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2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

What does a sustainable future look like? In this episode, we’re breaking down why a truly sustainable future needs to be not only climate secure, but equitable and just for all. What does the industrialized world owe to developing nations for the climate devastation their economies have caused? On an individual scale, what do we owe each other as neighbors on this shared planet? How can finding community be an antidote for despair and help strengthen us as we walk into this uncertain future together? Joining us to unpack these questions and more are Kristy Drutman of Brown Girl Green, and Wawa Gatheru of Black Girl Environmentalist, two young environmental activists who are devoting their lives to this work. Plus, Sophia Li signs off on this season of Climate Talks with one last call to action.

Featuring

Kristy Drutman | Brown Girl Green | Founder

Wanjiku ‘Wawa’ Gatheru | Black Girl Environmentalist | Founder

Edward Palmieri | Meta |  Director, Global Sustainability

Eoghan Griffin | Meta | Sustainability Strategy Manager, Europe, Middle East, and Africa

Transcript

SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta.

The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing every one and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to. 

Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, also includes us. 

I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.

SOPHIA LI: We have entered a new climate cadence. 

DW NEWS CLIP: A typhoon has slammed into the eastern Philippines as authorities struggle to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

NBC NEWS CLIP: Just north of Santa Barbara, the Alisal fire burns out of control.

ABC NEWS CLIP: This evening, flash flood watch is now across five states, and this stretches some 500 miles. 

SOPHIA LI: This year, the United States faced unprecedented climate disruptions and disasters. Winter storms in Texas caused major disruptions to their power grid; flash flooding tore down phone lines and homes, and washed out roads in Tennessee. More land in California burned than any other year on record. 

And all of these disasters claimed human lives.

Still, in spite of these very real challenges, I choose to be a climate optimist. You guys, this is the last episode of this season of Climate Talks. And if I can leave you with one idea to take with you as we close out this season it’s this: a climate optimist is also a realist. It’s our work to transcend inaction and apathy, to spark conversations and take action. When we went out in the street to speak to you about what gives you hope for the future of sustainability, here’s what you had to say.

Person 1: One thing that gives me hope is significant leaps forward like fusion power.

Person 2: I think the future of sustainability really relies on companies. There’s only so much you can do as a consumer.

Person 3: I would like to see renewable energy become so much cheaper than fossil fuels that we have no choice but to change. 

Person 4: I heard on NPR yesterday that Shell just made a commitment that by the year 2050, they will be sustainable and have sustainable practices. I think that now these big money-making energy companies are being held accountable and forced to make some changes. So I have a little hope that we’re moving in that direction. 

Person 5: Something that’s giving me hope is the fact that GM is starting to make such a priority electric vehicles. So the fact that they also made a truck. That gives me a lot of hope that the car companies are committing to it in such a substantial way.

Person 6: The ideal future of sustainability to me would be we all have our own little home with our garden, where we grow our own food. We cook our own food. If you eat meat, preferably not. But if you do, you would have your own animals that you grow, you raise. We’re not using these big factories full of animals that you kill.

Person 7: My overall hope for the future of sustainability is that we need to like, incentivize behavior that benefits the well-being of our planet and our population as a whole. 

Person 8: Compassion gives me hope.

Person 9: Something that gives me hope is levying carbon taxes. 

Person 10: Something that gives me hope is the fact that we are talking about it, the fact that we are learning and helping each other in that process to make others aware about it, gives me hope. 

SOPHIA LI: What gives me hope is, well… this. To me, there is nothing more inspiring than the community I’ve found in this movement. Getting to talk to and collaborate with other people who are engaged in climate work – especially the youth climate activists—helps me remain a climate optimist.

Also, once you begin this work, you realize, it’s a never ending process. And that’s OK. The climate crisis isn’t going to go away in our one lifetime, so the work of addressing it is a lifelong commitment. 

But the people who have made that commitment, they have the most active hope. Hope to them is a verb, hope is a practice that they are actively engaged in every day. 

We’re doing this work, but we still have a long way to go. So, what’s on the road ahead? What does the future look like—for us, and for the planet? 

Each week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle. In this episode, we’re talking about the future. What responsibility do each of us have to work towards a more sustainable future? 

How do we invite others into this movement along with us? What solutions to the climate crisis are we not talking enough about?

We’ll hear from Kristy Drutman of Brown Girl Green and Wawa Gatheru of Black Girl Environmentalist, two youth leaders in this space. Together, we’ll discuss the steps we need to take to build a sustainable and just future for all.

But first. Our partners at Meta are committed to doing their part to address the climate crisis, and supporting the businesses that rely on its platforms to work towards their own sustainable goals. Let’s hear how they’re approaching this work.

EDWARD PALMIERI: A couple years ago, as a new father, I really started thinking more and more about the work I had always intended to do around sustainability and conservation. And realizing that I worked for a company that was so committed to sustainability was something that really inspired me.

Hi, my name is Edward Palmieri and I’m the Director of Global Sustainability at Facebook. Climate change, environmental stewardship, these are very big systemic problems and issues to tackle. And so governments and corporations and nonprofits and organizations, all of the big sources of infrastructure in our society need to come together to address these issues. 

What gives me hope about the future in sustainable living is that everyone seems to get it. There are startups, there are established corporations, there are government research projects that could really change the way we generate electricity, the way we preserve the environment and repair and mitigate the damage that’s been done. Humanity has done so many amazing things over the years. I have every confidence that we can tackle this big global challenge.

EOGHAN GRIFFIN: Hi, my name is Eoghan Griffin, I’m Facebook’s Sustainability Strategy Manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

It definitely feels like there is a bit of a groundswell at the moment, particularly in the generation below mine that are really, really engaged and really knowledgeable and have grown up with far more sort of education about issues than we would have had growing up in school. 

One of the areas I’m really excited about is how we can support the hundreds of millions of small businesses that use our platforms, we think we’re in a – a really unique position to provide training and knowledge and resources and tools at scale to kind of help businesses smaller than ours with their climate and sustainability strategy and journey. And, yeah, so I think there’s a lot of potential there.

SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Edward Palmieri and Eoghan Griffin, from Meta.

If you talk to anyone who’s currently on the climate front lines right now, working every day for the survival of their home, they don’t have time or room to not be a climate optimist. They’re saying, “I have hope. I have active hope that my home will be here tomorrow.” 

Hope is an active choice for them, too. Earlier, we talked about the climate disruptions that rocked the United States in 2021. But the reality is, here in the US, we’re relatively sheltered from the climate disruption. 

The devastation of the climate crisis is always felt harder in the Global South, even though those communities are the least responsible for causing the climate crisis to begin with. For example, in Burundi—where the average citizen’s lifestyle creates so few Co2 emissions the number is often rounded down to zero metric tons—persistent drought and a lack of rainfall translates into a very real food insecurity. Most people still rely on small-scale farming to feed themselves and their communities. If it doesn’t rain, there’s literally less food to go around. 

And yet, the voices of these communities are often left out of the conversation when we talk about the climate crisis. 

If we are going to build a truly sustainable future, those voices need to be uplifted and included in this conversation. Those of us who live in G20 nations most responsible for the climate crisis need to get better at listening and step up to the plate. This movement needs everyone. 

You can’t be an environmentalist without being a humanitarian, as well. 

In this episode, we’re talking about how we can build a more stable climate and a more just future for all. I’ve invited two different youth climate activists on the show whose work inspires me and who have also chosen the path of climate optimism. For my first conversation, I’m joined by Kristy Drutman. She is the founder of Brown Girl Green, which makes inclusive media advocating for environmental justice – everything from podcasts to videos, and blog posts. After that, I’ll be joined by Wawa Gatheru. Here’s my conversation with Kristy. 

SOPHIA LI: Hi, Kristy. Welcome to climate talks. 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: So happy to be here. 

SOPHIA LI: Kristy, can you please introduce yourself and tell us your climate story?

KRISTY DRUTMAN: So hi, everyone. My name is Kristy Drutman. I am a Jewish and Filipina environmentalist, and I grew up in a small town in Southern California, and I lived near a freeway. And so I actually had really small lung capacity to the point where my classmates thought I lived in a smoking household and I didn’t grow up in a smoking household. And that was the first time where I realized, like, the place that I lived had something to do with my own health.

So I went to UC Berkeley, was like, I’m going to study environmental policy. But then Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan hit the Philippines, and that was when climate change was no longer just this distant issue in the near future. It was impacting people who look like me, like my family members. Just the idea that this could easily have happened to them, too, started to really settle in to me, that, you know, climate change is something that I needed to take action on. 

So I got really involved in climate youth activism in college, but I didn’t really see people who looked like me in a lot of environmental activist spaces or even in the environmental science or policy field. And so by the end of university, me and my friends created this organization at UC Berkeley that was focused on empowering young people of color in the environmental field. 

