Roger Ballentine, a former White House chairperson and popular environment speaker, sat down in this exciting interview to reflect on his career in sustainability, discuss his business sustainability consulting firm, Green Strategies, and celebrate his proudest professional and personal achievements.
In your position as the former Chairman of the White House Climate Change task force, what were the lessons you learned?
“I learned so much! It was an absolute trial by fire, needing to learn the science, learn economics, learn about the technologies. I learned so much, but what I love about my job is I get to learn new things every single day.
“But it was really a trial by fire. It was also a tremendous privilege and honour and responsibility to oversee this issue across the Federal Government. At times, it was very frustrating and part of it was, you know, this is 1998, 1999, 2000…
“I should go back to the inspiration and give some credit where credit is due, and that’s to President Bill Clinton, who himself passionately believed that dealing with climate change was a nearly unprecedented economic opportunity – if we seized it and did it right. I said to him when I was leaving the White House: ‘your vision there is going to be my career’.”
What inspired you to create Green Strategies?
“This was back in the late 1990s, the end of Bill Clinton’s second term as President. I had spent that second term working on clean energy and climate change in the White House.
“At that time, the opposing party [Republican Party] controlled the Congress. Frankly, a lot of Democrats were very hesitant to make any policy measures of significance to address climate change. I found that frustrating. We are making progress, but it’s been really, really slow and it was just not how I wanted to spend my career.
“The other thing I could have done is work in the environmental community. But it would have been kind of the same thing for the most part, I would have been on the outside pushing for this policy change.
“When I was in the White House, I had two different external-facing responsibilities. One, to deal with the environmental community and stakeholders; I learned a lot from them, and I recognised the critical role they play in bringing about the type of change that we’re going to need for the environment.
“I also dealt with the business community. A lot of that was just businesses coming in and telling us, ‘Don’t do this, can’t do that, it’s too expensive.’ But there were some who were looking at this differently.
“I found private sector players who wanted to proactively do something to reduce emissions and address climate change. The very nature of the private sector as opposed to the government means that could happen a lot faster.
“What inspired me to create Green Strategies was, ‘how do you get companies to do that?’ Some were getting it, others weren’t. And to me, what you needed to do was make a business case. You needed to show that sustainability and dealing with climate change was both good for business and made you a better company.
“Green Solutions was one of the first consulting firms to put our flag down in that space, and here we are, 21 years later and it’s very, very different. So, the inspiration was, ‘how do you leverage the power of the private sector to do good?’ And you do that by actually convincing them that they also can do well.”
What is your proudest personal or professional achievement?
“Well, personally, it’s raising two beautiful, smart, compassionate daughters – that’s number one.
“Professionally, a lot of things. I became the top climate adviser to the President of the United States; that’s quite an achievement! It was a privilege and an opportunity; a lot of fortunate things fell in line to make that happen. I get up every day [and I am] energised about what I do because I believe it makes a difference.”