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Carbon accounting is big business

Marketplace Staff Jul 22, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: When, or maybe if, Congress takes care of health-care reform, it’ll turn to another amazingly complicated piece of legislation. Trying to reshape the U.S. economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whether Congress can pass a climate change bill is no sure thing. But a lot of big companies are betting it will. They’ve already started tracking their carbon footprints. And as Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, that’s opened up a whole new line of work.


SARAH GARDNER: Meet Larry Goldenhersh. He’s a carbon accountant, of sorts. Goldenhersh is CEO of a southern California-based company called Enviance. Enviance sells special software that helps companies track and monitor all the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they emit. And business is booming.

LARRY GOLDENHERSH: Enviance has increased its revenue 50 percent year on year over the past five years. I believe carbon accounting will drive multi-billion dollar opportunities for all companies in this space.

Enviance’s clients include industrial giants like Chevron, DuPont and the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, American Electric Power or AEP. AEP has been voluntarily tracking and reporting its CO2 output for five years. The utility is now going to track the emissions from its delivery trucks and the barges that deliver coal to its 20 coal-fired power plants. Here’s AEP’s John McManus.

JOHN MCMANUS: It’s certainly our expectation that at some point there will be a legislative or regulatory program governing greenhouse gas emissions. And the earlier you get a started on a program like this, I think, the better off you are.

AEP and other U.S. companies are gearing up for a “carbon constrained” economy, that is, one where the government limits yearly carbon emissions and requires big emitters to accurately report them. Consultant Paul Baier at Groom Energy Solutions says the “green” bean counting industry is rapidly developing.

PAUL BAIER: Just as in financial accounting today we have auditors and sophisticated accounting software packages to understand and track sales and costs so we know what our profits are; we see a similar thing happening over the next four or five years with carbon accounting.

Venture capitalists have been pouring money into carbon accounting start-ups over the past few years. But big software and consulting firms smell potential profits as well. Some have begun gobbling up the start-ups in this field.

Others, like Microsoft, are coming out with their own carbon-accounting products. These corporate giants knows it’s not just oil companies and utilities that will buy this kind of software. Consumer companies like Coca-Cola are doing it already.

BAIER: The fastest-growing area in this market are companies which will face no regulation. Companies like a Starbucks or a Whole Foods, they need for competitive reasons, to protect their brand, to attract the best and brightest, do need to be increasingly more environmentally responsible.

Activist investors and young, green-minded employees are pushing these consumer giants. They’re also getting a shove from Wal-Mart. The retailer recently announced it eventually wants an eco-label on all the products it sells.

So Wal-Mart’s 60,000-some suppliers will need to start monitoring things like their water use and CO2 emissions. And that means they’ll need a carbon accountant.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

How We Survive
How We Survive
Climate change is here. Experts say we need to adapt. This series explores the role of technology in helping humanity weather the changes ahead.