Today’s guest is Bill Weihl.
Bill was the Director of Sustainability at Facebook where he focused on energy efficiency initiatives. Prior to joining Facebook in early 2012, he spent 6 years as the Green Energy Czar at Google, where he led efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy, spearheading Google's drive to become carbon neutral, founding the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, and leading the Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) Initiative. Bill has extensive business and technical experience in high-tech, including 10 years as a professor of Computer Science at MIT, five years as a research scientist at Digital's Systems Research Center, and five years as Chief Architect and then CTO of Akamai Technologies. In 2009, Weihl was named one of Time Magazine's Heroes of the Environment. Bill currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club.
In this episode we discuss:
Bill’s early days and what led to his appreciation for climate and the environment
The definition of sustainability and how it differs from place to place
How the head of sustainability role was different at Google vs Facebook
Bill’s role at each, his charter, approach, and ultimate results
How he feels about sustainability now vs then and why
How policy fits in, how consumer behavior change fits in, and how the two interrelate
Where Bill will focus his activities in climate fight for his next chapter
How anyone listening who is intrigued could be helpful in Bill’s efforts
Bill’s advice for listeners trying to find their lane in the climate fight
Links to the topics discussed in this episode:
Bill Weihl’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bweihl/
Google X: https://x.company/
Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance: https://rebuyers.org/
Citizens Climate Lobby: https://citizensclimatelobby.org/
Emily Cunningham from Amazon: https://twitter.com/emahlee
New York Times article on Amazon employees pushing for climate to be a top priority: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/technology/amazon-climate-change-letter.html
Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclub.org/
Sunrise Movement: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/
Union of Concerned Scientists: https://www.ucsusa.org/
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Today's guest is Bill Weihl. Now Bill is an interesting one because he had chapter one of his career was an extremely successful technologist, where he was chief architect and then CTO of Akamai Technologies. Then he was the head of sustainability first at Google where he spent six years as a green czar and then as director of sustainability at Facebook where he focused on energy efficiency initiatives.
Jason Jacobs: We talked about a number of things in this episode including Bill's story, and his transition from focusing on technology to focusing on climate change. We talked about the history of corporate sustainability, and the different approaches that Google takes versus Facebook as well as other brands that are out there trying to head down a similar path. We also talked about where Bill finds himself today as he's looking at the climate crisis and trying to figure out where he can have an even bigger impact going forward as well as some of the things that he's most excited about. I thought that was Bill was a great guest, learned at ton, and I think you will as well.
Jason Jacobs: Bill, welcome to the show.
Bill Weihl: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to be here and to have a chat with you.
Jason Jacobs: Should we pretend like this is our fist take?
Bill Weihl: Let's just keep our fingers crossed that we don't have technical difficulties this time. After having spent most of my career in computer science and the tech industry I regularly feel like I need to apologized for what we have inflicted on people. So my apologies.
Jason Jacobs: Yes. It's all your fault that I brought the equipment to your house and lost the episode in between getting off the machine and onto my MacBook. As we discuss we had a good chat, we got to know each other. We still have a lot of ground left to cover. Good for our listeners but honestly just good to have another chat with you since you're an interesting guy that I have a lot to learn from.
Bill Weihl: Well and ditto. I feel the same way.
Jason Jacobs: For starters Bill, there's so many different places we could go with this discussion. I feel like from our prior discussion there's been some different chapters to your career. There was the technical career, which was a very successful one. And then more recently there was a sustainability career and a very successful one, and now it sounds like you're maybe switching gears and looking to head down a similar path to me but from a very different place.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, absolutely. I spent first 20 years of my career essentially in technology. First in academia teaching computer sciences at MIT and then out here in California. First at an industrial research lab and then at Akamai Technologies, which is an MIT offshoot. They opened an office out here, and I joined shortly after that. Then in 2004 decided that I was increasingly freaked out about climate change having been interested in environmental issues my whole life and decided to see if I could do something professionally about it. That's what prompted a really major career shift, which started... I mean, 2005 I spent a lot of time, kind of the journey you're on right now, talking to people, learning, networking, trying to figure out what could I do quickly without going back to school that was not on my agenda, and landed a job at Google in early 2006 to help them figure out what they were going to do about climate.
Jason Jacobs: That was a good time to land a job at Google.
