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Episode 69: Bill Weihl

This week’s guest is Bill Weihl, Executive Director of ClimateVoice. At ClimateVoice, Bill focuses on mobilizing the influence of the corporate world to aid in addressing the climate crisis we are facing today. ClimateVoice works to use the power of companies to prioritize climate change, by vocalizing and mobilizing the corporate sphere to go #AllinOnClimate. Prior to ClimateVoice, Bill worked as Google’s Green Energy Czar, and as the Director of Sustainability at Facebook

Host Jon Powers discusses Bill’s past experiences and his current role in working to assemble the corporate sphere to help decarbonize our country. They discuss what is needed to reach our climate goal of keeping warming below 1.5℃, and how the corporate sector is a key player in achieving those goals. 

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Full transcript:

Jon Powers:

Welcome to Experts Only podcast sponsored by Cleaning Capital. You can learn more at cleancapital.com. I’m your host Jon Powers. Each week, we explore the intersection of energy, innovation, and finance with leaders across the industry. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jon Powers:

Welcome back to Experts Only podcast. This is Jon Powers, your host. Today we’re having a really fascinating conversation, and this is a longer than normal episode because we really went deep on a lot of different issues with Bill Weihl, who is the Executive Director of Climate Voice. Bill has had an amazing career starting at computer science at MIT, then you’ll hear more about his story, but he ended up serving as the Green Energy Czar at Google in the heyday at the beginning of Google’s launch into sustainability. Later on, spent six years as the director of Facebook, the director of sustainability at Facebook, and is now leading Climate Voice, really trying to drive an all-in approach to helping to solve the climate crisis we’re facing. Enjoy.

Jon Powers:

Bill, thanks so much for joining us on Experts Only.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah, my pleasure. It’s really, really a delight to be here.

Jon Powers:

So, as we were talking offline, you grew up in Cincinnati. You ended up going to MIT and teaching at MIT. What led you there? What got you interested in computer science?

Bill Weihl:

Yeah. Well, I grew up in Cincinnati, was interested in math and science. In high school, fell into computer science. That just became a natural career path. I was good at it. It was fun. It was really new. I started college in ’75, so most people didn’t know what a computer was. Calculators were new then if you can imagine.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. Steve Jobs is still in his garage, right, putting the Apples together.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah. I think that’s probably right. At the same time, personally, so I grew up Cincinnati. P&G, Proctor and Gamble headquartered there. Air quality in the ’60s and ’70s, really bad. Summer air quality, horrific. I’m sure that my lungs are almost certainly scarred from what I breathed growing up. My mom was a real environmentalist. We composted. We had woods behind our house. We would take kitchen scraps and toss them in a compost pile in the woods. We recycled when it was hard. So I grew up in a family that was about social activism, doing good, caring about the environment. Being surrounded by air population, and litter, and whatever that made us think there was a problem, we need to fix it. But no one really suggested you could make a career out of this.

Bill Weihl:

So I was good at math and science, and I fell onto computer science, and loved it. That’s what I pursued for a long time. I ended up at MIT, ended up getting a PhD, teaching, then coming out West on sabbatical, and staying here for … ever since. I’ve been here since then.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, what was the driver around the sabbatical? Had you been spending time in the Valley, and you got interested in what was going on? How did you decide to go out West?

Bill Weihl:

I was looking for particularly an industrial place, non-academic place to work. I ended up at one of Digital Equipment Corporation’s research labs. It was probably the most academic place in industry you could be at that point, but it was much more connected to Digital’s business than anything I was doing in academia. It was not-

Jon Powers:

This was early ’90s, right, you said?

Bill Weihl:

This is ’94. It was an opportunity to really work with peers much more than was possible in academia where you tend to work with a lot of students and collaborate more loosely with peers. So it was a different environment. I knew a bunch of people there. I think it’s very common. I knew people in a bunch of places at that point, but it’s very common people wind up taking sabbatical at places where there are people they wanted to work with. There were a bunch of people there that I was really interested in working with.

Bill Weihl:

That’s part of what brought me there. My wife also grew up in Berkeley, has a lot of extended family out here. So, that was one of the reasons. She’s saying, “Let’s go to the Bay area.” It’s a nice place to be.

