting all of Seattle’s electricity needs with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases.This will be achieved through energy conservation, new renewable energy, and the offsetting of all greenhouse gas emissions released from all of its electricity sources. In other words, the city intends to provide climate neutral electricity to the entire community.

    Climate neutral innovations

    The network helps companies bring successful climate neutral innovations to market and identify creative offset projects that yield compelling social benefits to communities in addition to their environment benefits. For example, three of the certified companies have invested in improvements in the heating systems of Portland public schools. These investments reduced the schools’ capital expenditures and ongoing energy and maintenance expenses to save over $250,000 — while at the same time reducing the companies’ impact on the climate.

    As a result of their commitments, climate neutral-certified companies are creating a dramatic range of social and community benefits with their offset investments, including offsets that will build cashflow savings for low-income housing groups, AIDS shelters and other community ventures that will support companies’ strategic philanthropic and business goals.

    By providing climate neutral electricity, Seattle City Light is giving local businesses an excellent start on achieving their own climate neutral certification since electricity is often the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for companies. Seattle has an opportunity to gain recognition and increased business by creating a suite of climate neutral products, services and enterprises.

    More information can be obtained from the network’s Web site: or by e-mailing Sue Hall at

    Robert Wilkinson is an adjunct senior research associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo.

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