Winds of Change: Davos Speaks

In the course of the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland, some of the far-reaching goals of wind energy were aired on the world stage involving many of the key players in the renewable industry.

Late last month, thousands of political and business titans, academics, and assorted other honchos, thought-leaders, and change-makers came to the tony Swiss ski resort of Davos mostly to network, but also to partake in an ambitious agenda. Turns out, the annual WEF conference had published a Global Risks report earlier in January that identified a list of things, 37 in all, on their crisis prevention docket. Not surprisingly, climate change was high among them, right there with burgeoning government debt, economic disparity, and geopolitical tensions. The somber theme of the four-day power gathering, “Shared Norms for the New Reality,” acknowledged that global recovery needed to “transcend growing differences across generations, stakeholders, and geographies in a multi-polar world.”

Time, the Scarcest of Resources

In the heady atmosphere (and altitude) of the annual Alpine networking enclave, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about a new platform called LEAD created by his United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative. Meaning to emphasize the importance of business proactively helping to deal with global threats like climate change, among others, it reached out to company execs in attendance to develop plans for greater corporate sustainability. “By working together, we can leverage our respective strengths to address the toughest problems of our time,” he said.

It was in a similar spirit that the Secretary-General, who has made no secret of the fact that climate change is a personal priority, introduced the new WindMade™ initiative at a separate Davos press briefing. The U.N. Global Compact is one of the program’s seven founding partners, and it marks the first time the United Nations has endorsed a global trustmark or consumer energy label, lending gravitas to the fledgling initiative.

As policy makers continue to be challenged in moving the climate change agenda forward, it’s seemingly become the charge of business to take the lead to encourage consumers to make more environmentally friendly purchasing choices. And the transparency of the new WindMade label will help to ID wind-powered products for consumers sometime in the near future.

Mr. Ban acknowledged the Danish wind market leader responsible for brainstorming the innovative program, Vestas Wind Systems. Earlier last month, Vestas and its CEO Ditlev Engel were honored with the world’s most prestigious energy award in Abu Dhabi, the Zayed Future Energy Prize. Mr. Ban made a point of telling the audience how Engel accepted the distinction by sharing half of the $1.5 million prize money with the runners up. (To date, industry pioneer Vestas, the only global wind power plant producer, has built more than 41,000 wind turbines in sixty-five countries in the thirty years it has been operating.)

What’s the Big Idea?

Complementing the U.N. Secretary General’s announcement, another wind energy huddle on Davos’ satellite agenda took place. A WindMade-dedicated panel discussion included many of the new initiative’s formidable founding partners: Vestas CEO Engel, Global Wind Energy Council Secretary General Steve Sawyer, Director General of WWF International Jim Leape, U.N. Global Compact’s Executive Director Georg Kell, Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO Michael Liebreich, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Senior Partner and Chairman Robert Moritz. (While not actively involved in the lively panel exchange, LEGO, also a WindMade founding partner, made its presence known by gifting attendees with miniature wind turbines, a new toy that the Scandinavian manufacturer recently added to its educational line.)

Of the vision behind what he labeled a movement, Ditlev Engel said his hope was “to get consumers involved to ‘vote’ [with their purchasing choices] every single day on how a product is being made. If you want to change the energy in the world, this is about a revolution,” he urged, requiring “fundamental changes.” About the WindMade scheme, Georg Kell conceded it was “an experiment, but a calculated experiment.”

He described Team WindMade as “a constellation that speaks for itself. What we have here is business, business associations, civil society not-for-profit, and the public-private sector—one of the future constellations necessary to make change happen.” Having been with the U.N. for as long as he has, Kell added, “it’s very frustrating to see that the absence of political will to think long-term is what’s holding us back. And nurturing this bottom-up change mechanism is key. And that’s a very exciting thing for all of us.”

Political Juggernaut.

Steve Sawyer with GWEC, the wind energy trade association, has been engaged in climate negotiations for twenty years, and was candid. “We haven’t seen much political leadership during that time. The fossil fuel industry tried to get involved to make sure nothing happened.” But, he added, “That has changed dramatically, thanks to efforts of organizations like the U.N. Global Compact and others. We see very positive input from a significant sector of the business community, along with a huge public awareness. And we see [WindMade] as a fantastic opportunity to give politicians the courage they need to do the right thing.”

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The WWF, perhaps better known for saving endangered pandas and tigers, has also worked on climate change for the last quarter of a century. According to its director general Jim Leape, the WWF explains its endorsement of the new wind energy initiative based on the fact that “the biggest single threat to all life on earth is the change in climate.” The WWF has also helped to successfully foster other environmental labels, and says Leape, “these tools are making a difference in their sectors.” WindMade has the same potential, he said, “allowing companies and consumers to drive sustainability into the marketplace. We will only meet the climate challenge if the economy of the future is based on renewable energy.”

Not Easy Being Green.

Leape admitted to the challenges of the certification process that lie ahead for WindMade: “It’s not easy to build a label that will be credible. Consumers and companies need to have confidence that they know what they’re getting and that they’re making a difference by favoring those products.” Robert Moritz of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accounting firm, the official verification partner and lead advisor for WindMade, concurred. “The challenge here is that as you bring various stakeholders together—the consumers, the business community, and the public-private sector—you make sure that all parties are engaged in that process so the standard is not questioned. And the next thing relevant to the certification process is [knowing] how to make it simple and easy enough so businesses can jump into this.”

The WindMade group said that for the next few months it will be dedicated to developing the transparent standards under which a product could actually qualify for the new consumer label. With that part of the process being overseen by PwC, hopes are high that the blue WindMade label will be in the marketplace before the year is out and, before too long, a ubiquitous logo will make its presence known worldwide.

The ongoing Daily Beast wind energy series continues next week.