And so then my work transitioned from being just focused on climate advocacy to now thinking about intersectional climate activism.

SOPHIA LI: Wooh, amen. So I know you covered this a little bit, but what role do you think you play that the media isn’t covering with this climate communication? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: Mostly it’s people who are not in the climate space, comedians or politicians or entrepreneurs and business people who don’t really understand how to communicate climate science to the public because they don’t fully know the issue because they don’t have the academic background. You know, I studied climate science, I studied climate policy, but I also understand how to communicate that to people who don’t understand those issues. 

And I feel like there’s not enough people bringing that to online platforms in a way that is more accessible to more people and not even doing it in a way that also brings in stories from an immigrant perspective. Discussions around barriers to access. And I think that that’s what I bring to the table. 

SOPHIA LI: So what communities and voices are always excluded from this climate conversation? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: Black voices, definitely Indigenous voices, definitely Asian American voices and LatinX voices. 

When do you hear stories that are really emphasizing that experience? And also, when is it not just framed as these people who come from these communities being framed as victims? When is it being framed that they’re actually coming up with solutions? I just don’t see enough of those stories being told, and that’s concerning to me when we’re thinking about who’s actually going to be in positions of leadership and get resources to build solutions to the climate crisis.

SOPHIA LI: What responsibility do each of us have in the climate movement? Is it up to all of us? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: I think ultimately, the people who are most responsible are the people in positions of power and privilege. It shouldn’t be on grassroots community members who have to fight against these extractive industries to address the climate crisis. But unfortunately, the burden has been put on them. You know, there’s select companies and polluters who have very huge influence over the emissions that continue to increase. And I just don’t think those people are being held accountable at the rate that they need to be by any – by any means. 

SOPHIA LI: Totally. It needs to be top down and bottom up because it seems a lot of these times these people in power and privilege don’t make actions or real substantial changes unless they’re forced to by the people. 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: Completely. Yeah, and I think that’s another thing like consumers and individuals also feel so powerless but the thing is, is like these companies are so scared, especially of young people like even the term greenwashing, this year is the first time I’ve ever even heard companies be like, oh, we don’t want to be accused of that.  

SOPHIA LI: What would you say to those who are disillusioned or apathetic or just too overwhelmed by the climate space? What’s the most empowering thing that they can do? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: I think the most empowered thing that you can do is to definitely find community with others. I think being able to focus on, like, your own local community can make these things feel less existential and more tangible. You can actually see the tangible impacts of that maybe even faster than pushing for policy change or doing activism, because sometimes those things do take a long time. And whereas if you’re helping your local community and you’re building community with others, that just nourishes you, and I think that people think they can just do this by themselves, and that’s just not true. Like, you have to depend on others. 

SOPHIA LI: So that brings me to what does a just future look like for you? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: There’s a term called climate reparations. It’s this idea that like we recognize the harms that have been done specifically to Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities worldwide, people who live in the most impacted regions in the world. 

And the idea is how can we, as in people who are not in those most impacted areas, be able to really redistribute funds and resources to ensure the safety and the well-being of those regions that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the idea is to pay for the damage that’s been done by neglecting that. 

And I would say the other thing is about redistribution. When we’re thinking about building quote unquote renewable energy world or a clean energy future, we have to realize that that still is going to require extraction of resources, that’s going to require labor, and maybe not even the most just labor and ethical labor. And we have to be honest about that. Like, what is this transition going to look like? 

So when I think about a just world, I think about building the infrastructure and the technology we need to live healthier and more sustainable lives, but not at the expense of exploiting communities who are going to be at the backbone of making that possible. 

SOPHIA LI: Right. So paint this picture for me. There is climate equity in this future. What does that look like? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: To me, a climate equitable world is one where people have equitable access to green space, to clean air, water and healthy soil. In terms of our economy, it would be focused on circularity and not linearity, it would be focused on centering biodiversity rather than extracting capital from natural ecosystems. And it would be centered around reciprocity. So being able to think about if you’re taking, then you’re giving something back and you’re always thinking about the communities that are being impacted or benefited from your actions. 

SOPHIA LI: Yeah, I mean, all the things you’re saying: healthy soil, clean air, circularity – it’s actually the norm of humanity. It was the basis of Indigenous communities. So I feel like when we say these things, we’re like, oh, how can we ever do that? And it’s like, humanity did live that way. 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: Yeah, exactly. 

SOPHIA LI: Last question – what gives you hope? 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: What gives me hope is other youth activists. Meeting other young people from around the world who care so deeply about these issues and advocating and intervening and speaking truth to power. Nothing else gives me more hope than that. 

SOPHIA LI: Thank you so much for joining Climate Talks. 

KRISTY DRUTMAN: Thank you so much for having me. 

SOPHIA LI: That was Kristy Drutman. You can follow Kristy Drutman’s work with Brown Girl Green on Instagram at browngirl_green, or online at BrownGirlGreen.org. 

Next up, I’m speaking with Wawa Gatheru, the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, an intergenerational community of Black girls, women and non-binary environmentalists.

SOPHIA LI: Hi Wawa, welcome to Climate Talks.

WAWA GATHERU: Hi, thank you so much for having me. 

SOPHIA LI: Wawa, tell us who you are, how you got involved in the climate space. Tell us your climate story.

WAWA GATHERU: My name is Wanjiku. My friends call me Wawa and I’m a 22 year old environmental justice advocate.

First and foremost, I feel like the different parts of my identities really inform the way that I show up in the climate movement and the reason why I’m here in the first place. So first, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a friend. I’m a very proud Kenyan-American. And I’m also a Black woman.

So I grew up in rural Connecticut, which is a really, really beautiful part of the Northeast. It’s also a place that a lot of people travel to for nature, environmental education, et cetera. 

However, my family was the only Black family, only immigrant family. And amongst that, even though environmental education and access to nature and green space was a part of my childhood, I never really saw myself in that field because literally no one who was working in that space and the way that we talk about those spaces, it didn’t really relate to me. I didn’t grow up hiking or camping. Those things were kind of seen as wealthy, white people things to do. So it wasn’t necessarily something that I saw myself in.

So I felt that way for most of my life until I was 16. So I entered into an environmental science class. 

My teacher decided to integrate environmental justice, which actually wasn’t a part of the original curriculum, so when we started to learn about environmental justice, and the way that, for instance, race is the number one indicator of one’s proximity to a toxic waste plant in the US, I got really frustrated. I was frustrated that I was suddenly finding out that environmentalism, this whole space that I had put up in my mind as this top shelf, like, white issue had everything to do with me. 

Yet, it hadn’t been introduced to me or talked about like that in my family or my friend groups. 

So when I got to college, I was like let me focus on getting folks involved, particularly Black folks in the environmental space. And that kind of led me into the climate movement and realizing that, A) a lot of folks of color were already environmentalists, but the framing around environmentalism and climate action for instance, just wasn’t being done in a way that included them. 

SOPHIA LI: Was that environmental justice high school class your aha moment? 

WAWA GATHERU: It was my aha moment of a previous aha moment. When my parents first moved to the US, my mom, like, started a garden and I spent a lot of my time as a kid in that garden, not really knowing that that garden was kind of my mom’s way of connecting back with her heritage and how she had grown up. 

So that was my first experience having a really intimate connection with the physical environment. But I didn’t see it as that growing up. So when I mean, I had the aha moment, I remember us talking about food justice and food systems and equitable food systems, and particularly in the U.S., folks of color being distanced from the food system and how most of the examples of Black agricultural experience, the only thing that we talked about was slavery, and that was just subjugation to the land. And I realized that there is this real life contradiction. 

SOPHIA LI: Yes! So do you feel like the environmental justice movement is still carried on the shoulders of solely the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the BIPOC community? 

WAWA GATHERU: I would say predominantly so and predominantly so, because if we’re talking about in the U.S. context, there’s a reason why the environmental justice movement is what it is in the U.S., and it’s because it’s a movement of necessity. People have had to step up, had to take a stand because their lives were and continue to be on the line. And time and time again, we see that race and class, but still race primarily is what informs disproportionate access. 

SOPHIA LI: Hmm. And just to rewind for a second, for those who don’t know what does environmental justice mean? 

WAWA GATHERU: Bare bones, it is essentially a framework that works to make sure that every person, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, et cetera, have equitable access to environmental benefits.

Access to equitable, culturally competent food, it means access to clean air. Clean water. It means access to green space.

SOPHIA LI: And for all of our white listeners or who aren’t BIPOC and have privilege, how can we bring them into the environmental justice movement? 

WAWA GATHERU: The most important thing to do is to listen to frontline community members, leaders, organizers, find out what they might need in regards to amplifying the work that they’re already doing. 