Jon Powers:

Beautiful place to be. Even though for the audience, we’re doing this during the Corona virus stay-at-home position.

Bill Weihl:

Right.

Jon Powers:

It’s definitely a beautiful place.

Bill Weihl:

So fortunately, I have a nice house in San Francisco that we’ve had for a long time. So I feel very privileged to be … I’m not sequestered in a tiny little closet somewhere. But yeah, we’re all stuck at home for who knows how long.

Jon Powers:

So as you transition to industry, what led you into … Obviously you had a personal desire in environmentalism and sustainability. How did you really start to move professionally into that space? What led you? I mean, for the audience that doesn’t know, you ended up at Google as their czar for clean energy. Am I saying that right?

Bill Weihl:

Yep. Yep.

Jon Powers:

How did you go from sabbatical at the West Coast to a position like that?

Bill Weihl:

Well, I ended up staying at that Digital Equipment Corporation lab for five and half years. Then I moved to a startup, Akamai Technologies, actually was a MIT spinoff, but they opened an office out here, so I joined them out here. Was there for a little over five years. I was Chief Architect and then CTO. I’d say in the late ’90s, I was hearing more about climate change, and early 2000s. Early 2000s, we had 911. We had the Afghanistan war. We had the Iraq war, as you know. Not much was happening on climate. I was reading more about it, and getting more and more concerned about it. There were these 3:00AM moments where what I realized in 2003, 2004, when I woke up at 3:00AM and couldn’t go back to sleep, it wasn’t just that I had too many cups of coffee, or there was a screaming kid because we had young kids at that point. That what I was thinking about was not the hard problems that I was wrestling with at work, it was climate change. “Where are we headed? What are we going to do about this? Should I put solar on our house?” We had bought a Prius. That was the pinnacle of clean cars back then. “What else can we do?”

Bill Weihl:

My wife had actually just changed careers. She’d gone back to school and become a nurse practitioner. I had grown up in a … My dad had the same job basically almost his whole life. My mom didn’t have a paid job, but I didn’t have a model for people changing jobs, but watching my wife do it, I think inspired me and gave me the courage to say, “You know, I could do something different. If it doesn’t work, I can go back to what I’ve been doing.” So I decided to see … What I was stewing over in the middle of the night and clearly what my brain wanted to think about was climate. It’s like, “All right. What can I do about it?” So I spent about a year on a self-imposed sabbatical talking to people, going to some conferences, reading, doing an enormous amount of networking, which at the time I would say did not come naturally to me. I got better. So figure out, given that I’m not a material scientist. I’m not a physicist. I’m not a mechanical engineer, but I’ve got deep, broad engineering, scientific expertise, and I’ve got a fair amount of business expertise from my time at Akamai especially. What could I do that would be useful for climate?

Bill Weihl:

I wasn’t a lawyer. I wasn’t a policy wonk. I got a lot of advice, and then I think I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I knew a lot of people at Google, and they were looking for someone, and in mid-2005, starting to look for someone to help them figure out what they could do on climate.

Jon Powers:

Climate sustainability has always been a core there, right? Because a lot of the leadership.

Bill Weihl:

Sustainability, like green buildings, energy efficiency for data centers was really core to what they were doing. But this was 2005. I joined there early 2006. They had one person who had been doing basically the retrofits or remodels of what was the core of their campus in Mountain View. So they were doing a lot on green buildings, and they were beginning to work on, they had plans for putting in 1.6 Megawatts of solar on the roof of the Mountain View campus, which at the time was the largest commercial installation of solar in the country.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, absolutely. Well before, it was probably at the kick start of the industry. That’s really interesting.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah. No. So they were thinking about it. They cared about it, but there wasn’t that much happening there. They hired me with a carter basically, “Figure out what we should do. We want to become neutral. We don’t quite know what that means, but it sounds like the right thing. Get rid of our emissions.” So I joined early ’06, and I love diving into things where it’s not even clear what the goal is, much less how to go about it. That to me is … Once it gets to like, “We understand what we’re doing,” I wouldn’t say I lose interest, but it’s not as exciting.

Jon Powers:

Not as exciting, yeah.