Bill Weihl: It was not bad. I've been very lucky, I would say, throughout my career. Including jobs at Google and then Facebook doing really, really meaningful work that fed my soul and getting paid reasonably well for it. Certainly better than nonprofit salaries and I'm not complaining about that.
Jason Jacobs: I know you've only been head of sustainability in two companies now, Google and Facebook but given that it's been more than one, and you've probably gotten exposure to a bunch of other sustainability work that other companies are doing outside of Facebook and Google. Do you find that the role of sustainability is pretty well defined and/or consistent across organizations or is it all over the map?
Bill Weihl: Somewhere in between. There is a lot of variability.
Jason Jacobs: That wasn't a choice... Nah, I'm just joking.
Bill Weihl: That's alright. Door #3.
I think there is a lot of commonality but there are differences from company to company in terms of what their goals are, and what they're trying to achieve by doing sustainability work. There are differences in how they go about it partly based on the kinds of people they hire. Partly based on where the sustainability team is house within the company. The goal of most sustainability teams is ultimately to embed sustainability and more sustainable thinking in approaches to things in the day to day operations of the company in all of the functional operating groups of the company. I think that holds pretty much everywhere.
Bill Weihl: How you go about that and what you focus on depends a lot on who you report to and what their priorities are. If you report to marketing you're going to be driven a lot by the external perception of the company and what you can do to improve the brand and help market products. Maybe help the company develop products that are more sustainable and so on. If you report to public policy or risk management you're going to have a very different frame that yo start from. If you're in the engineering and operations part of the company, which is where I was in both Google and Facebook, it's going to be less about the reputation of the company and more about, "What can we do to really change the way the company works and in the process help make the world a better place?" Not that reputation doesn't still factor into it. It's sort of a question of, "What do you start with?" I always try to start with, "What can we do that would have real impact?" If we can do good stuff that has impact we'll have good stories to tell.
Jason Jacobs: With the benefit of hindsight, what are some things that were common between the sustainability strategies of Google and Facebook and what are some of the areas of difference as well?
Bill Weihl: Google at the time I joined had crazy big ambitions around the impact it wanted to have on the world and on the planet. Larry Page and Sergey Brin the co founders of Google really... I think they both felt very passionately about the environment broadly and especially about climate change. That was why back in 2005 they and a couple other senior people were looking to hire someone to figure out what they were going to do on climate. Certainly there weren't any other tech companies that were doing that. It was lucky for me I was in the right place at the right time, that I was a tech person looking to figure out what I could do on climate. Neither of us quite knew what we wanted, but it was a good fit.
Bill Weihl: The sky was kind of the limit when I joined. We ended up doing early stage venture investing and early stage start ups on clean energy technology. We did our own internal R&D on concentrating solar power, the kind whre you reflect a lot of sunlight onto a small thing and make it really hot, and then use that to generate electricity. We did a lot of work around the operations of the company. There was already an enormous amount going on around energy efficiency. Google was really the leader in the data center, tech world around energy efficiency. I and my team took that and then said, "Okay, but we still use a lot of energy, where are we going to get that energy from? Can we get it from wind? Can we get it solar?" And ultimately figure out how to make that work.
Bill Weihl: At Facebook the ambition was more around, we are a company with significant operations. We've got data centers, we've got offices, how do we minimize or eliminate the negative impact of all of that? The focus from the get go when I joined Facebook was very much on the operational piece with some interest in having a larger impact. Certainly we wanted to lead by example, and we wanted to do things that would transform markets. All the work we did on clean energy, buying clean energy, we put an enormous amount of effort in and Facebook is still doing this too not just do it for ourselves, but to really work very openly with other companies to scale the number of companies that were buying clean energy and how much they were buying.
Bill Weihl: But we weren't doing internal R&D or funding startups and so on clean energy technologies. That was kind of a difference. Google is now much more engaged in really openly sharing what they were doing, but I'd say Facebook really took the lead on that in terms of being very open about sharing how they were going about doing power purchase agreements and so on.
Bill Weihl: We played probably the most significant role among companies. Certainly we were not the only, but I'd say we were probably the biggest driver of what ultimately became The Renewal of Energy Buyer Alliance, which launched as a formal organization last year. For several years it was a loose coalition of initiatives run by several different NGO's. Now it's its own separate nonprofit.
