Betty Cremmins, Lead at 1t.org (North America), an initiative of the World Economic Forum, and a Strategy Advisor to SINAI.
Interview conducted by Ariel Lozovsky from SINAI Technologies
Tell us about your career so far, and how you landed in sustainability.
I guess I kind of got lucky on my pathway into corporate sustainability. I was always into what I was calling practical environmentalism. I’ve always cared about the environment and really wanted to work to protect it. I really wanted to find a way to not just complain about problems, but to actually drive practical solutions to those problems.
When I was sort of in college in the early 2000s, corporate sustainability was not really a thing, but green building was sort of coming on the radar. That seemed like a way to build houses for people that were energy efficient and healthy and promoted better transportation options. And all of that sort of encapsulated all of the great ways that you could be productive, but also protecting the environment.
So right out of college, I worked for Habitat for Humanity for a while, building affordable green building homes in New York City and also across the country and then around the world. And that was my first sort of foray into how to be both a practical environmentalist and a professional volunteer. I wanted to do things that were volunteer roles, that did good things for the world, but actually, get paid to do it. Ever since then, I’ve sort of been seeking ways to bring those two together.
What do you think keeps companies from taking the next step in their carbon journey?
I cannot count the number of times I’ve had the ‘what are greenhouse gases’ conversation with a company. I’ve literally had a company say, ‘but we don’t have any greenhouses’.
I think it boils down to sort of three areas of reluctance or resistance or just inertia we have to overcome. The first is around the data itself. When we start to talk about greenhouse gases, it’s a whole new vernacular. We’re not used to accounting for carbon emissions and removals and avoided emissions and net emissions. And it just gets complicated and techie really fast. Which is really why I love SINAI, because it puts it in dollar amounts. It takes the environmental issue but puts it in a language that the company already understands and is already using to be able to manage the environmental impact.
Now, even if you told me after all these years that your greenhouse gas footprint was two hundred thousand million metric tons, I don’t know if it’s good or bad, I have no basis of understanding these numbers. So I think having the data be comparable is the second area of issue is, even if you are able to calculate your greenhouse gas footprint, you find all your energy bills and your fuel bills and you ask all your suppliers for their data and you actually calculate your greenhouse gas footprint, what does that mean? I think we need better tools for benchmarking and understanding and showing progress over time, progress compared to peers’ progress compared to your own targets and your projections.
The third area is, if the government’s not demanding this, there is a resistance from many companies, especially legal teams and companies, to disclose data that you’re not being asked for. We call it like non-financial metrics or ESG environmental social governance metrics. We just forgot to put a dollar amount on the environmental things that we all generate profit from or cause impact on. And so as we can again add financial metrics onto these things and make it legally required to be calculating and disclosing and managing them, that will drive just so many more companies to take action.
Finally, I mean, let’s face it. Most companies are still using Excel to calculate their footprint, which I was thinking about the other day, and I was like – imagine if you were having to take a road trip and were using paper maps. I mean, can you imagine not using Google Maps?
Here in the Bay Area, we rely on software to know exactly where the fire zones are, where the traffic is, and so on – we manage our world in real-time. You need to be managing this stuff, and not just in real-time, but projecting out into the future. What business does things so important in Excel at this stage? I think there are increasing numbers of some tools sort of supporting companies in calculating their footprint or setting a science-based target or in identifying renewable energy investments or other investments we can make. I think there are some piecemeal tools out there. There’s also the climate risk tools. But I think we need a whole lot more to be able to support a sort of a holistic journey for companies and to make sure that it works for all sectors.
What are companies that are knocking sustainability out of the park doing right?
Well, a lot. Well, so they’re transparent. Let’s look first right there. They’re measuring or managing or reporting reducing their emissions or they’re managing the data, but it goes way beyond that. I would say the best-practice companies are not just taking this as a one-off thing like, every year they disclose their data and that’s their sustainability strategy, where they create a website and they put out a flashy report and that’s it. They’re actively managing that (sustainability strategy) throughout the year.
So, the best analogy is people are like, “oh yeah, I have a wellness plan. I go to the doctor and get my annual checkup.” That’s not your health plan. You have to like exercising, eating healthy mental health, all these other issues. But you also have to not just be sort of following the plan. It has to make sense for your lifestyle. So they’re doing all the right things throughout the year, but contextualized within their lifestyle based on where they live, how they work with their family looks like etc.
I think the same thing goes for greenhouse gases and climate strategy. The best companies are calculating scope 1, 2 & 3 but then they’re managing them in a way that makes sense for their business. They’re engaging their suppliers and finding procurement levers and ways to not only incentivize suppliers to take action but actually encouraging suppliers, providing cool new collaborative ways to be working together on sustainability so they can invest in renewables or new products and services or new materials.
Ariel Lozovsky is a climate change optimist. When she’s not creating content around reversing climate change, she’s climbing rocks or petting dogs. Before joining the SINAI team, she was working on marketing and creatives at a gaming company.
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