Bill Weihl:

That’s what took me to Google when I spent six years there, and actually they really gave me and my team a platform for doing all kinds of things. I was on the Google.com side. The Google.org was a separate organization, but pretty closely coupled. Dan Riker, Aimee Christensen, a few other people were Google.org working on climate. We collaborated very closely. My team was really the technical arm for Google.org in a way.

Jon Powers:

Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Bill Weihl:

But also managed all the operational, especially clean energy, but a fair amount of broader sustainability work across the company. We did internal R&D on concentrating solar. We invested in early stage companies with some solar and some engineered geothermal, and a couple other things. Makani Power, which is the airborne, medium-, high-altitude wind. Rick Needham then really pioneered the project finance work that Google did. Billions of dollars in project finance.

Jon Powers:

Billions. Yep.

Bill Weihl:

Then my team pioneered basically clean energy purchasing, the PPA work, where we committed to long term PPAs that gave developers the revenue certainty that they needed to get financing.

Jon Powers:

At a time when people couldn’t even spell PPA, really.

Bill Weihl:

Right. Right. I still get blank looks sometimes. It’s a little, more people know what it is now.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, absolutely.

Bill Weihl:

We didn’t know what we were doing. I think the great thing, especially at that time about a company like Google is like, “We’ll figure this out, and we’ll find the consultants, and the experts, and the whatever. You’ll make a few mistakes, and it’s okay.”

Jon Powers:

So this overlaps the American push that really brought a lot of efficiency into the solar market and a lot of capital. As you look into what we’re dealing with today, and opportunities around new infrastructure, I feel like we’re at a place today where it’s not so much about adding an injection into the market anymore, but it’s about making sure there’s stability coming out of this for what has been a pretty booming space overall. Right?

Bill Weihl:

Right. Well, right. With the COVID-19 and the contraction of everything-

Jon Powers:

Everything.

Bill Weihl:

The economy shutting down, it is partly about ensuring survival through this, and then driving growth and recovery after. I think compared to 10 years ago, especially 10 years ago in the depths of the Great Recession, but even just immediately post-recovery, the scale of the green energy industry is much, much larger. It needs to be even bigger. So I got into this space because I was freaked out about climate, and the truth is I still wake up at 3:00AM and going, “Holy crap.” But it’s worse now than it was then.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, I do too. My wife kicks me out of bed at those moments, and said, “Go do what you’ve got to do,” which is usually go write or something.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah. Exactly.

Jon Powers:

Was it in that Google role, or was it later on when you … Next you went to Facebook and played the role of Director of Sustainability. Where along that path did you start getting the advocacy bug? The realization … Clearly you had an understanding of policy, but the realization of the role that it had,

Bill Weihl:

Yeah, I would say at both companies, I was lucky to have the opportunity to dive into a whole bunch of areas that are important for solving the climate problem. From innovation and R&D to venture investing, to project finance and being able to work with Rick Needham and his team, to energy efficiency, to energy purchasing, and a bit on advocacy. At Google, we lobbied for AB32 here in California. We actually were very active in the fight against Prop 23, which was the anti-AB32, the attempt to roll back AB32. Then we weren’t very active in the fight in Washington for Waxman-Markey, and I’d say … I left Google in late 2011, but post-Waxman-Markey and with the rise of the Tea Party, a lot of companies backed off on advocacy, especially at the national level.

Jon Powers:

We couldn’t say climate change around the Pentagon for a while post-Waxman-Markey.

Bill Weihl:

Right. So I think over time, I’ve come to understand all those different elements of what we need to do to solve climate change. I’ve come to understand more and more how important they all are, and especially how important policy is. That if you want to reduce risk for investment, if you want to reduce risk for R&D and investments in innovation, policies that ensure there will be market pull will reduce that risk. What drove investment in wind and solar over the last 20 years? One of the biggest things was RPSs and Feed-in Tarrifs.

Jon Powers:

Absolutely.

Bill Weihl:

Tax credits helped because they reduce that price premium when it was at a premium. Now it’s not so much of a premium. It may even be a savings in some places. But mandates had said this utility is going to have, go back 10 or 15 years, 5% of its energy come from renewable sources. They had to deploy a whole bunch.

Jon Powers:

Absolutely.