Jason Jacobs: When you were wandering in the woods, so to speak, back in 2005, what was it that convinced you that sustainability was the right place for you to dig in given that you were evaluating. It sounds like many different paths to help with climate change.
Bill Weihl: I'll be honest, it really was a decision to take a job at Google where the focus was climate. Over time that broaden, somewhat, to really be broader sustainability. There were several other teams at Google and other parts of the organization that were doing sustainability related work. As is true at many companies they didn't all end up reporting to me, where it was very much a matrixed organization. There's a team there, for example, in what they call the Real Estate and Workplace Services. I think that's still the name, REWS R-E-W-S, that has been a leader on green buildings for years now. It was a very small team when I joined, it's grown quite a bit. My team worked fairly closely with them and we tried to make sure that we had essentially a consistent coherent strategy across the whole company. My focus was primarily on the climate side of things.
Bill Weihl: At Facebook the job was sustainability but certainly energy in climate where the... When I joined that was the dominant issue. Over time, we started to look at materials, and supply chain, and water, and so on. It seemed like that kind of job at a company, when I joined Google, was a way to have, potentially, really significant impact on the issue where I could contribute in potentially a big way. I talked to people at some NGO's to see, could I go to a place like NRGC, or whatever. I wasn't a lawyer, I wasn't a climate scientist. I wasn't going to go to a startup and design the next crazy, wonderful solar technology. In some ways I was really lucky that Google was looking for something that wasn't a huge stretch from what I had been doing. It certainly required learning a lot. Organizationally it involved a much more cross functional influence role than, to some extent, I had in the past. It wasn't a stretch the way... You know, I wasn't going to go do policy and law because I didn't have the background and so on.
Bill Weihl: I guess, the other thing I'd say is that when I started this corporate sustainability was barely a thing. Tech companies mostly did not have sustainability people. They had environment, health and safety people who worried about if... You talk about a company that say does, semiconductor manufacturing and they had to worry about toxic chemicals that they needed to handle properly on site and not actually just dump the waste out the back of the factory and so on. They had people who dealt with that kind of compliance and risk management. But very few, if any tech companies at that point had people who really were thinking about sustainability more broadly and going beyond compliance and thinking about climate.The field kind of evolved and grew up around me in some ways.
Jason Jacobs: Uh-huh-(affirmative). When you walked in, did the sustainability organization already exist in these companies?
Bill Weihl: At Google, no. I guess there were two people. One in the Real Estate and Workplace Services group and one in what Google called it's business operations group, which is sort of an internal consulting group who were doing green building related stuff. One of them was working on the big solar installation that Google did in 2007 on it's Mountain View campus but that was it. As I said, all the people who were designing servers and data centers, all of those engineers, at some level they were doing sustainability work because they were very focused on energy efficiency as one the most important things that they were striving for in their designs. Nobody was stepping back and looking at the broader context and what was happening with climate and how we could source our energy and things like that.
Bill Weihl: In similarly in Facebook when I joined there were a couple of people who had been hired, I think they'd been there part-time for about a year and they were hired full-time shortly before I joined. They formed the core of the team that I then led. It was a new effort essentially when I joined.
Jason Jacobs: Is 2005 when you first got into this field? Now here we are in 2019, how are you feeling about cooperate sustainability as a lever to help with climate change? How has that changed since you first got into the field?
Bill Weihl: Companies have an enormous amount to contribute and there's a lot that they have been doing. The progress over the last decade... When I joined Google there was somebody who was putting solar working on a project but 1.6 megawatts of solar on the Mountain View campus, which at the time was the largest corporate onsite solar installation, I think maybe in the world, certainly in the US. We had no clean energy feed in our data centers. We were building data centers at a rapid pace. At that point it was several tens of megawatts of data center capacity. Your listeners some of them probably have an intuitive sense of what that means. The typical American house uses on average a little bit of a kilowatt. That's essentially the amount energy consumed by tens of thousands of US households. That was back in '06 and it grew and it's now hundreds of megawatts. It may well be gigawatts, I don't know the exact number for Google at this point. Facebook is somewhat smaller today but still enormous.
