Interview with Matthew Banks from WWF

Posted on January 27, 2012

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Matthew Banks is from Batch 2 (1998-1999) of LUMES. He works for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Washington D.C. where he is the Senior Program Officer for Business and Industry. The interviewer was Robert Isaksen from Batch 14 (2010-2012).


This is a shortened version of the interview as I took written notes while talking on the phone, and was not therefore able to dictate every word. The article was sent to Matt for correction and approval, which he has given. Thank you for the chat Matthew!

1. In your LUMES thesis you discussed conservation in the form of strategies called “stewardships systems”. You also take an economic perspective and discuss the power of corporations in making change for better or for worse. Could you share some thoughts on how you have used these concepts later on and/or see their relevance in your work today?

What I was trying to do was to use some alternative methods, such as economic principles and instruments, to discuss environmental issues in a systems perspective. Today I work in the same spirit as with the thesis but with a different perspective. In the thesis it was about the conservation of open space using economic instruments, today I work with reducing the carbon output of companies as well as making it profitable for them. Especially here in the US the World Wildlife Fund is good at working with the business sector, and on bridging the gap between the market and sustainability.

My thesis was very practical and I found a way for systems analysis to work with my previous studies in economics. The fact that I could work on a practical case, and combine economics and systems thinking, has helped me to a great extent in my work today!

2. Today you work on WWF Climate Savers where you work with several companies on reducing carbon emissions over an extended period of time. What has been WWFs main role in these partnerships? What are the biggest obstacles, and what have been the biggest achievements with Climate Savers as you see it?

The main role is that we approach the best companies in each industry to work with them on reducing their carbon emissions. We help them with their carbon accounting and we help the companies set goals which are achievable yet tough. The goals are always set to reduce total carbon emissions, not merely emissions per product.

We make a contract with the CEO on the goals for the carbon emissions, and we make a communications launch where we and the company share to the world the goals we have set, and we invite other companies to follow form. We work hard to push them to set aggressive goals for their sector.

We work methodically sector by sector, and the biggest obstacle has been in finding corporations in certain industries which are willing to set absolute goals, not merely intensity goals. An intensity goal is when there is only a reduction in emissions per unit, not a total reduction. The atmosphere wants to see a real reduction, not just a reduction per unit!

The greatest success, as I see it, is that through Climate Savers we have made a reduction of 100 million metric tons of CO2 during the last 10 years! That is like taking 22 million cars off the road. When I first joined the team we only had contracts with IBM and Johnson & Johnson, today we have contracts with 29 corporations!

(Click here for a good introductory video about Climate Savers: http://letthecleaneconomybegin.org/csvideo/index.html)

3. Are there any new plans for the future with regards to Climate Savers or other initiatives which include the corporate world? I remember at the LUMES Alumni conference you talked of Climate Savers and someone asked if you also are working with companies who have a worse carbon footprint but are perhaps not as well known as the brand names which you are working with.

Yes, we have a new project which has gone through a long design phase. The idea started after COP 15 in Copenhagen. It is called “Destination Gigatonne” and will be announced publicly at the end of May this year. The goal is to have a reduction of one gigatonne by 2020! We have several specifications to this project which we think will make it attractive to the business community; I can share some of them, though more information will come in May. There will for example be a webpage where companies can show their transformation through numeric goals, and there will be a dashboard showing the total impact of the project. More information will come with the launch.

We will likely start with the Climate Savers companies but we will need many more to join to make this goal a reality. We will likely need 500 companies or more! This will be at a whole new scale, and we can only do if it many companies join.

4. What are your main responsibilities at WWF Climate Savers? Could you share an experience which could be of interest to LUMES students?

My main responsibility is to maintain the relationships with the companies and provide the day to day service to meet the goals which have been set. I also work on negotiating the agreements we make with the companies.

A good story which I think sums it up and shows what the work can be like is the experience I had with Coca-Cola. We started work with them 6 years ago. They have 300 bottling partners who own 1000 plants all together. It was not enough for the CEO of Coca-Cola to just say yes, but we needed the approval of all 300 bottling partners. All the companies we work with are such global companies, and that can make it very complex.

Bryan, my contact at Coca-Cola, and I met with all 300 bottlers in Kyoto and tried to show them the business sense of cutting CO2 emissions. We gave many reasons and tried really hard over several days, but we failed. The bottlers said we were asking too much of them, and they could not see the importance of it.

We had to keep working for a year with these companies. Then, one year later we all met in Florida and brought with us a renowned climate scientist, Dr. Pachauri who is the Chairman of the IPCC, to explain to them the ramifications of climate change. We talked of growing the business, not the carbon. This time they said yes! The bottlers agreed to make a 5% reduction in all the plants in the developed world, and to flatline it in the developing world. Coca-Cola has the same energy use as a country like Spain, and they have managed to make the reductions they agreed to!

5. What are some things which you think LUMES students should be aware of after graduation? Perhaps there is something you have learned afterwards which you think would have been good to have had some more insight in from LUMES?

People should know how special their education is! The making change happen course is a great resource. LUMES students should always stay hungry for change. We can make that change possible! All my class mates are doing great things, and I am really impressed. One guy from the batch above me started his own energy efficiency company, and he was the one who helped Al Gore with his house!

Remember that a job doesn’t have to for the UN to be a success. After graduation I went to work for the Mayor of Boston to help him with environmental questions. We can all have a serious impact wherever we are.

There is also a healthy tension that sometimes people can feel it is all too theoretical at LUMES, but you will come to miss that later when you are busy working full time. Cherish those moments when you can study these things in a more thoughtful environment!

I set a high value on my experience at LUMES. People would ask me “why are you going all the way to Sweden to study?” I found it a great benefit to work inter-culturally and working in teams. Working with people from all over the world with different academic backgrounds has been the perfect training for today when I travel to Tokyo, Brussels, Toronto, and all over the world and meet people from all sorts of academic backgrounds.

And, if LUMES students or Alumni ever come to Washington they should come by and say hello!

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