Awards FAQ

Program Basics

What are the Climate Leadership Awards?

The Climate Leadership Awards program recognizes and incentivizes exemplary corporate, organizational, and individual leadership in response to climate change. By showcasing and recognizing voluntary action on climate and energy under a unified banner, C2ES and TCR are sending a strong signal that innovative and sustainable leadership in reducing GHG emissions and enhancing resilience are critical to addressing climate change. The U.S. EPA was a founding partner and sponsor of the awards program from 2012 until August 2017.

Awards Criteria

What categories are recognized within the Climate Leadership Awards program?

  • Organizational Leadership Awards (Large and Midsize)
    Recognizes organizations that not only have their own comprehensive greenhouse gas inventories and aggressive emissions reduction goals, but also exemplify extraordinary leadership in their internal response to climate change, and engagement of their peers, partners, and supply chain.
  • Individual Leadership Award
    Recognizes individuals exemplifying extraordinary leadership in leading their organizations’ response to climate change and through engagement of their peers and partners.
  • Supply Chain Leadership Award
    Recognizes organizations that have comprehensive GHG inventories and aggressive emissions reduction goals and also demonstrate they are at the leading edge of managing GHGs in their organizational supply chains.
  • Excellence in Greenhouse Gas Management (Goal Setting Certificate)
    Recognizes organizations that publicly report and verify organization-wide greenhouse gas inventories and publicly set aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
  • Excellence in Greenhouse Gas Management (Goal Achievement Award)
    Recognizes organizations that publicly report and verify organization-wide greenhouse gas inventories and achieve publicly-set aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
  • Innovative Partnership Certificate
    Recognizes organizations working collaboratively on leading edge climate initiatives. Partnerships have collectively established objectives to measurably address greenhouse gas reduction goals and/or adaptation and resilience activities.

Who is eligible to be recognized by this awards program?

For most categories, with the exception of Innovative Partnerships and Organizational Leadership (Midsize), the eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Legally-recognized corporate organizations with annual revenue over $100 million 
  • Governmental entities or academic organizations with annual budgets over $100 million
  • Applicants must have significant operations in the United States, although the majority of GHG emissions reductions do not have to occur in the United States. 

For the Individual Leadership category, applicants’ employers must meet the above criteria and must also work and reside in the United States.

For the Organizational Leadership Award (Midsize), the eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Legally recognized corporate organizations with annual revenue over $10 million and at least 100 employees
  • Governmental entities or academic organizations with annual budget over $10 million and at least 100 employees
  • Applicants must have significant operations in the United States, although the majority of GHG emissions reductions do not have to occur in the United States. 

Please refer to the Innovative Partnerships webpage and application for a complete list of eligibility requirements for that award category.

Why is there a threshold of $100 million in revenues for corporate entities, and of $100 million in the budget for governmental entities and academic organizations?

While all actions taken to reduce GHG emissions and enhance climate resilience are important, these awards focus on motivating and recognizing those organizations that may yield the largest impacts through their efforts. A threshold was also implemented to ensure that volunteer expert review panels would be able to provide an adequate evaluation of each application.

Why was the Organizational Leadership Award (Midsize) category created, and how were the thresholds determined?

Given the urgency of acting on climate change, and the fact that all organizations must take appropriate action, the Organizational Leadership Award – Midsize category was added to the 2021 Climate Leadership Award program. Midsize organizations must have at least 100 employees, consistent with the medium-sized business classification in the United States, Canada, and other jurisdictions. The minimum revenue or budget threshold was lowered to $10 million annually to broaden the pool of eligible applicants and be more inclusive of entities with fewer resources and less capital but who demonstrate ambitious climate leadership. 

Can an applicant/award winner reapply every year?

If an organization is recognized in a particular category, that organization may not re-apply for that award for two years. (Example: If company A receives an Organizational Leadership Award in 2019, the company would not be able to apply for the Organizational Leadership Award again until the 2022 awards). An applicant who applied for a given category during the previous year but did not receive recognition in that category may re-apply for the same award. An organization that receives recognition in one category may apply for a different category the following year. Also, award applicants cannot be recognized twice for the same action or activities.