Bill Weihl: I joined Google early 2006 and it took us a little over four years before we did our first big clean energy purchase agreement. That was because in part the cost needed to come down. It was too high a premium when I started and we needed to learn about how energy markets worked. We needed to get creative and finally figured out contract structure that did not involve simply paying a premium from now until the end of time but rather allowed us to sort of take advantage of the fact that wind and solar are essentially fixed cost resources. Once you install them there's a small operations and maintenance component but there's no fuel. The cost of wind and solar, what you need to pay for can be predicted. It can essentially be fixed from now until the end of 20, 25 year contract.
Bill Weihl: Pervious ways for companies to buy clean energy basically meant you just paid extra every month for your energy to be able to say it was clean. Even as the price of typical grid energy went up you would still be paying a premium and we were able to work out a contract structure that is now quite standard, which is a variation of a power purchase agreement, where the fact that the cost was fixed was something that we could take advantage of. So that as say, natural gas or coal or whatever maybe got more expensive we were not affected by that. That plus the price of wind and solar coming down was allowed us to finally do our first deals.
Bill Weihl: Since then if you look at 2010 companies were doing, maybe 100, 200 megawatts of new clean energy deals a year back then. Last year, this is in the US, it was almost seven gigawatts. It's been a pretty steady and consistent exponential rise over the last nine, 10 years. That I think is remarkable, and it's had a real impact on energy markets and is something that I'm very proud of. I'm proud of all the colleagues at both Google and Facebook and at other companies who've really contributed to that.
Bill Weihl: At the same time emissions both globally and in the US are still rising. We are on track with the currant trajectory we're on puts us somewhere between three and eight degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. What really worries me about those kinds of ranges is that historically if you look over that last decade, the 15 years that I've been in this space, when the UN and scientific bodies put out those kinds of projections of ranges of warming, reality has, pretty much, every time ended up at the upper end of the range. Eight degrees of warming it will be absolutely catastrophic. Four degrees is probably catastrophic but eight degrees is probably civilization threatening. We need to move a lot faster. Companies have a huge role to play in that. Partly through the work they've been doing around cleaning up their own operations and encouraging or pressuring their suppliers to do the same in their operations, and investing in innovation to develop new technologies that will help us decarbonize things even fast and more cheaply in the future.
Bill Weihl: The thing that we really are missing, that is needed to drive progress, essentially to scale what companies have been doing in their own operations to the entire economy. What we need policy that will set the market rules, or the guard rails that say, "We're going go that path." Companies can help make that happen. Companies can advocate for policy, which mostly they tend not to do. But that's something that over the next couple years, when I think about what is leadership in sustainability especially in climate going to look like? It's going to be around doing the stuff they've been doing, cleaning up their own operations but also becoming strong, consistent advocates for policies that will scale those same impacts to the broader economy.
Jason Jacobs: What kind of policies do you have in mind?
Bill Weihl: Well, one of the first is a price on carbon. That's the one people hear about a lot. There are a couple bills in Congress one of which has been, I think, it was partially designed by the Citizen's Climate Lobby, which is an organization that is quite large. It's been quite influential in promoting what hopefully someday could be bipartisan action in Washington D.C. on climate. There's some other bill and approaches that have been proposed by other groups, not all of them, but currently sitting on the floor of Congress. But a price on carbon some way of, as the economists would say, "internalizing the externality." Today if you burn a fossil fuel and put carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or if you leak methane into the atmosphere, or other greenhouse gases there's no cost that you have to pay for doing that. Society pays that cost.
Bill Weihl: Economically there's no economic incentive for you not to do that. Economist would say whatever activity you're doing, driving your car, or cooking on your gas stove, part of the cost of that activity is related to the emissions you're generating. You should be paying that cost. That would be to internalize the externality in the economic system. That's important. Cap and trade is one way of doing that. It sort of indirectly puts a price on CO2 and other greenhouse gas pollutants but a direct fee or tax can do that as well.
Bill Weihl: One of the places where we are a little bit stuck these days in the political debate is a lot of people think, "Okay, we need a price on carbon and if we do that then we're done." I don't think there is a single policy, as much as I would love to be able to say. People always say, "Well, what's the one thing?" The one thing that we should do this year is the thing that will make a big difference that we can pass. Honestly that's not at the federal level in the US, that's at the state level in many states.