Because a lot of times capacity building is the issue just because of resources. In the environmental space, 50 percent of environmental philanthropy goes to the same 10 big green organizations. And then within that, when you look at BIPOC lead and particularly like Black and Indigenous led environmental organizations and nonprofits and things of that sort, we get like less than five percent of funding. So if you can put your money where your mouth is, definitely do that. 

SOPHIA LI: So Wawa, if we were able to achieve climate equity and build a more just climate future for all, what would that even look like?

WAWA GATHERU: For me, a just climate movement just means real, real justice for everyone. To me, that looks like a world free of prisons, free of a carceral system. 

Just people having access to basic human rights, having the ability to live a life beyond survival. So many people around the world quite literally are living to survive and don’t get the opportunity to live a life of passion. 

SOPHIA LI: Yes, Wawa. I so resonate with that. Climate justice is racial justice is social justice: making sure that everyone has the right to a healthy, safe, beautiful human life. 

WAWA GATHERU: Mm hmm. Exactly. 

SOPHIA LI: So Wawa, if you could go back in time, and speak to that person that was taking her first environmental justice class in high school, what would you tell her? 

WAWA GATHERU: I’d say get ready, girl! But also, I would say, you feel super alone right now. I would say this message is specifically to, you know, 16-Year-Old Wawa. 

I felt really alone whenever we would have conversations in class, while my teacher was really supportive, sometimes, some of my classmates would be like, OK, let’s stop making this about race. It’s just about climate. And I would say, get ready girl, because these little conversations that you’re having in high school, they’re going to continue. The places that you may have thought would be with the right agenda of fighting for the protection of both people and planet. 

They may not actually be on board the way that you think they are, but but but but that is why you are in this movement in the first place. You have a place. When I was at that age, I thought that I’d never find a community in the climate space. 

So I say, get ready, girl, there’s so many people that you’re going to meet that understand you and your vision and also are looking to make sure that the just climate future that we talk about includes all of us. And you’re going to really find community there and constantly be reminded of how important your work will be and how important environmental justice will always be. 

SOPHIA LI: Ah! You know what you’re doing, Wawa, you’re providing so many of those aha moments for people to start their own awakening in this journey. So my last question for you is what gives you hope? 

WAWA GATHERU: What gives me hope? I always struggle with this question. But I would say what gives me hope, it’s necessity, this is the only home we have, this is the only planet that we have. 

I think we all deserve a future! And I think what also gives me hope is the love that I experience in and inside of this movement. 

For me, I feel like climate work and climate labor is a work of love because it’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s necessary. 

SOPHIA LI: Yes, yes, yes, preach. Hope is the thing that drives us forward. If we didn’t have hope for our future, or our home, then why even try? 

WAWA GATHERU: Absolutely. 

SOPHIA LI: Wawa, thank you so much. 

WAWA GATHERU: Thank you. It was such, such a pleasure. It’s so great talking to you. 

SOPHIA LI: That was Wawa Gatheru.

You can follow Wawa Gatheru’s work with Black Girl Environmentalist on Instagram at BlackGirlEnvironmentalist (all one word), or online at WawaGatheru.org.

SOPHIA LI: So every week on the show I close each episode with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners into the conversation.

This week, I invite each and every one of you to find your own climate community.  And if you can’t find one that resonates, create your own! 

It can be as unofficial as a group text chain with your friends and family where everyone shares resources, or photos of themselves in nature. 

Or, once a month, you can meet up to talk about climate anxiety—maybe you’ll be the climate optimist in your own group! And that in itself is doing the work in this space. 

By spreading hope in this movement. By continuing the work. By talking about it. You’re already doing it. 

That’s a wrap on this season of Climate Talks. We hope these episodes made you feel inspired and empowered to start—or reconnect with—your own climate journey. Thank you for listening with us as we learned more about our earth’s climate, and our responsibilities to each other. 

And maybe, you’ll start having some climate talks of your own—with your friends and family—starting to build that climate community, and continuing this movement forward. Thank you.

SOPHIA LI: You’ve been listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta. Many thanks to our guests this week, Kristy Drutman and Wawa Gatheru. 

You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, please rate the show and share it with family and friends. We want everyone to get in on this conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation IRL with the people in your own life. 

This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Emily Shaw, Kathleen Ottinger and by me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair. 

Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Meta. To find out more about Meta’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability (dot) f-b (dot) com.

I’m always talking about climate on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me at s-o-p-h-f-e-i, that’s my handle. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of the conversation and movement.


show notes

Kristy Drutman is the founder of Brown Girl Green, (IG: @browngirl_green) a media platform that produces podcasts, videos, blog posts, and other media related to environmental justice and advocacy. She interviews environmental leaders and advocates about diversity and inclusion as well as creative solutions for coping with the climate crisis. Most recently, Kristy was on the ground in the UK, covering TEDConnect and COP26. 

Wawa Gatheru is the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist (IG: @blackgirlenvironmentalist) an intergenerational community of Black girls, women and non-binary environmentalists. She is an environmental justice advocate hailing from Kenya and Connecticut. She is currently a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford studying environmental governance. Wawa plans to pursue a public service career that empowers and supports culturally competent, community-based environmental solutions, particularly focusing on centering the expertise of frontline communities of color. 

Typhoon Haiyan (or Super Typhoon Yolanda) hit the Philippines in November of 2013. It was one of the most powerful and destructive typhoons ever recorded. The storm also caused devastation in the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guam, and more.

The show intro features clips excerpted from the following news segments:

News

Get the latest news about our sustainability work, download reports and case studies and explore our energy dashboards.

Climate 25 Mins

Episode 04: Breaking the Climate Science

2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

News

Get the latest news about our sustainability work, download reports and case studies and explore our energy dashboards.

Climate 29 Mins

Episode 06: Both People and Planet

2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

Emissions. Greenhouse gases. Decarbonization. You may have heard these terms in the news lately, but what do they actually mean? What are emissions, and where do they come from? Is decarbonization a good thing and, if so, how do we achieve it? In this episode, we’re joined by Carbon Calories founder Alexander Frantzen and journalist Sarah Lazarovic to answer these questions and more. We unpack the surprising history behind the phrase “carbon footprint.” We’ll discuss the ways that we can better understand our own carbon footprint, and work to reduce it—and why putting pressure as consumers on large corporations may matter just as much as individual actions.

Featuring

Alexander Frantzen | Carbon Calories | CEO & Founder 

Sarah Lazarovic | Minimum Viable Planet | Journalist, Climate Communicator

Patrick Nease | Meta | Climate

Sylvia Lee | Meta | Climate

Lauren Swezey | Meta | FCS Sustainability

Kati Kallins | Meta | Sustainability Engagement

Transcript

SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta.

The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing everyone and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to. 

Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, also includes us. 

I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.

SOPHIA LI: So what are the most effective steps we can take—as individuals that feed into the collective—to slow the rate of climate disruption? 

Maybe you’ve heard on the news about the IPCC. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from the United Nations is one of the most trusted sources of information we have on the climate. 

The IPCC has published reports on what will happen if the earth’s average temperature warms to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

At that point, all the climate disruptions we’re already seeing will become a lot more severe. According to the most recent report, we need to scale back fossil fuel usage by 45% by 2030. That’s about 8 years. And since the world’s biggest economies—we call them the G20 nations—are responsible for 75% of global emissions, it will take commitments from all of us in order to keep the earth’s average temperature rise below that 1.5 degree threshold. 

But what does that word—“emissions”—even mean? What is a “greenhouse gas?” Do I make emissions? Do you? 

How can we think about reducing emissions, if we’re not even really sure of where they come from?

We asked you: what do you picture when you hear the phrase “greenhouse gas emissions?”

Person 1: I mean, the classic factory with a big flume of emissions first comes to mind, and then I just think of a bunch of cows. Yeah. 

Person 2: I picture the world from, you know, a big bird’s eye view. And I see everywhere where there’s humans burning fossil fuels just emitting tons and tons of noxious gas.

Person 3: Just a whole bunch of smoke. Smelly air.

Person 4: If I’m thinking about the emissions in my own life, it’s probably first and foremost the things that I buy rather than the behaviors that I do.

Person 5: Transportation, like driving a car. I also know, like, food production is a big source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Person 6: Plastic creates so many emissions. Every time I have to have, like, single use plastic – like, ugh I hate it.

Person 7: Two years ago we went vegan, I don’t know, now that we’re vegan and I have a Prius and we take mass transit and we don’t use the central air and heat. I feel like I don’t really know what would cause emissions. 