Can an applicant apply for more than one award?

As long as an organization follows the direction as outlined in the aforementioned paragraph, an organization can apply for multiple awards in the same year.

GHG Goal Criteria

What constitutes an aggressive GHG reduction goal?

Applicants are expected to demonstrate that their goals are sufficiently aggressive and beyond business as usual in the applicant’s sector.

  • The geographic boundaries of the reduction goal must include all U.S. operations, all North American operations, or all global operations.
  • The reduction goal must include all Scope 1 and 2 (either location-based or market-based) emission sources that fall within the chosen geographic boundary. If Scope 3 emissions comprise over 40% of total entity-wide emissions (after conducting a Scope 3 screening in line with GHG Protocol standards), applicants should include at least one-third of relevant Scope 3 categories in their GHG reduction goal – or justify their exclusion. The goal boundaries must remain consistent throughout the goal period. 
  • The goal must be an absolute reduction goal. Intensity goals will only be accepted if accompanied by a publicly announced absolute reduction goal.
  • The base year for a first-generation goal may not be more than four years prior to the year the goal was publicly announced. For instance, for first-generation goals set in 2016, 2012 would be the earliest base year allowed. Subsequent goals may use the same base year as a previous goal, provided that the new goal extends the goal period by three years at a minimum. The goal period (the time between the base year and achievement year) should be no fewer than three and no more than 15 years for a first generation goal. Subsequent goals that use the same base year may extend the previous goal period by no fewer than three and no more than 15 years.
  • The goal period (the time between the base year and achievement year) should be no fewer than three and no more than 15 years for a first-generation goal. Subsequent goals that use the same base year may extend the previous goal period by no fewer than three and no more than 15 years.
  • Goals must represent an aggressive reduction, which is defined as follows
    1. An organization’s first goal must commit to at least a 2.5% reduction per year over the life of the goal. For example, a 5-year goal must commit to at least a 12.5% total reduction.
    2. A subsequent goal with a new base year must also commit to at least a 2.5% reduction per year over the life of the goal. For example, a five-year goal must commit to at least a 12.5% total reduction. (An organization may substantiate their case for a subsequent goal that is below the required 2.5% threshold but that has ≥1.8% reduction per year, such as a goal considered aggressive in a specific sector.)
    3. A subsequent goal that uses a previous goal’s base year must also adhere to the 2.5% reduction rate per year over the goal period. The timeframe that is post-previous-goal-period will be evaluated and upheld to the same reduction threshold as the rest of the program after previous reductions are taken into account (at a minimum, 1.8% reduction per year beyond previously achieved reductions). For example, an organization achieves a 25% reduction from 2010 to 2015 and decides to set a new goal from 2010-2020. The ‘new’ goal must commit to at least a 34% reduction (2010-2020) in order to align with the minimum 1.8% reduction per year threshold.
    4. Reduction goals submitted to the Goal Setting category must meet the criteria outlined above in order to be recognized, regardless of when the goal was set. For all other categories, reduction goals set before January 1, 2020 and/or achieved before January 1, 2025 may be recognized for meeting a threshold of 1.8% reduction per year, in line with the previous program requirements. After January 1, 2025, all goals recognized by the program in any category must have achieved at least 2.5% average annual reductions.

How was the 2.5% GHG reduction rate per year determined?

The Climate Leadership Awards planning team wants to ensure that applicants have ample time to plan and implement goals with greater ambition. All goals achieved after January 1, 2025 (specifically goals submitted for consideration for the Goal Achievement award) must have achieved a 2.5% annual reduction.

The IPCC’s 1.5°C Special Report underlined the urgent need for stronger ambition from nations, cities and companies alike, and the awards program seeks to recognize these increased levels of ambition. The 2.5% annual reduction requirement is intended to align with the Science Based Targets Initiative’s (SBTi) minimum ambition threshold for a ‘Well Below 2°C’ temperature goal.