Bill Weihl: What is happening at the state level is less these days around putting a price on carbon and more around things like, clean energy mandates. Passing a law that says that "By date X," and there've been several of them in the last six to 12 months, "by 2040 or 2045 all the electricity in this state will come from zero carbon sources." Or clean car mandates either eclectic or zero emissions vehicles, which could include hydrogen, could include biofuels, perhaps. Basically analogous to the renewable portfolio standards that many states have had now for a number of years. Ten or 20 years, depending on the state, which have ratcheted up the requirements on the percentage of clean energy over time. Similarly, ratcheting down the allowable emissions from the transportation sector over time.
Bill Weihl: This is not about choosing winners or about big government spending. It's about regulating the outcome, saying that the science says we need to emit less. In fact the science says we emit a lot less fairly quickly. The market on its own is not getting there quickly enough. Smart regulation that sets the rules for the market would help us get there. It also would drive innovation because when you put constraints on people it's amazing how they step up and get creative and innovate. It would drive investment because people would have the certainty that if they invest in new technology or in scaling their manufacturing capacity or whatever, that there'll be a market for it. Whereas today, I think there's a lot of risk, which is one of reason's we don't see as much investment as we need.
Jason Jacobs: I'm going to kind of paraphrase and parrot back to you what I think I've heard just to make sure that I'm understanding it and for the benefit of the listeners as well. It sounds like you had a successful career in technology. You were concerned about climate, which led you to corporate sustainability. During your time at Google and Facebook you found that yes, corporate sustainability can have an impact, but it takes a lot in terms of principles and values. In long term thinking, beyond near term self-interest of companies to have that kind of impact at the individual corporate level. In order to bring about that wider scale change you need things like mandates that come from government. Given that things would polarize today at the federal level. The nearest term place that can come is at the state and local level. Driving policy at the state and local and getting more companies to continue to do their part, both in terms of doing things internally and advocating for that policy can ultimately exert more and more pressure and show more and more successes to get things done at the federal level as well.
Jason Jacobs: How's that?
Bill Weihl: Quite a bit quicker. That's great.
Jason Jacobs: But from a content standpoint, did I get that right?
Bill Weihl: I don't think what companies have been doing up to now has been wrong. I think it's been amazing. In some ways that's maybe a bit of a humble brag, but I was part of that at a couple of major companies and part of helping other companies get there. I think that 10 years ago it seemed like we had a kind of functioning ecosystem of companies beginning to act in their own operations, of investors investing in new clean technologies, of banks beginning to deploy money to actually build clean energy projects big wind farms, solar farms and so on.
Bill Weihl: And of policy makers really beginning to take serious action. We had AB32, which was the global warming act here in California. In 2006, I believe it passed, which put cap and trade in place in California. Then in Waxman-Markey was on the table in Washington D.C. in 2009. Then 2010 Waxman-Markey failed and things got unbelievably polarized in Washington and nationally around climate.
Bill Weihl: Before 2010 there was somewhat less need for a companies to be really vocal and active on the policy side because policy was beginning to move. Since then, it has become clear how stuck it is. That's why for me, I feel like the place where I can most make a difference in hopefully driving some change around climate action, is in helping get companies to step up and speak up much more vigorously and much more consistently on climate policy.
Bill Weihl: As you said, as I was saying before, today I think the opportunities for making progress there are much more in the US at the state and local level than the federal level. But if we can we make some progress there it could lay the groundwork and help shift public attitudes in a way that hopefully allows us to make progress at the federal level two years, three years, four years from now.
Jason Jacobs: Are you envisioning your efforts at the one on one informal hand to hand combat type of level? Or something that is more formalized and maybe more wider spread?
Bill Weihl: Probably a combination but definitely some of the latter. One of the things I've observed is that in the last several years we have seen employees at a number of companies essentially use their voice to influence what the company is doing on complicated social issues. We certainly saw that on LGBT rights in a big way in the years leading up to the marriage equality decision in front of the Supreme Court in 2015. Then in some state level fights around LGBT rights in Indiana and North Carolina and a few other places. The voices of employees had a huge impact on what companies did in terms of weighing in on those pretty contentious, polarized, messy political fights. Companies had big impact. We've seen in the last couple years around guns and most recently on abortion and some other issues, where companies have been moved to take particular stances in some cases because of who their primary demographic is for their customers. I think in a lot of cases because of who their employees are, the demographic and the prevailing attitudes among the talent pool of young people that they're trying to hire over the next few years.