SOPHIA LI: Have you heard of the phrase “carbon footprint?” Think about a cup of coffee. Emissions are created to manufacture the fertilizer used by the farm to grow the coffee beans. Emissions are also created from the energy used to process the beans, as well as from the heat to roast them. Then, of course, more emissions are released when the coffee is shipped to consumers—whether it goes by boat, train, or plane. All of this goes into the carbon footprint of that cup of coffee.

But let’s be clear—carbon isn’t the bad guy. It’s essential to the life cycle of all living things. I’m alive right now, so that means I automatically have a carbon footprint. I breathe out CO2 as I talk. This isn’t a bad thing. We need to get out of this binary. It’s when we have an excess amount of CO2 in the atmosphere that the climate starts to be disrupted.

Part of why we don’t always think about our carbon footprint is, it’s really hard to see or calculate. How do you know what went into a book, a sneaker, or a cup of coffee before it gets to your hands? And once you find out, what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint?

Each week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle. In this episode, we’re talking about greenhouse gas emissions: what are they? What role do they play in the climate crisis? And how can we reduce the amount of emissions that we are creating?

But first. Our partners at Meta are committed to reducing their emissions. Let’s hear how they’re approaching this work.

PATRICK NEASE: Hi, I’m Patrick Nease, I’m the sustainability coordinator for Facebook’s net zero team. I think a lot of people think that sustainability is just a nature thing and it’s probably at odds with the economy or with people’s livelihoods. But to me, sustainability is really the triple win between the economy, people and the environment. 

So our emissions come from all sorts of sources, some of them more obvious, such as burning fuel in a car and some of them less obvious, like forest and land use change, such as trees getting chopped down or even forest fires that burn up those trees. 

So when we release these molecules like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, they capture the sun’s radiation. It’s kind of like you get into a car on a summer day and it’s about 10 to 20 degrees hotter than – than it is outside. It’s the same idea with the sun’s radiation getting trapped inside the Earth’s atmosphere.

SYLVIA LEE: Hi, I’m Sylvia Lee. I’m the Sustainability Strategy Manager at Facebook. Everything we buy, everything we eat, transport, all emit emissions into the atmosphere. By far, the most important thing we can do is to reduce our emissions, and so removals are absolutely the last, sort of last resort. 

SOPHIA LI: Removals refers to carbon removal projects that create an additional carbon sink, be it reforestation or technology like direct air capture.

PATRICK NEASE: If you want to keep a bathtub from overflowing, it’s way more important to turn down the tap before you figure out how to drain it. And we take that same approach to our sustainability goal. We definitely want to prioritize cutting our greenhouse gas emissions before anything else.

SOPHIA LI: Still, some emissions are hard to reduce, like emissions related to employee commutes or every last piece of hardware that goes into our data centers. To address these emissions, Meta is supporting a range of carbon removal projects.

SYLVIA LEE: To date, we have focused on reforestation projects and we’ve – we’ve supported projects in East Africa, in Uganda and in Kenya, in the southeastern part of the United States. 

What is most exciting to me right now is the amount of attention, and the number of people, the amount of energy that is exploring all of these amazing technologies. 

We know that there’s not going to be one technology that’s going to solve it all. There’s no one silver bullet. We need all of them. And the fact that we have all these start ups, all these investors focusing on it. All of this is making me much more hopeful than even two or three years ago. 

PATRICK NEASE: What excites me the most is that for the first time, I feel like we don’t have to explain what climate change is. Since I’ve been working in this space over the last several years, this is the first year that we’re really learning how to turn climate ambition into actual action. So we saw last year that companies and cities more than doubled their net zero commitments, which is kind of an uncharted territory. Another thing that really gives me hope is that I’m working with so many smart people, whether it’s within Facebook or with the partners that we talk to, that all recognize this, all recognize there’s room to improve and all recognize that the urgency to act is now. 

SOPHIA LI: In addition to Sylvia and Patrick’s work, Meta team members are constantly finding ways to make their workplaces more green and energy-efficient.

LAUREN SWEZEY: Hi, my name is Lauren Swezey and I’m on the FCS team at Facebook: facilities, culinary and security team. 

The green roofs on our buildings are like a park on a roof. You can walk and you see native plants, you see birds flying everywhere. You see butterflies and bees. And there’s so much diversity up there. 

The buildings in Menlo Park are all on 100 percent renewable energy through our local provider. Not only that, we actually have solar systems on our campus, too. So we have over four megawatts of solar that’s supporting our renewable energy locally.

SOPHIA LI: The roof also insulates the building, further reducing the energy needed to cool and heat it.

As our guest Jon Leland said on our last episode, one of the most overlooked ways to have a sustainable impact is to take initiative as employees, within our workplace. 

Kati Kallins, who works on the Sustainability team, is constantly looking to engage all of Meta’s employees in the company’s sustainability initiatives.

KATI KALLINS: Hi, my name is Kati Kallins. When we talk about sustainability at Facebook, there are the operational goals that we have, but our biggest asset is our employees themselves. And if they aren’t bought into this work and if they aren’t part of achieving these goals, then we’re really not going to get anywhere.

One of the most important messages, which I think we should all take with us, is that there’s room for everyone in the climate movement. 

Climate action and working in sustainability is an all hands on deck field. And we need everyone. This is also something that I try to tell our employees a lot when we’re bringing them into the fold of engagement is people will say to me, well, I don’t know, like I don’t have a degree in this. I’m not an expert. Like, are you sure that you want my help? Is there a way that I can participate? And what I tell them is, you know, you eat food, you spend time outdoors, you are as dependent on our natural resources as everyone. And the learning sphere is not as steep as it may seem. Yes, there are people who are experts, but there’s also a lot more people that learned on the job. And so come on in, we’ll get you learning what you need to, and just having you be part of this movement is a huge success. 

SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Sylvia Lee, Patrick Nease, Lauren Swezey, and Kati Kallins from Meta.

As individuals, we have the power to reduce our personal carbon footprint through our choices—how we commute, how we heat and power our homes, where and how we shop. 

But hold on—let’s think a little more critically about that phrase, “carbon footprint.” You’ve probably heard it used before in news articles and even by policy makers, but most people don’t know the term was actually coined by British Petroleum—yes, that oil company, BP—in the early 2000s, as part of an advertising campaign. “Carbon footprint,” when you hear it, it brings to mind an individual person’s footprint, an individual journey, and it was coined to make it seem like the responsibility for reducing emissions falls on… well, us as individuals. 

In reality, most of the emissions released into the atmosphere every year come from the operation of businesses just like BP—not from everyday people living their lives like you and me.

Let’s be clear: individual actions do matter. They add up. They have an impact. But if we are going to reduce our emissions at the scale that the IPCC says is necessary, it will take action from private corporations, too. It’s not one or the other, it’s all of us.

So what can we do to pressure companies to reduce their GHG, or greenhouse gasses, generated by their businesses? What pressure do we need to exert on governments in order to push them into action? 

How can we work to make climate-friendly low-emissions alternatives available to all, through access to clean energy and climate positive products and services?

Joining me this week to tackle these questions are Alexander Frantzen, and Sarah Lazarovic. 

Alexander Frantzen is the founder & CEO of Carbon Calories, which calculates the carbon footprint of consumer products and shares them with the public. He has been building tools to do this work for over a decade.

Sarah Lazarovic is a journalist and climate communicator. She works to make the science of emissions and the climate crisis accessible to everyone—usually with comics. She is also the author of the un-depressing climate newsletter, Minimum Viable Planet. 

SOPHIA LI: Hi Sarah, hi Alexander. Welcome to Climate Talks.

SARAH LAZAROVIC: Hi.

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: Hi.

SOPHIA LI: Sarah, we’ll start with you. Can you please introduce yourself and tell me about your climate story? 

SARAH LAZAROVIC: Hi there, my name is Sarah Lazarovic. I guess you could say my way in was through a reckoning with the growing horrors of fast fashion starting in the early aughts, but really culminating in around 2010, when I sort of realized how bad it had gotten. And I was one of those people who tried to stop shopping and write about it. 

You know once you sort of start understanding the degradation happening all over the world because of it, it’s like a gateway, a gateway climate issue for a lot of people, women, especially. 

And I now work in climate full time. My lens is a little broader now because we need systems change. And it’s not so much about, you know, my personal jumpsuits that I own, but broader issues. 

SOPHIA LI: Yeah, but hey, if jumpsuits brought you into this movement, great! Alexander, please introduce yourself and tell us your climate story. 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: Hey, hi, I’m Alexander. I’m the founder of Carbon Calories. What brought me in really was growing up every summer spending a month in a straw thatched cottage in the forest, since the age of two. And so that really made nature really meaningful for me in my life and then in – jump forward to around the year 2000. The environmental degradation that our economies were causing became something I became aware of. And then in 2012, that’s where I started teaching myself carbon accounting, and I built Energy We Need and Wiki Carbon and now Carbon Calories. So that’s where I started actually educating myself about okay, how do we measure this, this climate change that we’re all hearing about, but how do we measure it? 