Bill Weihl:

Then they could do competitive bidding and push hard to get the best price, but that premium then got spread over the whole rate base. That meant that you could do it in a way that no one paid very much. That drove scale, which drove down costs to the point where now anybody can put solar on their house and probably save money.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, I feel like change is happening. You’ve been at the center of this both with at Google and also at Facebook is now the RPSs really got things moving that the demand side of corporate America and what the asks are from whether they be big tech or even Walmart wanting renewable energy and pushing the policies in the states where they need to go.

Jon Powers:

I lived in Virginia for years. You couldn’t bring a solar panel into Virginia. Dominion Power would throw it out the door. Some big companies came in and said, “We won’t bring our business here unless we can do it,” and all of a sudden, you get some of the largest PPAs ever signed down in that state, and interesting policies now coming in place with the new governor that I think will be, hopefully, game changing there.

Bill Weihl:

I would say that’s one of the biggest things we did with Facebook during my time there. We picked up where Google was on buying clean energy. We really double down on that. We basically started saying, at Google, they wanted to buy clean energy. They’ve actually done a lot of virtual PPAs. They’ve said, “We want to put a data center here. We want to buy clean energy. Oh, we can’t.” For a long time, they’re like, “We’ll put the data center here. We’ll do a virtual PPA 500-miles away, 1,000 miles away.” They’ve begun to shift, but at Facebook, pretty much from day one, we said, “We want clean energy to power it, and we want that energy on the same grid.”

Bill Weihl:

That wasn’t a hard demand at the beginning because we couldn’t make it a hard demand, but it became one over a few years. It was a pretty strong ask. We were really instrumental in scaling the various NGO led initiatives that ultimately came together and became REBA, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, and really pushing utilities and regulators to create green tariffs, and other things that would open up market access. Rather than being, you can buy your energy from the utility, whatever color they sell as long as it’s brown. We want to buy what we want to buy, and let’s have policies that allow us to do that. Maybe that’s sleeved through the utility, maybe it’s going around the utility, maybe it’s from the utility, different structures in different places, but it was really important.

Jon Powers:

Yeah, it’s interesting. If you look back a decade, none of these teams had very … You guys were really developing the sophisticated energy shops. Now they’ve got dedicated energy shops that are doing really amazing things.

Jon Powers:

So let’s jump forward into the advocacy space. So you left Facebook and helped really launch Climate Voice. Can you talk a little about Climate Voice and the vision of the organization? A little bit about the model.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah, well the two elements. The first one is what is it we want and need companies to do? So you talk about Walmart. Walmart, a big part of their strategy has been behind the meter rooftop solar on big box stores. So they’ve been very strong advocates from that metering and other policies, and the ITC to help reduce the cost. Really important. Facebook, very strong advocates for green tariffs and other policies that allow them to buy 100 Megawatts, 200 Megawatts of wind or solar, and on the same grid where they’re putting facility. Other companies, Google similarly had begun pushing for those kinds of things. None of those companies have been particular active in pushing and supporting RPSs, which would help drive much faster scale in the industry, which would help decarbonize an entire grid. So SB 100 here in California, which passed a year and a half ago, mandates accelerated the RPS. I think it’s 60% renewable by, now I’m not sure of the date, 2030 or something.

Jon Powers:

2040.

Bill Weihl:

2035, and 100% zero-carbon by 2045. There were in the end, a bunch of companies that supported it. None of the big tech companies did. A bunch of other big companies in the state that have their own 100% clean energy commitments were silent. They didn’t oppose it. They were silent. In the end, it passed, but it almost failed. The same is true if you look at not just clean energy, electricity policies, but other climate related policies. Our biggest issue these days, given all the progress we’ve made in electricity in the last decade or two, our biggest issue on climate in this country now is transportation.

Jon Powers:

True. Yeah.

Bill Weihl:

Buildings are not far behind. I’m sitting here in my house. We have natural gas for our heat, and hot water, and our clothes drying, and our cooking. There’s no carbon capture machine we can put on those appliances. Maybe someday in 20 or 30 years, directer capture will be scalable and cost effective, and so we could keep burning natural gas here and it would be fine. We don’t have the time to just wait and see if that pans out because if it doesn’t, the risk is enormous. So we need policies that will drive rapid de-carbonization across a range of sectors. The kinds of policies probably are, that are most effective, and they’re politically palatable, I think are going to differ from sector to sector. What makes sense now for electricity, a modest price on carbon, would make a big difference. It would tip the economic balance even faster and cause faster change. At the same time, there are all these legacy fossil fuel plants we just have to get off the grid relatively quickly.