Bill Weihl: There's an opportunity, which I'm working on seeing how we can instigate a focused effort around to get particularly young people but it could be anybody who cares, to use their power as an employee, or if you're a college student, grad student, as a potential employee of a company to influence companies to actually be more active on climate policy. There's a lot of evidence companies... Young people have been pretty clear in a lot of surveys that they strongly prefer to work for a company that is more sustainable.
Bill Weihl: The bar for sustainability in terms of what's expected of companies has been primarily around, "You should clean up your own operations. You should buy clean energy, you should clean up your fleet if you have a fleet of vehicles and so on." What we need from companies now is that they help scale those same efforts much more broadly and that means public policy. What we need to do is educate young people about that and change the expectations so that we're raising the bar for companies. What they've been doing is great and important and vital. Now what we need is something more.
Jason Jacobs: I think that's really interesting because one of the things I've been wrestling with is... I mean I had a guest on several episodes ago, Sanchali from this company Joro that focuses on helping consumers to manage and improve their own carbon footprint. Something I've been struggling is that if you look at the consumer standpoint, well you can that and to some extent it's a gateway drug because it opens your eyes. It gets you to care but in its self though it's not going to have a big impact on the math but to the extent that it can mobilize people and awaken them and get them to care. It could actually have some drag on second and third order effects that are very powerful.
Jason Jacobs: I think what you're say is essentially applying similar, but those same humans from an employee standpoint and both pushing their employer but then getting the employer not just to do their part but then to push for policy. Because ultimately policy, you've come to the same conclusion that I'm starting to come to, which is that policy, it's not the only thing but more than anything it seems like the biggest lever that we have. However, just focusing on Washington isn't necessarily the best way to get that policy done. It's going to take a multi pronged approach including things like you're talking about right here, which I think is a really interesting angle.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, it is definitely not an either or. It is a, yes and everything. In terms of what companies should do, in terms of individuals can do. People should in their personal life do what they feel they can do. What they can afford. In some cases the more sustainable thing will actually save you money. You put LED light bulbs in your house and there's a slightly bigger upfront cost now. You will save a lot over the years in terms of energy costs. You buy an electric car, while if you lease it then you're paying by the month anyway, and you're going to pay a little more for the car per month, but you're going to pay a lot less in operating costs both in fuel and in maintenance. A lot of the personal choices that people make, the more sustainable one is now cheaper in many places. We also, as you said, those personal choices in the end everyone eliminated their carbon footprint and that included every company, every individual, would be done. The problem is that's not going to happen fast enough without some rules that drive it faster.
Bill Weihl: Transportation is a great example where we made huge strides in the US from the 70's to the early mid 80's on fuel efficiency for cars. That was driven essentially by government regulation what's called the CAFE standards. The fleet fuel economy standards for manufactures. Then we froze those standards, and the fuel economy of the American fleet didn't improve for decades. Cars got more powerful, so there was innovation. But the innovation went into allowing cars to get bigger and more powerful with the same fuel economy. In the last number of years we've seen a lot of EVs, I mean I'm sitting here in California, there are time when people out here could be forgiven for thinking that EV's are here, and they've taken over because we see them all over. That's partly because of attitudes in California. It is probably mostly because of the rules the state has put in place to mandate improvements in our transportation fleet around the state. Half the EVs sales in the US have been in California. That's because of the rules that California has.
Bill Weihl: We need the innovation, we need individual choices, but we also need the rules that will guide the innovation in the right way and guide consumer choice in the right way.
Jason Jacobs: You've talked about kind of things that you'd like to bring about in that this is an area where you think you could be helpful. How far along are you in the how?
Bill Weihl: The answer to that depends on the week. I'd say this week I feel... Last couple of weeks I was feeling like things were sort of getting stalled. Over the next couple of months I hope that we will be in a position, I've several people I'm working with and we're trying to figure out is this a new organization, is this something we can in an existing organization. Can we staff it with volunteer college students primarily? Or do we need to raise the money to hire permanent or full time staff?
Bill Weihl: Those are questions we're kind of in the middle of answering. A lot depends on what we figure out in the next three to four weeks, in terms of can we sort of boot strap things in Silicone Valley terms, "in a fast agile way". Where we pile up some stuff and learn about what works and what doesn't and iterate from there. Rather than trying to build a big thing from the get go and we're now leaning towards what's right bootstrapping. My hope is by sometime in the fall we will be out there engaging with college students and with employees at some corporations and giving them the sort of focused ideas about what they should be pushing companies to do more of.