SOPHIA LI: And can you tell me a little bit about carbon accounting? 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: It’s actually very much like financial accounting. Financial accounting is about recording transactions, purchases by customers, income, expenses, all the transactions that companies record. Carbon accounting is the same thing – we itemize, how many gallons of gasoline did I burn? How much fertilizer did I use? How much energy was used to manufacture this product? Each time those activities happen, we record them. It’s about itemizing the carbon emissions as they occur. 

SOPHIA LI: So, Sarah, what does this crazy buzz word of sustainability mean to you? 

SARAH LAZAROVIC: You know, I actually don’t use that word a lot anymore. I think it’s fraught. I think what it really just comes down to is sustainability tends to be relegated to the silos of personal consumption, which is super important. But I try to just think about it as living the most low emissions lifestyle I can. 

SOPHIA LI: Sustainability is not regulated. There’s no science or facts to prove that something is quote unquote sustainable, even though other words are regulated, USDA organic in food is regulated. But when you back it up with carbon accounting, that actually quantifies it in a way that makes it credible. 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: Yeah, so I would say, in math class, when you took your exam, if you showed your work, even if you got the answer wrong, you still got 50 percent of the credit. If you gave the answer and you didn’t show your work, you didn’t get credit. And so show, don’t tell. Just show us, you know, and we’ll make a decision about what kind of impact we want to have in the world. I’ll make a decision. You know, if I want to fly, maybe I will eat less meat all year. Maybe I will not drive all year. I’ll make those decisions, but tell me. 

SOPHIA LI: And to flip that, I always say, you know, it’s like we’re giving people a quiz ten times over every time they go to the grocery store. But they’ve never been taught the material for the quiz. They may have heard someone say something about, oh, oat milk is better than soy milk. X is better than Y, but they actually have no way of knowing. 

If there is no carbon accounting information and no labeling, you know, you go in with the best intentions. But that is like a recipe for cognitive overload and also just bad decision making.

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: If you go into the supermarket and every single company decided on a different recommended calorie count on the back of their nutrition label. You wouldn’t be able to compare them. 

SOPHIA LI: How important is it to actually calculate our individual footprint compared to corporations’ and product footprints? 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: So you take two companies, Tesla and Ferrari. As a company, Tesla has a much larger carbon footprint. Its enterprise carbon footprint is much larger than Ferrari’s. Why? Because they produce way more cars. 

However, on a per product basis, a Tesla has a lower carbon footprint over its lifecycle, almost surely, than a Ferrari does. But that’s an example of how OK, we need to see product carbon footprint disclosures to choose low carbon products when we do buy, and then to reward those companies that are decarbonizing. 

So decarbonization just means how do we produce and consume our products with low carbon energy sources primarily? And so it would be how do we do those activities without relying on fossil fuels? And how do we do those activities without causing emissions from non-fossil fuel sources?

SOPHIA LI: Thanks, Alex. So Sarah, I’m curious to hear your answer. How important is it to calculate our own footprint compared to corporations’ and product footprints? 

SARAH LAZAROVIC: It is really important to understand your carbon footprint because that is such valuable knowledge for understanding the problem writ large. So many of us do not understand this at all, which is understandable because it’s super complicated stuff. Climate change only became an issue to most people fairly recently, didn’t grow up with great climate education in school. They might not have a handle on anything. They might not know what a greenhouse gas is, what carbon emissions are. So the carbon footprint is actually like one of the most perfect ways for understanding where emissions come from. 

And when you see the light bulbs flash for people when they say, oh, you know, I’m vegan, but no amount of work that I’m going to do is going to change the emissions intensity for my carbon footprint if I still fly five times a year or if, you know, I rent my home and it’s heated by a not efficient at all natural gas furnace. Right. So then they see that, and it doesn’t mean that all the burden is on them. Like, it doesn’t mean that their carbon footprint is this thing they should carry around in shame, feel guilt about or even necessarily work to bring down to zero because it’s not possible given the way we live, the systems we live in in the world today. 

But what it really comes down to is the emissions that each of us live and breathe and burn every day. 

SOPHIA LI: Thanks, Sarah. I just want to understand what is the balance between our awareness and calculation of our individual footprint versus the 100 companies that contribute to more than 70 percent of our global GHG, or Greenhouse Gasses. What is that balance?

SARAH LAZAROVIC: The thing it always comes back to, is it an individual action or is it systems change? It’s both. Is it, you know, personal emissions reduction or getting companies to drastically bring down their emissions? Obviously, the latter has much more effect, but they don’t change without the will of the people. They don’t change without us telling them, hey, we’re not going to buy X, Y or Z anymore. They don’t change without us actually reforming how we consume. So you sort of need all the pieces.

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: Just to sort of contextualize. If every single government tomorrow agreed that building fossil fuel infrastructure was going to stop and that the only thing we were going to manufacture every year were renewables, it would still take three decades for us to decarbonize the energy system. 

I think I did a back of the envelope calculation. I think that at least five percent of existing fossil fuel energy every year needs to be diverted to just manufacture renewable energy facilities in order to be on track. 

And so that’s another reason why lifestyle changes are necessary. It’s because we actually need to divert existing fossil fuel energy to manufacturing the renewables that we can only do so using fossil fuel energy. 

SOPHIA LI: Emissions, it could be tricky. How can we engage more people, family and friends, community to talk about it and how can we make that an accessible conversation?

SARAH LAZAROVIC: We have had the luxury of developing and, you know, burning a lot of carbon to create the comfortable lifestyles that we all now enjoy. When you share this information with people who have never experienced it before, it can be a shock to the system. What do you mean I am responsible for the cumulative emissions of a nation I just happened to be born in? People will not like that. 

They don’t want you to take away their – their beautiful giant car that they just purchased, and they don’t want you to tell them that their steaks are destroying the planet and actually killing people in other parts of the world as we speak. 

So, you know, with that lens, as a climate communicator, there are some basic practices that you can deploy. 

You know, just listening to people to understand where they are before you try to share where we need to go. Just even demonstrating our carbon intensive lifestyles with simple heuristics, little tools like do you know that the average American, Australian or Canadian basically has a carbon footprint 20 times someone in Pakistan? 

I think the best thing you can do is make it easy. We need the simplest ways to engage people. And I think the reason people feel frustrated because they’re like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. You just want to take away my meat, and take away my car? No, you want to prioritize the most efficient things people can do, the most useful things they can do that don’t require multiple decision points. 

What are the actual big things? Well, it’s, you know, switching from an internal combustion engine vehicle to an EV. It’s, you know, electrifying your heating. So switching from a gas burning furnace to a heat pump, they’re like four to five really huge things and they’re quite expensive things. But they’re a decision you make once. And that decision brings your emissions down for, you know, 10 to 20 years, depending on the big ticket item that you’re considering. 

People are busy, so you can see why they push back when you’re like, can you switch to a paper straw? Like, what are the emissions reductions like, sure, globally, we want to do that. We want the system to just change to appreciate those things. But at the individual level, when it comes to the decisions that they’re able to make, you want to just offer simple swaps.

That’s the best way to get at it for people that are just starting the conversation, especially if you can highlight the what’s in it for me, which is you’re going to save money in the long run. As we decarbonize, the cost of carbon-based things are going to go up and the cost of renewables are going to go down. So in the long term, although you’ll have to pay some upfront, slightly higher costs, you know it’s going to go down. 

SOPHIA LI: We need to end on a hopeful note because I know you guys believe in this world that we’re living in. So what gives you two hope? 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: What gives me hope is every day meeting more people who are asking questions, educating themselves, shifting their buying patterns and adjusting their lifestyles based on what they’re learning and deciding where to work based on whether or not a company is decarbonizing. There are lots of us who are taking action right now. We are responding, I think appropriately, with courage and love, and we’re applying the lessons that we’re learning to our own lives. 

SARAH LAZAROVIC: We have the privilege of being alive right now in the decisive years. In the next ninety eight months where, you know, the relative habitability of this planet for all future humanity is going to be decided. You can see that as a daunting and overwhelming and despairing and doom-inducing lens. Or you can say that is a huge privilege. What can I do with these next years of my life to catalyze the best and most effective change that needs to happen? 

Because every little bit of emissions that we keep from going up into the atmosphere is lives saved in other parts of the world, is species that will not go extinct, is crops that will – will grow and feed people. So everything we do now really matters, and every bit of warming we stave off is a great, a great thing for somebody somewhere. 

SOPHIA LI: Thank you both for the work that you do. Very grateful. 

ALEXANDER FRANTZEN: Thank you. 

SARAH LAZAROVIC: Thank you. 