Bill Weihl:

So policies like SP 100 or the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which just passed, I think are not a price on carbon. They’re just, we’re going to mandate clean energy. That’s the outcome we want. We’re going to mandate it, and figure out the exact policies.

Jon Powers:

I feel like you see that in Massachusetts, who is a leader in this now and now is making adjustments with things like the Clean Peak Standard, and trying to figure out how to now tinker with what’s on the ground.

Bill Weihl:

So we know the outcome we want. The outcome is we’ll get the IPCC 1.5 degree report from almost a year and a half ago. To have a decent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees of warming, we need to cut emissions basically in half by 2030, and to net zero by 2050, and probably go net negative after. I like to focus on the 2030 goal because it really clarifies some of the most important things we need to do now.

Jon Powers:

Right now. Yeah.

Bill Weihl:

As opposed to, “Well, we need innovation.” We do need innovation. We’re going to need carbon capture. Absolutely. It’s not going do much for us in scale for 15 or 20 years probably. Maybe it will, but we can’t count on it. So to cut emissions in half by 2030, we need to deploy wind, solar storage much faster. We need to get fossil fuels out of buildings. Not 100% by 2030, but a lot. We certainly need to stop building more buildings full of fossil fuel infrastructure. We need to start to shift our transportation infrastructure rapidly to zero carbon. More transit, transit friendly development, EVs, EV charging infrastructure, and so on. Some of that, the markets will do a lot. Policy is needed to make it happen fast enough.

Jon Powers:

It doesn’t help when you have an administration that backs away from some of the progress we made.

Bill Weihl:

That’s right. There is a lot of progress that’s been happening at the state level, like the Virginia bill, there’s a bill in the legislature in Illinois right now, like on the East Coast, there’s the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which is a cap and invest program for transportation emissions, much like Reggie … It’s basically Reggie for transportation.

Bill Weihl:

So our observation, I’d say our starting point is we need to decarbonize rapidly. A huge part of the problem, the reason why we’re not moving fast enough is the lack of policy. It would be great to have national policy. That’s probably not going to happen super soon. Maybe in a year or two. Maybe. What happens in November, but there’s a lot happening at the state level in a number of states. So we want to push progress where progress is remotely possible. You’ve got companies, we were talking about this before, a lot of companies say, “Well, our business is about innovation, so we’re going to focus on innovate.” That’s kind of what happened at Google. When I joined Google in 2006, honestly, we still needed an enormous amount of innovation. We embarked on this moonshot with [R. E. West like this project. Renewable energy, cheaper than coal. That was our goal. We didn’t think we’d … Well, maybe we did, but our goal was drive progress much faster than has happened. I think we helped do that a bit. In truth, the wind and solar industries got there. That was a moonshot. We’re there.

Jon Powers:

We’re there.

Bill Weihl:

Wind and solar are cheaper than coal. Now that we’ve landed on that moon, now it’s time to actually develop it. There’s some moonshots we need, like direct air capture, like even cheaper storage, long term storage, green cement, zero-carbon cement and steel, and other things. There are a bunch of things we don’t know how to do well today that we still need to innovate on, but we’ve landed on some moons that we know need to terraform and to get a little too dirty and exploit.

Jon Powers:

We’re living and breathing that every day trying to support developers that are putting deals on the ground because you know they can fence allowed. Now it’s making sure they’re right, whether it be permitting or … It’s a lot of minutiae, but it’s really important minutiae.

Bill Weihl:

Right. We see with a lot of companies is they have what they think of as their superpower. They’re innovators, or they use a lot of energy, so they can use their power in the market, which Google and Facebook, and now a couple hundred companies are doing with REBA and so on. But they tend to stop there.

Jon Powers:

Are you pretty involved with REBA? I know Miranda pretty well.

Bill Weihl:

Not so much these days. I was very involved for four or five years.