While organizations will be required to have goals that align with SBTi’s ambition threshold for a ‘Well Below 2°C’ temperature goal (2.5% linear annual reduction), applicants are encouraged to align with the SBTi threshold associated with a 1.5°C temperature goal: a 4.2% linear annual reduction.

For more information on science-based targets, see www.sciencebasedtargets.org. The SBTi website provides information on the various methodologies available to set a science-based target and other resources to companies interested in science-based targets.

Why are previously-set GHG reduction goals required to meet 1.8% reductions per year?

After careful review, the Climate Leadership Awards committee selected at least 1.8% reduction per year based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report’s recommendation that, in order to keep total warming below 2 degrees Celsius, global emissions need to be reduced between 41% and 72% on an absolute basis from 2010 to 2050. Assuming a straight-line trajectory, this range averages a 1% to 1.8% reduction per year, and the committee selected the upper end of that range. To confirm that 1.8% represented an aggressive benchmark, the committee also analyzed previous goals set with Climate Leaders’ partners, previous goals recognized under the Climate Leadership Awards (over the last four years), and goals reported through CDP.

After the IPCC 1.5°C Special Report was released, the awards program was adjusted to recognize these increased levels of ambition, and the 2.5% annual reduction requirement was implemented align with the Science Based Targets Initiative’s (SBTi) minimum ambition threshold for a ‘Well Below 2°C’ temperature goal.

Will the Climate Leadership Awards recognize intensity-based GHG reduction goals?

Intensity goals will only be accepted if accompanied by a publicly announced absolute reduction goal.

Are long-term emissions reduction goals eligible for recognition in the CLA program?

Organizations are increasingly setting ambitious, long-term emissions reduction goals. Often, these goals are tied to midcentury (e.g., 2050) achievement years.

Long-term reduction goals can guide organizational planning and value structures, and clarify long-term risks and opportunities related to climate. However, short- and medium-term goals provide actionable opportunities to improve organizational efficiency. In order to accommodate organizations setting goals with longer time horizons, the Climate Leadership Award committee has extended the acceptable goal period length from three to twelve years, to three to fifteen years. The Climate Leadership Award committee will also recognize long-term reduction goals if accompanied by a public, concrete and aggressive interim goal.

If an organization applies for a Climate Leadership Award with a long-term (e.g., midcentury) emissions reduction goal, it must be accompanied by at least one concrete, publicly accessible interim goal that falls within the three to fifteen year acceptable goal length period. The interim goal and long-term goal both must be aggressive (minimum 1.8% reduction per year – see above for further information on the 1.8% threshold.)

For instance, Company A set a goal to reduce emissions by 75% from 2015 to 2050. On its own, this goal would not meet the Climate Leadership Award criteria due to a 35 year time period. However, this goal would be acceptable if it was publicly accompanied by an interim goal to reduce emissions by 30% from 2015 to 2030 (as a step toward meeting the 75% from 2015 to 2050 goal.)

GHG Reporting and Inventory Criteria

Is a publicly reported and third-party verified inventory required?

Yes, for all categories except the Individual Leadership and Innovative Partnership Awards. To qualify for a Climate Leadership Award, applicants will need to submit documentation of a current GHG inventory that is publicly reported, and a publicly reported base year inventory that is third-party verified either to a ‘limited’ or ‘reasonable’ level of assurance, or has been through a third-party critical review (see definitions below). If the applicant has achieved its GHG reduction goal, documentation of the publicly reported achievement year inventory and verification is also required. Applicants with inventories previously reviewed and approved under EPA’s former Climate Leaders program may submit those for the relevant years referenced in the application (considered critical review); however, if the applicant’s inventories have undergone significant adjustments since their participation in the Climate Leaders program, then the applicant’s inventories may need to be re-verified to meet the aforementioned data quality requirements.

What base year options can be used to track progress toward a GHG reduction goal?

Base years used to track progress toward a GHG reduction goal submitted as part of a Climate Leadership Award application can represent a single year inventory (the most common, and preferred, approach) or a base period that reflects an average of emissions over several consecutive years. A single year could be defined as a calendar year or fiscal year.