SOPHIA LI: That was Alexander Frantzen and Sarah Lazarovic.

To view the Carbon Statements prepared by Carbon Calories, visit them online at carbon calories (dot) com. 

To see more of Sarah’s work, and to sign up for her newsletter Minimum Viable Planet, visit her website at Sarah L (dot) com. That’s sarah with an ‘h,’ s-a-r-a-h, then ‘L’ for ‘Lazarovic,’ (dot) com. 

SOPHIA LI: So every week on the show I close each episode with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners into the conversation.

As much as the IPCC report I mentioned earlier gave much cause for alarm, the report was not all doom and gloom. According to the same report, the climate could begin stabilizing in as little as 20 to 30 years once we curb our global emissions and reduce the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere. 

So go out and do something that helps make you feel empowered and hopeful in this space. Whether that’s deciding to walk or bike to work, or even growing butterfly milkweeds in your backyard—go do something that makes you feel like you made a positive difference, for yourself and for our collective planet. 

Individual actions do make a difference, and the more that we make these practices a part of our own life, the more we’ll encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same. This movement needs all of us.

SOPHIA LI: Next week on Climate Talks…

KRISTY DRUTMAN: What is this transition going to look like? So when I think about a just world, I think about building the infrastructure and the technology we need to live healthier and more sustainable lives, but not at the expense of exploiting communities who are going to be at the backbone of making that possible. 

SOPHIA LI: We’re pressing our ears to the pulse of the future! What challenges await on the horizon as we try to navigate this climate crisis and build a more sustainable earth? 

What actions are required from all of us to fight for a healthier, less erratic climate? Join us next time on Climate Talks to find out.

See you next week!

SOPHIA LI: You’ve been listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta. Many thanks to our guests this week, Alexander Frantzen and Sarah Lazarovic. 

You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, please rate the show and share it with friends and family. We want everyone to get in on the conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation IRL with the people in your life. 

This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Emily Shaw, Kathleen Ottinger and by me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair. 

Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Meta. To find out more about Meta’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability.fb.com.

I’m always talking about the climate on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me at sophfei, that’s my handle. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of this crucial conversation.


Show Notes

You can view the Carbon Statements prepared by Carbon Calories on their website. For more of Alexander Frantzen’s work on other carbon accounting projects (such as Energy We Need and WikiCarbon), check out his personal website

You can sign up for Minimum Viable Planet, and view more of Sarah Lazarovic’s work, on her website. You can also find her comics on instagram at @sarahlazarovic. 

In 2018 the IPCC (​​the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a special report, which detailed the impacts of 1.5℃ global warming above pre-industrial levels, and outlined paths to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. More recently, in 2021, the first part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment was released. The report provided new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades, and found that immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required to limit warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C.

News

Get the latest news about our sustainability work, download reports and case studies and explore our energy dashboards.

Climate 25 Mins

Episode 04: Breaking the Climate Science

Podcast 27 Mins

Episode 03: Waste Not

2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

The science around the climate crisis is no longer disputable. So now the question is, what is the role each of us can play in talking about the climate with our friends, and help bring more people into this movement? How can we debunk the myths and uplift the facts? How do we balance urgency with optimism? In this episode, we’ll speak to researcher John Cook and activist Jon Leland to unpack how we can better communicate about the climate—with skeptics and believers alike. 

Featuring

John Cook | Monash University Climate Change Communication Research Hub | Post-Doctoral Research Fellow 

Jon Leland | Kickstarter | Head of Sustainability 

Robbie Goldfarb | Meta | Critical Information Products

Sarah Sasaki Tsien | Meta | Sustainability

Transcript

SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta.

The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing every one and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to. 

Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, includes us. 

I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.

SOPHIA LI: I see sustainability as a relationship. A lifelong commitment. If we are going to change our ways and prepare all of us for the impact of the climate crisis, it’s going to take real change from each of us. 

So what’s holding us back from collective action? Why can’t we all seem to get on the same page? The science around the climate crisis is no longer disputable, we’ve known this data for decades—so why are some people still fighting the obvious, rather than collaborating to prevent a climate catastrophe?

But beyond the data, we’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in our own lives. We asked some of our listeners in the United States: “What proof do you have that climate change is already happening?”

Person 1: This year, I’ve hiked the Pacific Crest Trail here on the west coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. During that experience, firsthand witnessing various fires –

Person 2: Not just the fires, but also the snowpack was pretty much nonexistent. We didn’t have to use any snow equipment. This year in particular felt like we were living through the – the consequences of climate change. 

Person 3: I work as a researcher for a human rights organization. And recently I did research on how climate-induced heatwave in British Columbia impacted the lives of older people and people with disabilities. And you realize how it’s affecting all of us, but it’s affecting especially people who are already living in marginalized situations, and it’s putting them at higher risk. 

Person 4: My dad as a farmer has been affected by climate change. They’ve had lots of issues with water supply because of the droughts in the last decade or so. He’s seen weather patterns change. A lot more heat, a lot less rain. Things that have impacted the crops he can grow and how well they – they grow.

Person 5: Half my family lives in Israel, which is a very arid country, and it seems like every summer I go back to visit it’s more oppressively hotter. 

Person 6: One thing that I remember from growing up is that the lakes were really full. And now when I go back, they’re drying up or they’re littered with trash.

Person 7: We’re seeing the flowers bloom much earlier than they used to, and we’re seeing a lot less snow and ice. 

SOPHIA LI: We’re already seeing the effects of the climate crisis in the US, from droughts and fires, to early spring blooms. For many Americans though, the ability to still deny the climate crisis comes from a place of tremendous privilege.

Knowledge is power, this science is liberation—especially when it comes to combating climate change. How can we uplift the facts, bust the myths, and form a united front against the climate crisis? How can we reach out to others and invite them to join us on this journey towards a more sustainable future? How do we promote discovery of the truth, and make that truth as digestible and irrefutable as possible?

Each week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle: from carbon emissions to water restoration. In this episode, we’re talking about climate science, and the best ways to communicate and share that knowledge. 

We’ll hear from Jon Leland and John Cook, two people who have devoted themselves to finding new, effective ways to communicate about the climate crisis. Together, we’ll work to equip ourselves with better ways to speak about the climate, whether we’re talking to climate change skeptics or trying to just inspire action amongst our family and friends.

But first. Our partners at Meta are committed to providing users with access to authoritative climate information from the world’s leading science sources. Let’s hear how they’re approaching this work.

ROBBIE GOLDFARB: Hi, my name’s Robbie. I’m a product manager at Facebook. Naturally, when we think about myths and misinformation, the focus is about stopping the bad. How do we prevent bad actors or people who may be misinformed from sharing such information on the platform. And there’s no question that that is prerequisite. That is P0. That’s extremely important work.

But I think there’s this other angle, too, which is about how do we create an environment and an ecosystem where the norm is talking about more positive and helpful types of conversation. And we’ve seen this in the data is, you know, a concept called mimicry, which is just this idea that when one thing exists, more of that tends to exist. So in other words, it’s almost a form of social norming, by establishing this is how we talk, these are the types of things we say, that tends to perpetuate.

So the Climate Science Center is sort of a one stop shop on Facebook to find combinations of authoritative information and engaging content on the topic. So that’ll include things like content from approved organizations and partners. But also a number of other things, like we’ve developed a Myth Busters unit, which goes through some common myths and provides information on that. Similarly, we have everyday actions you can take that help people understand what are the things they can be doing in their own life to help combat climate change and some of its effects. 

The Climate Science Center is publicly available. You can access it on your Facebook app just by going into the bookmarks bar and click on Climate Science Center. And I encourage you all to check it out.

​​SARAH SASAKI TSIEN: Hi, I’m Sarah and I work on climate and sustainability at Facebook. The Climate Conversation Map helps researchers and nonprofit organizations study and better understand how climate conversations ebb and flow over time and region of the world. And right now, it is really the best geospatial dataset of its kind. 

You can better understand at the country level what countries are most interested and talking about climate. You can find out at what times of the year and what events are happening when conversations spike. So it’s been a really interesting way for our external partners across the world to get more specific understanding of what drives conversations on platforms like Facebook and when that triggers.

SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Sarah Sasaki Tsien and Robbie Goldfarb from Meta. 

Something I hear a lot in the climate space is, “But I don’t understand the climate crisis.” And I respond, “That’s OK.”

Not everyone is a climate scientist. And there’s so many things out there in the world, like the internet or electricity. And we don’t understand exactly how it works, but we know how to use it. And that’s the same thing with the climate crisis. We may not understand every component of it, but we can still use what we know to continue to power our lives to live the best way that we can.

I think oftentimes we’re led to believe that it’s climate skeptics versus climate believers. It’s this battle between the two. But actually, it’s not so binary. 