Jason Jacobs: Will the tactics be part of that as well? Giving them the tools to actually push them in ways that can be most effective?
Bill Weihl: Yes, short answer yes. There are things that certainly employees can do internally. We saw this with the Amazon employees recently. You may have seen, I think you did but maybe-
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, I'm trying to get Emily to come on the show.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, that would be great. She can give you a much more accurate and detailed story about what happened there. Fundamentally a group of Amazon employees, a relatively small group, last year were not happy with the progress the company was making on climate and talked to the sustainability leaders and others and finally decided that they wanted to push harder.
Bill Weihl: They decided to file a shareholder resolution, which they could do because the company gives them stock. A bunch of them still held their stock. And they did that, which essentially asked the company to disclose their carbon footprint publicly and make and disclose a plan for reducing it in line with what the science requires.
Bill Weihl: Then they went beyond that and wrote an open letter to the board, which the FCC limits what you can put in a shareholder resolution, which is something I didn't know until I started talking to Emily and the other Amazon employees. They wrote a letter to the board, which was somewhat more expansive in terms of what they were asking the company to do. It included be an advocate for policies that are aligned with the science. Which is one of the really important things that 10 years ago maybe or five years ago was not as important an ask of companies but now I think it's really vital. But that's a great example of employees organizing. They had to learn a lot about, essentially how to do, call it labor organizing. They weren't making demand about wages and benefits and so on. It was organizing employees to push their company to do something different than it's doing today. We all have a lot to learn from how they did that. I'm hoping I can work with them to help scale what they did to other companies.
Jason Jacobs: First of all, I think that's really cool. I'd love to stay posted on your progress but for anyone who's listening and also thinks that what you're doing is really cool, is there anything that we collectively can do? Or any kinds of people that you want to hear from? Any kinds of skill sets that you're looking for or certain companies to be introduced to?
Jason Jacobs: I don't know. How can we help?
Bill Weihl: If there are people who are really interested in spending time on this, I would love to talk to them. To some extent if we're going to actually connect with, activate, organize whether it's people at a company or students at universities and graduate schools we're going to need technical skills around building the online tools or cobbling together the tools from things that are out there. To allow them to sign up and to keep track of them and to get in touch with them and so on. Another thing we're going to need is the ability to track the key pieces of legislation and regulation that are on the table in various jurisdictions and figure out which of the companies that have influence in those jurisdictions. There's no point in yelling at Apple or GM that they should be supporting some bill in a state they don't do business in or that they have a very small presence in. If they've got hundreds or thousands of employees and tens or hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of capital investment they've got a real presence and stake in that state and real influence. They should be using it.
Bill Weihl: We're going to need to figure out in state, let's say Ohio were to consider a bill next year to mandate a 100% clean energy by 2040, or 2050. Well, who are the biggest employers in Ohio? The top 20, or top 50, or top 100? Which of them really have influence and, which companies maybe that are maybe slightly smaller in their presence there could have influence because they've go a presence but they might be expanding a lot in the next few years. Those are the kinds things we're going to need to be able to do and it's going to take people to track all this information and update it as the legislative calendar keeps changing in various places and so on.
Jason Jacobs: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I might have some people that I could send your way offline and any other listeners that want to connect with Bill just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can make sure that information gets to Bill directly.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, that'd be great. Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, I guess... a couple other questions and then we can probably wrap up. One is just, so I mean, this is a piece that you've identified that can be high impact, and I think that's great, and I agree with you. I'm excited to see a [inaudible 00:40:59] go forward but this is such a big complicated problem that there's many entry points such as this. We need a lot of help in a lot of places. For listeners, as the journey you've gone on and the one I'm on now, if they want to find the best fit for them so given that, what advice would you have for people who are trying to navigate on their own climate journey?
Bill Weihl: One of the things that is really important is that I've learned over my career is you need to do work that you find interesting in the moment. You also need to do work that feels meaningful. For me that is what over time has... I certainly found the work I was doing early in my career meaningful but over time as I got more aware of and concerned about climate, I felt compelled to really shift in a big way.
