You Can Only Manage What You Measure

A few weeks ago, USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that 10,000 facilities would soon have to measure and register their carbon emissions.

Last week, she told a packed house at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit2 in Los Angeles that her agency will introduce rules requiring significant new sources of carbon emissions, like a new or remodeled fossil-fueled power plant, to pay for the right to pollute.

Clearly, these are salvos in the Obama administration’s campaign to use the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gases, rather than wait for Congress to figure out how to do it (last year, when I outlined for presidential candidate Obama how to do this, I sensed it appealed to the law professor in him, even though he was a member of Congress at the time!).

While the US Chamber of Commerce recoiled in horror at these announcements - - causing PG&E, Exelon, and PNM to cancel their memberships in protest over the Chamber’s “so last-century” position - - others saw opportunity. Among those who will create new jobs in a low-carbon economy are the oft-maligned “bean counters”, or in this case, the carbon counters.

While companies as different as Walmart, Dell, and Walt Disney embrace carbon footprint labels for products as diverse as sneakers, laptops, and movies, they hire in-house experts and outside contractors to decide how best to measure the carbon content and which standards to use. Leaders in the field include PE International, Natural Logic, and Clear Carbon. This is also a major new business development opportunity for engineering firms, currently struggling in the economic downturn, to create whole new areas of expertise and revenue streams. CH2M Hill and Ameresco are two early/major players in that space.

And in anticipation of more regulation and carbon-labeling, new standards and models are being developed around the world for how to measure things that don’t have a smokestack, driving even more business to this new class of carbon accountants. New Zealand’s Former Prime Minister Helen Clark told me how her country is trying to breed cows that “emit” less methane by engineering both the diet and the digestive system. An army of pocket-protectors is now chasing cows and sheep across the NZ landscape to measure the carbon in each belch and fart, demonstrating the broad scope this new profession will have. I guess that’s one way to stimulate a green economy!

Investors and companies should pay attention to the service industry that’s emerging to meet these massive new demands for information. A decade ago, health-conscious consumers forced manufacturers to list nutritional information on food packages. We’ll soon be able to make buying decisions based on carbon content too - - taming our waistlines and “waste lines” at the same time.