Jon Powers:

Oh, that’s great.

Bill Weihl:

A little bit. Not closely involved now. But they tend to stop there. I think that may have made sense 10 years ago, or five years ago, for a company to say, “This is what we’re really good at. We’re going to do this. But this other stuff, policy or transportation stuff, we’re not a transportation company, so we’re not going to worry about that. That’s not our thing.” Now, what we want with Climate Voice is for companies to go all-in on climate.

Jon Powers:

I love it.

Bill Weihl:

So every decision they make, every action they take, one of the lenses they should evaluate it through is what is its impact on climate? That means in their supply chain, choice of suppliers, and designing products in their operations, building buildings and factories and data centers and whatever, sourcing energy, in the benefits they offer. Are there ESG-screened fossil free funds in their portfolio? Almost all companies, the answer is no. In how their products are used. Do they actively market their products and services in ways that actually increase emissions? That’s true for a lot of the companies that are real leaders in climate. They may be doing good things with their products. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s bad for the climate that’s happening.

Bill Weihl:

Then especially in the use of their voice and influence in advocacy. Most companies do that very narrowly for the policies that will benefit them. “We do rooftop solar; we want net metering.” “We do PPAs; we want green tariffs. But we don’t support clean car scans, or ZEB mandates, or 100% clean energy mandate in the state, or in many cases even a price on carbon. A lot of companies still aren’t even supporting that. I think we need a price on carbon. It is not the only policy we need, but we do need it, nationally, in various states. Oregon’s been trying to pass climate legislation and the republican legislators keep leaving the state so they can’t even.

Jon Powers:

Right. Right. It’s crazy. It’s a crazy situation.

Bill Weihl:

Where are the big companies in Oregon that are all about climate action? Why aren’t they talking to those republican legislators and saying, “Look, we can’t keep investing in this state if you guys don’t get your act together.” Same thing in Washington with the carbon tax that’s been on, two versions of it were on the ballot a year and a half ago, and I think three and half years ago, which failed. A few companies supported it, not many. The oil companies poured millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat Initiative 1631 a year ago. So we want companies to go all-in. They can A, when they are advocating when they are doing political contributions, super packs, direct political contributions, whatever. Those should be aligned with a 1.5 degree future. B, if they’re staying silent, they should be asking, “If we’re silent on this policy, and either it’s a bad climate policy …” It’s the coal and nuclear bailout in Ohio, for example. “If we’re silent, and it passes, what’s the impact on climate? If we’re silent, it’s a good climate policy …” the Virginia bill or SB 350 here in California a few years ago, where the transportation piece vanished because the oil companies lobbied against it. “If we’re silent and it fails, what’s the impact on climate?”

Bill Weihl:

The answer is it’s not consistent with moving us onto a de-carbonization pathway that we need to be on, then we should think hard about, “Maybe we should support it, or oppose it if it’s a bad one.” Today, most companies are simply saying, “You know what. It’s not our core business. We’re going to stay silent because we see risk if we speak up. We see zero risk if we stay silent.”

Jon Powers:

And you get an aging of … Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Bill Weihl:

Our ask is you’ve got to be all-in. The time for picking and choosing where you’re going to lead is over. The micro leadership has gone up, and if you care about climate then you’ve got to care about climate on everything you do.

Jon Powers:

I love it. I love it. You guys are engaging a lot of the employees, right? And push the companies-

Bill Weihl:

So that’s our model is we want to mobilize, ultimately, hundreds of thousands of current workers and future workers to encourage push whatever their companies, the ones they work at now, or the ones they might work at, and the ones that want to hire them to support pro-climate policies and oppose anti-climate policies, and to do that publicly and to do that with intensity. You can’t just issue a statement and we’re done. They’ve got to really get in there and do it.

Jon Powers:

Get to the heart of it, yeah.

Bill Weihl:

It’s climate. It’s not just energy or electricity. It’s not just the ones that affect their operations. It’s climate.

Jon Powers:

It’s interesting because I feel … First of all, folks should go to climatevoice.org, and sign the pledge, and push their companies forward as someone who just signed it this morning when I got on there. It’s definitely worth doing, and it’s those voices in the business sector that’ll make a significant difference at your state capitals, but also in Washington DC where, and you can take it purely out of the hands of the environmentalists that they hear from a lot and bring the business voice to the table. It does make a significant difference, but they need to be pushed to move ahead.

