The Road to A Clean Energy Future: Chevrolet’s Inside Story

The Road to A Clean Energy Future: Chevrolet’s Inside Story

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How did @Chevrolet reach its groundbreaking goal to reduce 8M MT of carbon? Hear from program advisors: #CleanEnergyU

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Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 11:10am

CAMPAIGN: Chevrolet Carbon-Reduction Initiative


Chevrolet’s carbon-reduction initiative established a groundbreaking goal in 2010 to invest up to $40 million to reduce 8 million metric tons CO2 through carbon projects across America. By empowering radical stakeholder conversations and collaborative partnerships which, as CEO of Climate Neutral Business Network I’ve been privileged to lead, Chevrolet discovered an unexpected – and transformative – road to a clean energy future.

Their pioneering work and leadership drove Chevrolet, their clean energy campus project partners, #CleanEnergyU student leaders and myself to the White House in 2015 with our pledges to #ActOnClimate.

Throughout this five-year initiative, a group of environmental advisors guided Chevrolet. Now that Chevrolet met its goal, we got together to reflect on the significance of the achievement. 

What made Chevrolet’s leadership transformative?

Bob Sheppard: When Chevrolet first suggested an 8 million ton CO2 reduction goal in 2010, this was twice the size of the U.S. voluntary market.  I thought to myself, I don’t even know if they can achieve this!   This was moonshot leadership when we were flying biplanes before.

Snehal Desai: When Chevrolet said it would pioneer a new methodology and fund campus credit projects to accelerate their clean energy performance in our communities, they created a legacy–not only for the first Chevrolet campus projects, but for all campuses U.S.-wide and all carbon investors. Legacy is what real transformative leadership is about.

Janet Peace: Chevrolet created an entirely new template in the carbon market that multiplied their own leadership by empowering others to take the same high road.  This is why they won the EPA stakeholder partnership award.  What matters most here is that an iconic company stood up and talked about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To deal with the climate issue we need engagement not just by politicians, but by big companies that have a big greenhouse gas impact – and a broad bandwidth to communicate with their customers and supply chain.

Why was this initiative strategic for Chevrolet?

Eban Goodstein: In 2010, GM had emerged from bankruptcy; Chevrolet had pioneered the introduction of the Volt as the centerpiece for their expansion into an electrified fleet.  It was shifting from an unadventurous, defensive dinosaur posture to a company willing to make unexpected bold moves to innovate and lead. This carbon-reduction initiative represented a profound culture shift and a desire to embrace a new strategic vision  – the first bold move I’d ever seen from Chevrolet!

Mark Kenber: I thought Chevrolet’s carbon-reduction initiative was fantastic and found it surprising that it was a U.S. car company bringing this initiative forward.  Chevrolet has now established itself as a leading auto company on climate action; it now has the perfect opportunity to develop the fleets that will drive the low carbon economy.

Snehal Desai:  Chevrolet realized that the Volt needed a clean efficient U.S. grid to maximize its performance. Chevrolet’s new carbon methodology gave them the clout to accelerate communities’ clean energy efficiency performance -- which is what actually drives improvements in the grid. That’s a valuable way to drive change for Chevrolet.

Janet Peace: From a brand perspective, Chevrolet also gained some serious traction with millennials: empowering Boston University student Lindsey Chew to co-design the top-trending #CleanEnergyU conversation and engaging student leaders with so many global clean energy leaders, significantly broadened Chevrolet’s marketing reach in exciting new ways.

So why did Chevrolet make this decision to build the new methodology?

Andy Stevenson: They listened to us.  Chevrolet did the hard work; they didn’t just go out and buy up what the market had to offer; they realized they were an energy company from the get go; when advisors told them they needed to purchase energy efficiency credits they listened; when we said it’s going to take you writing a new methodology to get such credits, they said OK.

Bob Sheppard: Right, Chevrolet’s stakeholder process was a core bedrock – it’s what helped Chevrolet power through several walls and steep climbs.

Mark Kenber: It’s vital to engage stakeholders and Chevrolet has listened, which is especially important if you’re from a sector that’s part of the problem.  It helps you think out of the box to become a part of the solution.

Snehal Desai:  What I find most intriguing is this: I don’t think anyone at the beginning would have said that by 2015 this is where the initiative would lead us. Really good companies pivot because they listen and learn fast …

Did Chevrolet see at the beginning they were going to convene the #CleanEnergyU dialogue and write and vet a clean energy methodology to empower the U.S. carbon market to invest for the first time in accelerating energy efficiency gains across U.S. campuses? I don’t think Chevrolet could have written this playbook at the beginning and get past go.  Executives would have said “what”?

But Chevrolet got there because there was openness in the process essential to make this kind of transformative leadership happen.

Tim Carter: Chevrolet set an extremely ambitious goal; and then asked others how they might best achieve it. Their goals created a great sandbox – into which they then invited us all to play.  This is what allowed for such innovation and learning to happen.

Snehal Desai: So it’s been a courageous collaboration on Chevrolet’s part. The world is made up of folks who know far more than you – and their contributions together add up to more reach and impact than any company could achieve on its own.

Any last reflections? 

Bob Sheppard: I don’t think I will see again in my professional lifetime the kind of leadership – the sheer scale, investments, commitments, diversity of team – that Chevy pioneered with its Carbon Reduction Initiative.

Environmental advisors on the initiative included these leaders and organizations.

  • Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group
  • Bob Sheppard, sustainability consultant, formerly with Clean Air-Cool Planet
  • Janet Peace, senior vice president, policy and business strategy, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
  • Eban Goodstein, director, Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy
  • Tim Carter, president, Second Nature
  • Andy Stevenson, formerly with National Resources Defense Council and Citadel LLC
  • Snehal Desai, global business director, Water & Process Solutions, Dow Chemical Co.
  • Sue Hall, CEO, Climate Neutral Business Network
Sue Hall is the CEO of the Climate Neutral Business Network.
CATEGORY: Environment