Yale and George Mason conducted a study earlier this year that found about 10 percent of the American population are climate deniers, or they dismiss climate. The study also found that less than 50% of Americans think their friends and family will hold them responsible to take real action in climate change. 

So it’s not necessarily about changing the minds of climate skeptics. It’s about bringing those who already believe in the climate crisis into the movement even further. Like Robbie said, we need to create an environment where having conversations about the climate is the norm—so we can encourage and support each other to renew and uphold our commitments to living sustainable lives, and also invite others to join us in that commitment. 

So today on the show, I’m excited to welcome John Cook and Jon Leland to talk about the best ways we can communicate—with believers and skeptics and everyone in between—about the urgent realities of the climate crisis. 

John Cook is a psychologist, an author, and a research fellow with the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub. His research focuses on understanding and countering misinformation about climate change, with an emphasis on using critical thinking to build resilience.

Jon Leland is an environmental activist whose work focuses on drawing attention to the widespread impacts of climate change. He’s also Kickstarter’s Head of Sustainability and VP of Insights.

SOPHIA LI: Alright, hi John and Jon.

JON LELAND: Hi.

JOHN COOK: Hi.

SOPHIA LI: Can you please introduce yourselves and tell me your climate story?

JON LELAND: My name is Jon Leland. I grew up in Washington, DC, and back in 2011 or 12, I started doing policy consulting for the Palau mission in the United Nations. So Palau is a very small island nation in the Pacific. I actually wound up going to the United Nations Security Council Conference on Climate Change, their first one ever back in 2012 and saw the president of Nauru get up and speak and talk about losing his country. That country is going to be underwater probably within the next 50 years, and it will just disappear from the face of the Earth. And he was heartbroken and on the verge of tears. That really woke me up to the stakes involved in how present the issue is, which back then seemed a lot more remote and far off to me and I think a lot of other people than it does now. 

JOHN COOK: My name is John Cook. I’ve been working with Facebook on writing evidence based fact checks and publishing them on the Climate Science Center.

My climate story began getting into arguments about climate change with my father in law. He was and still is a climate denier. We were having a family get together, and he was throwing out all these arguments on why climate change was a hoax and not real. And like any son in law who is motivated to win an argument, I started building a database of all the possible arguments that might come up at the next family get together and what the science said about each one of them. 

At some point I realized other people have family members who promote a lot of misinformation about climate change. So I started this website, SkepticalScience.com, and a couple of years into that, I got an email from a cognitive scientist, Stephan Lewandowsky, who sent me research on how to debunk effectively versus how to debunk badly. And I was doing it badly. I was doing all the things that you shouldn’t do. And that led to me doing a Ph.D. in cognitive science and researching how to counter climate misinformation and communicate climate change better. 

JON LELAND: Does he believe in climate change now? 

JOHN COOK: What I’ve learned is that people whose beliefs aren’t formed by evidence are very difficult to persuade with evidence. So the bad news is no, he doesn’t accept climate change now. The good news is I’ve had similar conversations with my own dad, who was also a climate denier way back when, and he eventually did change his mind. 

SOPHIA LI: Jon Leland, tell us about how you first got started in climate communications.

JON LELAND: You know, the first project that I did was ‘This Place Will Be Water’, which is a project where people can look up where in their communities will be underwater due to climate change. And then they put these biodegradable stickers up showing just like what will be transformed as a result of climate change.

Most people believe in climate change but don’t want to think about it. It is overwhelming and terrifying. And so what most people do most of the time is just put it out of their minds. 

So ‘This Place Will Be Water’ is a project where one it gives people something to do if they are feeling that kind of anxiety and wanting to start to participate in the discourse. And I think putting these messages in places where people aren’t expecting them and localizing it to their communities can change the way that they receive those messages. 

SOPHIA LI: Yeah, I like that you brought up that actually, the majority of people are not climate deniers. About 10 percent of the American population are climate deniers, or they dismiss climate. The majority of us believe in it, but we’re just not willed into the action. We’re still not willed into the mobilization yet. 

JON LELAND: I think we use those climate deniers as a little bit of scapegoats. 

SOPHIA LI: Yes!

JON LELAND: We point to them and say, well, they’re the problem. 

SOPHIA LI: I don’t have to do anything!

JON LELAND: You’re right. The problem is all of us that actually believe in climate change, and we need to get our act together to push for systemic change. 

SOPHIA LI: John Cook, would love to hear your perspective on the most effective ways that you’re communicating about the reality of the climate crisis. 

JOHN COOK: This is a bit of a simplification, but I see three kind of main audiences amongst the public. There are the dismissives, that 10 percent that you referenced, I think the latest data showed it more like eight percent. It’s slowly shrinking. Then there’s the fifty eight percent of the US public who are concerned or alarmed about climate change. And then the other 30 odd percent who are kind of more disengaged or cautious. Changing the dismissives’ minds, if you have limited resources, I don’t think that’s the best use of your time. 

So it’s the other two groups that are important. Amongst the 58 percent who are concerned or alarmed, most of those people don’t talk about climate change with their friends or family or their social networks. And so it’s like Jon said, it’s about activating the people who are already on board with the science but are inactive. 

What I focus on is just getting people having climate conversations, trying to break that climate silence, because that is one key part of building that social momentum towards real change. But the other group, the disengaged group, are vulnerable to misinformation from the dismissives. And so it’s also about inoculating the disengaged and then moving them into the concerned and alarmed group.

SOPHIA LI: How do you balance the alarmist doom and gloom scenario with the hopeful optimism in this space?

JOHN COOK: I think that those two messages, the – the problem and the solution need to be coupled together. If we only communicate these kind of hopeful, positive messages, then the climate action doesn’t have that urgency that the science requires. But if we only communicate the doom and gloom, then that can paralyze people.

JON LELAND: It’s really easy for people to go to sort of inaction and despair and anxiety. And there’s a lot of eco-anxiety. And so the question is, well, what’s that story you’re telling about why the future can be better? And not just that the future can be better, but that you can meaningfully participate in making that future better. That is one of the biggest questions I’ve been asking within the climate space, and it’s a really difficult question to answer. 

SOPHIA LI: What are the pathways of agency that you found that is the most impactful? 

JON LELAND: We do need to put pressure on corporations and politicians. The more that individuals list this as their number one priority in voting and make that clear in every form, who they donate to, what they say, how they talk about politics that is really important.

Finding ways to empower people to talk about this within their own networks and communities is really important. Things that don’t work as well is something like, honestly, you’ll get something like a climate strike where it’s one day of action – that doesn’t really seem to move the needle. 

We have a short attention span and the moments in our culture where we’ve seen the relationship of society at a broader level in climate shift in a meaningful way has been moments where climate has been at the forefront of like the social psyche for three weeks, four weeks at a time. Some sort of big report drops, there’s wildfires in California, a giant hurricane slams into Louisiana and all of a sudden, every night. Every news report, every front page of every newspaper is talking about different aspects of climate and how it’s all piling up. And that’s when you get people to shift from this sort of, like, avoidant place into an active place and a motivated place. 

SOPHIA LI: Both of you guys are not visual artists as your day job. Jon Leland, you work at Kickstarter and John Cook, you’re in academia, but you both really consider the aesthetic presentation when communicating about the climate. So how important is it to have the visual part as part of this communication? 

JOHN COOK: Before I was a scientist, I was a cartoonist. I’ve been experimenting, like running scientific experiments, testing the impact of using cartoons to engage people about climate change and using cartoons to inoculate people against misinformation. What I’ve found is there’s all these benefits – unique benefits that come out of using visual humor. People spend more time looking at it. It grabs their attention more. They’re more likely to share it. I mean, people have always been visual. That’s just how our brains are hard wired. 

JON LELAND: It’s also just way more fun. You know, working on climate doesn’t need to be a difficult slog. Working on these projects, it’s sort of finding where you see opportunity to engage the public. What would be fun to make? What skills do I bring to the table and finding ways to play with it almost, makes it a lot less heavy because it is a heavy topic otherwise. You need a balance.

SOPHIA LI: So I wanted to ask you two where do you get your news on climate change? Who do you trust to tell the truth about the climate? 

JOHN COOK: Because I follow a lot of scientists on social media. I tend to get it from the horse’s mouth. So scientists like Michael Mann and Katherine Hayhoe, is a great way to get all the latest news and research from an authoritative source.

JON LELAND: I prefer email newsletters. So Bill McKibben, the Heated newsletter by Emily Atkin. Bloomberg Green is a good publication around that from a more traditional news source. 

SOPHIA LI: If we’re having a conversation with not a climate denier, but more someone in the middle, what are some ways we can have them start mobilizing instead of just being in the eco anxiety or apathy phase?