Jon Powers:

It’s interesting. We live this every day. It’s been my career post the military. My wife and I still talk about the fact that people just don’t always know what to do. They have those 3:00AM moments, and they want to get involved, but they just don’t know how to act. They may recycle. We compost. We do the things we want to do, but still.

Bill Weihl:

We’ve got LED bulbs. Right.

Jon Powers:

But how do we do more? I think this is a really great way to get folks to do more.

Bill Weihl:

I think that’s exactly right, and has certainly been my own personal frustration. Starting 15 plus years ago, and then still feeling like we collectively aren’t doing enough. I’m doing what I am, but at each point in my career over the last 15 plus years have been driven to, “Well, not enough is happening. What can I do that would help more happen?” That was the move to Google. That was the move then to Facebook. That was the decision to leave Facebook and found Climate Voice to try to figure out how can we empower people to actually drive change?

Bill Weihl:

It really is, I like to think of it as the improv approach to climate. It’s like, yeah, absolutely buy an electric car, and actually when it’s safe enough to get on a bus with a lot of other people, when the epidemic has subsided, take transit, or walk, or ride a bike, or whatever. But eliminate carbon from your life as much as you can. So do all of that. Travel less. Eat less meat, et cetera, et cetera.

Bill Weihl:

So yeah, that stuff is important. It doesn’t get us all the way there. So yes do that, and push your employer to do more in its operations, and push your employer to be all-in and use its voice for advocacy. In the end, climate is a massive, complicated systems problem. We’re not going to get the systemic change we need at the rate we need it by a bunch of scattershot voluntary actions. We need all of that. We actually need it to be less scattershot and more of it, but we also need the policies that will guide the whole market, the whole economy onto that de-carbonization route.

Bill Weihl:

I think the thing that people, the expectation for companies in the last decade for leadership has been decarbonize your operations. That’s been the bar for leadership, and it’s been real leadership. We need to raise the bar, and it needs to be you’re all-in. Companies have a lot of influence on policy.

Jon Powers:

Significant.

Bill Weihl:

They exercise it when it matters to their operations, to their businesses. They tend to be silent otherwise. That silence is a choice. It’s not neutrality. It allows the fossil fuel industry to be the dominant business voice in most of these policy battles, debates, whatever you want to call them. Which means they win most of the time. That’s, I think, a major reason why policy progress is too slow. We can change that. To do it, we need to give companies the motivation, and I think this is where individuals have a lot more power to influence companies than they might realize they do. The Amazon employees who have been very vocal and very active in the last now almost two years, year and a half to two years, I think really pushed Amazon to step up their corporate commitments on climate.

Jon Powers:

Significantly.

Bill Weihl:

A lot.

Jon Powers:

Jeff Bezos got a personal check, right, for $10 billion or something.

Bill Weihl:

Right. We’ll see what he actually spends the money on, but that’s a huge commitment. The company itself has made much bigger commitments than they made before. I think that is because employees spoke up.

Bill Weihl:

We saw this happen with LGBT rights in the last decade, decade plus. Companies were acting in their operations. Ten years ago, hundreds of companies were offering equal benefits to employees in domestic partnerships, had internal policies banning discrimination in hiring and who they serve. They were silent on public policy. Over the last decade, they’ve become much more vocal on marriage equality at the state and federal level, on the religious Freedom Act in Indiana, where they helped get that discriminatory law-

Jon Powers:

Absolutely.

Bill Weihl:

Not struck down, or repealed, but the worst parts were undone. The Bathroom Bill in North Carolina, same thing. They helped stop a similar bathroom bill in Texas, stopped it completely. They did that because employees spoke up and because they knew that college students cared, and that if they stayed silent, there was a very clear threat from the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations that they would be painted on college campuses as complicit with these old, backward looking, discriminatory policy.

Jon Powers:

Absolutely.

Bill Weihl:

To them, that was too much of a risk. That was enough to make, there to be benefit from speaking up and risk from not that for many of them tipped the balance. So we’re trying to create the same, we are creating the same dynamic on climate, where companies that speak up that really go all-in on climate will see a big competitive advantage for recruiting and retention over companies that stay silent.

