The Future of Energy

Power Q&A: Christina Page

Yahoo's first director of climate and energy strategy explains the green screen in the cafeteria and how the company achieved carbon neutrality last year.

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 2:00 AM EDT

Mother Jones: What do you do as director of climate and energy strategy at Yahoo?

Christina Page: This is a new position. Yahoo committed to being carbon neutral by the end of 2007, so they hired me to manage the program, and that involves a bunch of different things. First and foremost, it involves looking for opportunities around energy efficiency and increased sustainability throughout the operation. It also includes measuring our footprint, using the WRI [World Resources Institute] greenhouse gas protocol to look at our facilities globally, our air travel globally, and our employee commuting globally, and find ways to mitigate that, the footprint that we've got. So that's my job—sort of the carbon bean counter in terms of where our impact is and where the leverage points are.

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I'm also in charge of purchasing carbon offsets against the remainder of our footprint, which is how we achieved carbon neutrality over the last year. We reviewed a bunch of carbon offsets last year, and we reviewed over 100 projects and selected some that were most applicable to what we are trying to do.

MJ: So the company did meet the goal of being carbon neutral by the end of 2007?

CP: We did. We worked with two companies to purchase offsets from wind energy in India, and we also purchased offsets from two small-scale locally run hydropower projects in western Brazil.

MJ: What do you think is the most promising new energy source?

CP: I think the most promising new energy source isn't new, and it isn't a source. It is energy efficiency. We still have a lot of low-hanging fruit—what Amory Lovins refers to as the negawatt. The most efficient thing you can do by far is reduce demand for energy. Coming up with a supply of new, cleaner, efficient energy sources is really important, but fundamentally on the demand side there's plenty left for us to do. And that is really an important thing for a place like Yahoo, which doesn't run large energy plants and doesn't have large manufacturing.

MJ: So what would you say is the most overhyped new energy source?

CP: I think it is the notion that any one technology is a silver bullet. That we are going to get where we need to go just by one sexy new technology that you can put on the cover of a magazine. It is going to be a bunch of different options, a bunch of different tools being used in combination with one another, that is really going to help us combat the problem of climate change.

MJ: If you had $1 million to invest—and you probably do in your position—where would you invest it in the renewable-energy sector?

CP: What we are really focusing on as a company is where across our operations we can find the best leverage point. I work with our 250-person Yahoo green team, which is all volunteers throughout the company, and together we look for ways across the company to improve our efficiency and new ways to reduce our footprint. We just installed something called a green screen, which is an energy-monitoring device. There is a touch screen in our cafeteria that employees can actually see online that gives you real-time information about the energy consumption building by building on campus. [That way] you can see how your building is doing versus how your buddy's building is doing over the last month or the last three hours.

The other huge leverage point for us is our 500 million users. We've got a huge Internet presence, so one of the things that's important to us is that, by virtue of our carbon-neutral program and our green practices, we have a foundation of credibility with our users. We want to use that to encourage, educate, and inspire them to take action themselves.

MJ: What, in your opinion, would it take for renewable energy to become fully embedded in the mainstream?

CP: You know, I think we're at an inflection point right now. What you are starting to see is people measuring and taking into account carbon greenhouse gases as part of the cost of energy. That's an important step. Fundamentally, since I was an undergraduate, economists have been talking about internalizing external costs, and that's effectively what keeping track of the cost of carbon in fossil fuels is doing. It is effectively internalizing external costs and making us think, "Okay, what is the actual nonhypothetical impact?" I think that goes a long way. The other thing that is helping is that big organizations are starting to see the risk inherent in climate change. Like Yahoo is saying, "All right, what is our total footprint, what does it take to achieve carbon neutrality, how does that manifests itself across our operation?"

MJ: So when you talk about risk, is there an immediate risk for a company like Yahoo, or is that a liability risk?

CP: We are a global company; we are in the business of global connectivity. When we think about risk we think about risk to the entire planet. One of the things that an economist from the World Bank said is that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around. So when we think of risk, we think of risk on a global level of climate change. One of the things that we have invested in as part of our offset purchase from the last year is offsets from alternative energy in countries like India. We have a presence in India. India is really at a crossroads right now in terms of its electricity demands. It's growing, it's heavily coal based, and it is the fifth most carbon-intensive electricity on the planet. So what we are trying to do via the offsets that we purchased there last year is influence and encourage the development of clean energy.

MJ: Why do you think there is so much interest in climate change and energy strategy in Silicon Valley?

CP: Just as far as Yahoo is concerned, we are a global company. We are used to thinking about things on a global level because, even though our potential influence on our 500 million users far exceeds our physical presence, we are not a great big real estate owner or manufacturing facility. In terms of Silicon Valley in general, it is a place of innovation, where people like to think about technological things, about the next big thing, the next inspirational innovation, and rapid change. It's something that intuitively is going to appeal to people here and folks here really like a challenge—and a big one.

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