Bill Weihl: There's a lot that people can do without making the kind of really dramatic shift that I did. If you're a marketing person, and you work for a company that is selling interesting products, but they're not in and of themselves inherently sustainable, you could have a positive impact on the climate by getting your executives to speak out about climate more often. By getting your government affairs team to actually engage on climate policy in the states where you manufacture or if you have stores or whatever. There are a lot of things... One of the things that I've been talking to people about is: young people today they're kind of freaked out about climate. I feel pretty freaked out. I think young people on average are even more freaked out. They'd like to do something positive for the climate. Not everyone can be in marketing or electrical engineering or whatever at a company like Tesla that is a 100% focused on electrifying transportation, which is one of the things we need to do. A lot of people don't see how in my career could I do something positive for the climate.
Bill Weihl: That's where if we can educate people and organize them about the power they have as employees where ever they work and whatever their company does, then my hope is that we can help everybody have essentially what I've been calling a climate positive career. Where you in your career, whatever your field is and whoever you work for, you are doing everything you can to personally and get your company or organization to do everything it can to help get us out of this mess. Or keep us from getting a lot deeper into it.
Jason Jacobs: That's the first I've heard that term, "climate positive career." I'm going to stick to that. I'm glad I invented it.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, there you go. In a three point font you can just cite me down at the bottom, that’s fine.
Jason Jacobs: Last question Bill, just if a stork showed up with a hundred billion dollars on your doorstep and said, "You can have this money provided that you allocate it towards helping with climate change, and it needs to go towards the things that you think will the be most impactful uses of this capital, where would you put it and how would you allocate it?
Bill Weihl: The biggest problem we have today is the amount of money being thrown at this issue on the other side, quite honestly. If we can counter that, we can get policies in place that will then ensure that investment shows up from the... Capital goes where there's money to be made. If someone handed me a hundred million dollars or a trillion dollars, or whatever, if I said, "Well I'm going to invest it in this startup, or these hundreds of startups," given that amount of money. If in the end the market isn't there for what they're producing then that's a bad investment. If we can change the market rules to derive the innovation and drive the cost down rapidly then money will flow into those fields. The most important thing is to change the conversation nationally and globally and counter the influence that basically the fossil fuel companies have in the policy discussion that has been preventing us from making more progress.
Jason Jacobs: Any thoughts on taking that one step more granular in terms of who you would actually give the money to?
Bill Weihl: Oh wow. The amount of money you're talking about I'm not sure there's a single place to go. There's a lot of money being spent on climate but-
Jason Jacobs: I can create an LLC if you want.
Bill Weihl: Yeah, sure. There are groups like Sierra Club, and NRDC, and EDF, and Union of concerned scientists, and 350.org and the Sunrise Movement and I could go on and on, they are all doing really good important work. They could all use more money. If you said, "Here we've got a hundred million," or " a hundred billion," I don't know what they'd do with a hundred billion, that would be a whole different ball game, any of them could absorb a big chunk or all of a hundred million, certainly. I think that I would deploy it, really first think about where the venues, the policy fights where we're losing because of the massive amount of money that's being poured into it by the other side. Then what can we do either directly in a policy fight or more broadly... Part of it is people hear all the time about, "Oh, it'll be too expensive," all of the misinformation or obfuscation that comes from the other side and they don't hear enough about the reality. So getting trusted messengers, including business leaders, to be out there talking about the reality of the risks that we're facing. And the opportunities that the solutions that are in front of us actually pose economically and otherwise. That's a big part of it.
Bill Weihl: It's not one organization, it's not one media campaign, it would have to be pretty broad. There's certainly organizations and NGO's and others working on that, but they could use a lot more money.
Jason Jacobs: Great, Bill anything I didn't ask that I should've or any parting words for our listeners?
Bill Weihl: My guess is your listeners they care about climate, and they're worried about it. They wonder what they can do and as I said, "Do everything you can personally", but use that as a way to energize yourself to then engage really vigorously and how do we scale this across the entire economy. Think about how to engage with your employer, assuming you have a job. Companies have enormous influence pretty much everywhere, honestly in the modern world. But certainly in the US political system. We need to use more of that influence for good.
Jason Jacobs: Well great point to end on. Bill thanks so much for coming on the show. You've been a great guest.
Bill Weihl: Thank you Jason, really pleasure talking to you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co, note that is dot C-O, not .com. Someday we'll get the .com but right now .co.
Jason Jacobs: You can also find me on twitter at @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feed back on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go if you enjoyed the show please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.