Jon Powers:

I couldn’t agree with you more. I will share with you a piece I recently wrote called From Greta to the Boardroom basically arguing that 2019 Greta set the world on fire around the cultural change, but so much is happening in the boardroom, and so much more has to happen to really drive this. Well, Bill-

Bill Weihl:

That’s the, I think Greta said, “I don’t want your nice words. I want action.” The only way to get action is not from more nice statements from companies.

Jon Powers:

Exactly.

Bill Weihl:

We need action from them, actually putting resources … Big companies, hire five climate experts and policy experts, and put them to work putting your influence and lobbying muscle behind climate policy. Five employees for a gigantic company. It’s a drop in the bucket. So it’s a choice, and right now, they’re choice is, “We see risk. We’re going to stay silent.” We want them to make a different choice, and what we’re doing with Climate Voice, you mentioned the pledge, so people go to climatevoice.org and sign the pledge. Then we have several petitions that they can sign. The pledge is basically a commitment that you’re going to work, and we will help you, work to hold companies accountable for being all-in, especially on policy but also on other things. It’s not just … We don’t want companies to just make some broad general statement about “We support climate policy.” Thousands of them support the Paris Agreement, but in the end, it’s about specific policies, as you said, the wonky details in this jurisdiction about what policies either help or hinder moving us to a zero-carbon future. Companies need to get in there and support those specific policies, not just generally say, “We support climate action, and the Paris Agreement. We don’t really like that policy, and we don’t really like that one, and we actually, we don’t like that either.” You can’t dislike or be silent on all of them. You actually need to support.

Jon Powers:

Exactly. Bill, thank you, and thank you for what you guys are doing. The timing couldn’t be any more important than it is right now. I would challenge all of our listeners to go to climatevoice.org. We’ll link to it from the Clean Capital website. Bill, I ask the same ending question to all my guests, and if you could go back to visit yourself in Cincinnati getting ready to head off to college, or even coming out of college, what piece of career advice would you give yourself?

Bill Weihl:

I mean, I was an activist of the sort in high school and college. I continued for years until I actually became much more of a professional activist. No one suggested to me that I could align my career choice with the issues I cared about.

Jon Powers:

How interesting. Yeah.

Bill Weihl:

It didn’t occur to me. That’s on me, and I think partly … I grew up in a, I would say maybe at the time centrist, politically socially liberal, but generally not super, not hardcore activists community. So it didn’t occur to me that really driving some progress on some social issue was a career. I thought of my career and social change issues as separate, and today they’re not. That really was a transition I began to make 15 years ago, and I think really have made it even … Each step over the last 15 years has driven that. I think in retrospect, honestly, I’m really happy with and feel very lucky about how my career has played out. I think what I learned and the experience I gained, and the perspectives I’ve gotten in all the different phases is allowing me to do things today that if I had gone straight into environmental activism 30, 40 years ago, I might not be able to do what I’m doing today. So I don’t regret it, but it wasn’t a conscious choice, and I think that if I were giving people advice today, it would be, “There are things you care about. There are things intellectually that grab you, and you like working on, and you’re good at. Think hard about how you can marry those, and how your career can support making progress on the issues you care about.”

Jon Powers:

Well, Bill, thank you. That’s amazing. Thanks for the time today. I really appreciate it.

Bill Weihl:

Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity, and as you said, people can go to climatevoice.org. They can sign our pledge. They can sign our petitions. We’ll have more over time because there’s no shortage of issues to hold companies accountable on, and no shortage of things to make progress on. Then please, everybody, tell your friends. Get them to sign up. Companies need to understand how many people care about this, and how urgent it is.

Jon Powers:

Yeah. Spread the word. Share the pledge on social media. I want to thank the team at Climate Voice for helping to put this together, and thank our producer, Carly Battin, for her hard work as always. You can always get more episodes at cleancapital.com. As always, I look forward to continuing the conversation. Thanks.

Jon Powers:

Thanks for listening to today’s conversation. Find more episodes on cleancapital.com, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and leave us a five star review. We look forward to continuing our conversation on energy, innovation, and finance with you.