JON LELAND: I think a lot of people are looking for, like, what’s the thing I am supposed to do for climate? And a lot of it’s just like find a thing to start doing that feels – that feels interesting or good for you. And that can be connecting with a local climate organization, whether that’s like 350.org, Sunrise Movement or River Keepers. 

There’s also, I think, an avenue of action and agency that’s a bit overlooked and very powerful, which is our role as employees within companies. Kickstarter did not have any sustainability or environmental practice or group, and I just anointed myself the head of sustainability and spun up our efforts there. And it’s like, great. I get to help make dramatic shifts now on a platform that has a huge impact on companies, billion dollar plus companies that spin up out of Kickstarter.We are carbon neutral. We’ve reduced our carbon footprint to about as low as we can manage it at this point as an organization. 

Those are things I just decided to start doing at work. And so if there is a group to plug into at your workplace, then start plugging into it. If there isn’t, consider trying to propose one.

SOPHIA LI: So my last question for you two, is what gives you hope? 

JOHN COOK: It’s easy to be discouraged when you look at the lack of climate action, often at the federal government level or at international negotiations. But what gives me hope is seeing just—there’s so much action happening at other levels. So whether it’s within businesses. Also, local government levels and just individuals. Like I’m a huge Greta Thunberg fan. I think that what she’s doing is really important for building awareness and momentum and that has sparked so many climate conversations. Seeing that kind of passion and momentum gives me hope.

JON LELAND: Everything with climate is an exponential curve. And that’s true in a lot of very bad ways. But I think that’s also true in terms of innovation and participation in this crisis. And that gives me hope. You know, there is so much interesting good work to be done that is going to require all of us to participate in it. Facing a challenge this interesting and complex together as like the totality of humanity coming together to save the planet? That, to me, is just actually very exciting and positive and sounds very fun to me as – as challenging as it’s going to be in practice. 

SOPHIA LI: Thank you two so much for joining this week’s episode and for giving all of us hope in communicating about the climate.

JOHN COOK: Thanks very much, Sophia. 

JON LELAND: Thank you so much.

SOPHIA LI: That was John Cook and Jon Leland. 

For more information, check out John Cook’s website dedicated to climate science & rebutting climate misinformation: that’s SkepticalScience.com.

To join Jon Leland’s campaign, This Place Will be Water, and make climate change more visible in your community, go to this place will be water.org.

And be sure to check out the show notes, for recommendations from John Cook and Jon Leland about where they find their climate news.

SOPHIA LI: So every week on the show I close each episode with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners, into the conversation.

I often say processing the climate crisis is like processing grief. There are seven stages. The first one is denial. I was there, too. We deny that it’s happening because it’s just too overwhelming. It’s too sad. And at the end of the day, we want to reach a level of acceptance. 

So the call to action for this episode is to ask yourself, which stage are you in? Are you sad? Are you angry? Wherever you are, it’s OK. Processing the climate crisis is a lifelong process and a journey. 

SOPHIA LI: Next week on Climate Talks…

SARAH LAZAROVIC: Every little bit of emissions that we keep from going up into the atmosphere is lives saved in other parts of the world, is species that will not go extinct, is crops that will – will grow and feed people. So everything we do now really matters.

SOPHIA LI: We’re clearing the air—literally and figuratively! We’ll be talking about greenhouse gas emissions. What are they, what role do they play in climate change, and what can we do about them? Join us next time to find out. 

See you next week!

SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta. Many thanks to our guests this week, John Cook and Jon Leland. 

You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, please rate the show and share it with family and friends. We want everyone to get in on the conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation IRL with the people in your life. 

This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Emily Shaw, Kathleen Ottinger, and me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair. 

Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Meta. To find out more about Meta’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability.fb.com.

I’m always talking about the climate on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me at @sophfei. That’s my handle! Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of the conversation.


Show Notes

Skeptical Science is a website developed by John Cook devoted to climate science & rebutting climate misinformation. 

Join in Jon Leland’s campaign, This Place Will Be Water.

John Cook is using cartoons to educate people on climate change with his project, Cranky Uncle

John Cook follows scientists Michael Mann (@MichaelEMann) and Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) for more information on the climate. 

Jon Leland reads newsletters to stay up to date on climate news: Bill McKibben, HEATED from Emily Atkin, and articles from Bloomberg Green.

Jon Leland recommends getting involved in local chapters of organizations like 350, the Sunrise Movement, and River Keepers
The 2021 report, Climate Change in the American Mind, referenced by Sophia and John Cook, found that only 15% of Americans think that global warming is not happening (and only 9% are “very or extremely” sure it is not happening.) The survey was conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The report is available in full online.

 

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Episode 03: Waste Not

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Episode 02: Water Stewards

2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

The scientific evidence couldn’t be clearer: the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by human activity is warming the planet. The time for collective action – by individuals, companies, governments and international organizations – is right now. We at Facebook have a responsibility to do what we can to help slow warming and help make climate science more accessible.

At Facebook, our approach to fighting climate change is twofold: we’re eliminating our own carbon footprint and are working to get our suppliers to be net zero and our operations to be water positive by 2030 — while we work to increase access to authoritative sources of climate information and decrease misinformation, especially viral hoaxes around climate science and climate-related disasters. We’re taking these actions because they’re an absolute necessity for large corporations in a position to make a difference. Society has no choice but to innovate — and everyone from Facebook to you and your neighbor can take action on climate. 

Connecting People With Authoritative Climate Information

One of the biggest lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is how powerful Facebook can be for connecting people to accurate, expert advice and information during a global crisis. This was clear in a recent survey that we ran in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication on the Facebook app in over 30 countries and territories. While more than three-quarters of people believe that climate change is happening, and 7 in 10 people were supportive of the Paris Climate Accord, the majority of people feel they still need more information about climate change.

That’s why we launched the Climate Science Center on Facebook last year. It’s an online space dedicated to authoritative, factual resources from the world’s leading climate organizations. More than 100,000 people visit the Center each day. In the next few weeks, it will be available in more than 100 countries with content from over 250 partners, and regularly features everyday actions anyone can take to combat climate change — and we’re always adding more features. 

For example, we expanded our existing Community Help tool to make it easier for people to organize and participate in climate-action cleanup and awareness activities in their local community. We continue to add new facts to the Facts About Climate Change section in consultation with climate communication experts from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, University of Cambridge and Monash University. And we’re adding informational labels to some posts on climate change in more than a dozen countries that direct people to the Climate Science Center to find out more about these topics.

Combating the spread of climate misinformation

Finally, we’re taking steps to reduce the spread of climate-related misinformation when it appears on our platforms. We’ve done some investigations into this problem and when we’ve looked at the data, we see that misinformation makes up a small amount of the overall content about climate change on our apps. Climate change misinformation also makes up a very low percentage of total misinformation. That’s not to say climate misinformation is a small problem. Rather, it’s a problem that tends to spike periodically when the conversation about climate change is elevated, such as during extreme weather events.

That’s why we work with a global network of over 80 independent fact-checking organizations who review and rate content, including climate content, in more than 60 languages. Our fact-checking partners have rated a range of climate-related claims from outright denials about the existence of climate change — such as human-caused climate change is a hoax and is part of a natural cycle, and that CO2 can simply be absorbed by plant life and is an insignificant contributor to greenhouse gases — to claims about breaking news and technical debunkings on the effects of solar irradiance, Great Barrier sea temperature change, and comparisons of recent volcano emissions with Germany’s reduction targets.

When they rate content as false, we add a warning label and move it lower in News Feed so fewer people see it. We don’t allow ads that have been rated by one of our fact-checking partners. And we take action against Pages, Groups, accounts, and domains that repeatedly share false claims about climate science. You can read more here about how we enforce penalties against people who share fact-checked content, including penalties against people who repeatedly share it.

We also recently announced our $1 million investment in a Climate Misinformation grant program, which will invest in proposals that build alliances between fact-checkers, climate experts and other organizations to support projects that focus on combating climate misinformation. Our goal is to support organizations working to combat climate misinformation and spur new solutions.

Ahead of important climate events like COP-26 and Earth Day, we activate a feature we use during these events to utilize keyword detection to gather related content in one place, making it easy for fact-checkers to find — because speed is especially important during critical public events or when breaking news hits. We’ve also used this feature to group content about COVID-19, the US southern winter storms, wildfires in California and Australia, elections in Brazil, Myanmar, India and the US, and other events.

Still, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we still have much farther to go to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree from pre-industrial levels. We’ll continue to do our part as we collectively halt and reverse this threat to our future.

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Episode 01: What is Sustainability?

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Introducing Climate Talks

2021 Sustainability Report

We envision a just and equitable transition to a zero-carbon economy, and are working to scale inclusive solutions that help create a healthier planet for all.

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