By David Gardiner, Principal and President

Twenty years ago this week, and two days after President George W. Bush was sworn into office, I started David Gardiner and Associates in my basement office. I can distinctly remember sitting at my desk that first morning, staring at my phone and computer, and feeling nothing but terror as I pondered how to build a business where I could continue tackling the climate challenge. The early days did not offer much hope, as the new President rejected the Kyoto Protocol and virtually all other measures to move forward. But I look back at DGA’s first 20 years and see three important lessons worthy of celebration. They make me very optimistic about the future prospects for the scale and speed of climate action which the crisis demands.

Lesson #1: Collaboration creates impact. The most important lesson of DGA’s first 20 years has been the incredible opportunity to work with DGA staff, clients, consultants, and partners. Without these colleagues, none of our work and progress on climate and clean energy would have been possible. But collaborating with others not only creates impact, but also makes the journey fun and rewarding. To help demonstrate the power of collaboration, I mention a few specific people and organizations in the next few paragraphs. And to all of you who have worked with DGA over the past two decades, I say a loud and extended “Thank You.”

Lesson #2: Focus on large-scale carbon opportunities that aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Over the past 20 years, DGA has focused on technologies with big carbon reduction potential but which weren’t getting the attention they need from policy makers and key market players. Our job has been to make these and other technology solutions compelling and workable, even as they may be new, unsexy, or complex. Here are two examples:

  • Energy Efficiency: Over a 10-year period, we helped the Edwards Mother Earth Foundation, a small family foundation based in Seattle, design and implement an energy efficiency program which saved households and businesses at least $7.7 billion, all while avoiding more than 89 million tons of CO2 (equal to what 22 typical coal-fired power plants would emit in a year). Similarly, our work for the Combined Heat and Power Alliance, the national voice for the CHP industry, has led to important policy victories including extending the federal tax credit and other new incentives. Expanding CHP by 25% by 2030 would reduce annual CO2 emissions by an amount equal to six coal-fired power plants while saving businesses more than $70 billion.
  • Transmission: Long distance transmission can bring wind and solar from rural areas in the middle of the U.S. where it’s produced to urban areas where it is used. We’ve been helping Americans for a Clean Energy Grid educate policy makers and others about how an expanded and modernized grid can save consumers more than $100 billion while reducing electric sector CO2 emissions by 95% by 2050.

Lesson #3: The intersection of business and the climate community is a powerful lever for change. The rapid growth in the business and investor communities’ commitment to tackling climate change is one of the most important trends of DGA’s first 20 years and we can see the actual and potential ability for this to make a huge impact in markets and on policy. Here are a few examples of key points:

  • Let’s Engage New Climate Allies and Voices: In DGA’s early years, we helped Ceres create its investor network focused on climate risk, which has grown to include more than 175 institutional investors who manage more than $29 trillion in assets, exactly the sort of financial engagement and clout we need to address climate change. We also helped create its Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), which brought a new voice to climate policy debates, such as Levi Strauss and Nike, who were already seeing the impact of climate change in their supply chains.
  • New Voices Can Drive Bipartisan Action: As Fortune 500 companies stepped up purchases of wind and solar electricity, we worked with the companies to knock down barriers thrown up by power companies and state policy makers who were preventing them from accessing those resources. These efforts have succeeded in many conservative states, including Arkansas, Georgia, and North and South Carolina, making me believe that climate progress is possible even when our country is deeply divided.
  • New Partnerships Can Seize Future Opportunities: With the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), DGA created and runs the Renewable Thermal Collaborative, an alliance of large manufacturers such as Cargill, Mars, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, which aims to tackle one of world’s most vexing climate problems – decarbonizing the heat used in factories – by accelerating renewable thermal technologies such as solar, electrification, and hydrogen. This rapidly growing collaboration of businesses, environmental groups, governments, and other non-profits aims to tackle the thermal challenge not only in the U.S. but around the globe. Just as we have seen the development of renewable electricity, we aim to build markets and advocate for policy to help drive forward a solution on industrial heat, the source of about 10% of all global carbon emissions.

These lessons from DGA’s first twenty years make me very optimistic about our ability to make rapid progress. President Biden’s early actions on climate change indicate his administration will play a significant role, but the key to future success is expanding collaboration, a focus on under-recognized technologies and issues, and the increasing engagement of businesses committed to solving climate change. I look forward to working with all of you to seize these opportunities and making further progress!