A multi-year average base period may be appropriate for organizations with unusual fluctuations in emissions that would make a single year’s data unrepresentative of the organization’s overall emissions profile (e.g., emissions from the agriculture and water sectors may fluctuate widely year to year depending temperature and rainfall conditions). If a multi-year average is used to track progress toward a goal, the average must be verified or reviewed by a third party, and documentation of the verification must be submitted as part of the award application.

A rolling base year, which involves shifting or rolling the base year forward by a certain number of years at regular intervals of time, may also be acceptable if clearly documented. Further guidance on rolling base years is provided in WRI and WBCSD’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard.

What is international best practice in GHG reporting, and what standard of third-party verification will CLAs accept?

There are multiple GHG accounting and reporting methods contained within established GHG reporting guidance, such as the International Panel on Climate Change Methodology Reports, the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s GHG Protocol standards, the International Standards Organization’s 14064 series, and The Climate Registry’s GHG reporting and verification protocols.

Once an organization has completed its annual emissions report, the inventory must be publicly reported and the goal period’s base year and target year inventories verified by a third-party in order to be submitted in a CLA application. Three levels of third-party verification are currently accepted in the CLAs: a ‘reasonable’ level of assurance, a ‘limited’ level of assurance, and third-party critical review. These levels reflect the degree of confidence the verifier has that the emissions report is materially correct. As the assurance level increases so do the required rigor of the review process.

  • ‘Reasonable’ assurance statements are generally considered to reflect the highest possible level of confidence from a verification body. They result from a comprehensive review and site visits and are typically crafted as a positive statement, in other words, the verifier demonstrates there is ‘reasonable assurance that an emissions report is materially correct.’
  • ‘Limited’ assurance statements provide a lower level of confidence, as they require both less detailed testing of GHG data and less examination of supporting documentation. These are typically crafted as a negative assertion, in other words, the verifier demonstrates there is no evidence that an emission report is not materially correct.
  • Third-party critical reviews are conducted by an independent third party who, at a minimum, ensures that the measurement methodologies and data collection processes are consistent with international best practice and are scientifically and technically valid. Applicants must include a written statement from the third party that confirms the data used to estimate emissions are appropriate and reasonable for public reporting. If the inventory is reported to a particular standard, the critical review findings should also include a statement that the inventory is in conformance with that standard.

Do Scope 3 emissions have to be reported and third-party verified?

Applicants must conduct a Scope 3 screening in line with the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standards, and use the criteria for relevance (outlined in this document, Table [6.1], pg. 61) to assess the relevance of Scope 3 categories. If Scope 3 emissions are found to comprise over 40% of total entity-wide emissions, applicants should measure and publicly report those emissions, but are not required to. 

There are multiple GHG accounting and reporting methods contained within established GHG reporting guidance, such as the International Panel on Scope 3 emissions must be publicly reported if they are incorporated in the GHG reduction goal, and should always be reported for Supply Chain Award applications. If scope 3 emissions are included as part of the applicant’s goal, these must also undergo, at a minimum, a third-party critical review. Please note that ’carbon neutral’ or ‘net zero’ goals must include scope 3 sources as part of their GHG reduction commitments and are therefore subject to this criteria.

Note: After January 1, 2021, applicants whose Scope 3 emissions comprise over 40% of total entity-wide emissions must address at least one third of relevant Scope 3 categories in their GHG reduction goals in order to be recognized. This update will impact future applicants beginning in the 2022 Climate Leadership Award application cycle.

Do direct or indirect biogenic emissions have to be reported and third-party verified?

Direct or indirect biogenic emissions (CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of biomass) are reported separately from Scopes 1, 2 and 3. Similar to Scope 3 emissions, biogenic emissions must be reported publicly if they are incorporated in the GHG reduction goal. If biogenic emissions are included as part of an applicant’s goal, these must undergo, at a minimum, third-party critical review.

If an organization had its base year accepted by EPA as part of the former Climate Leaders program and no further base year adjustments have been made, does it have to have its base year re-verified?

No, provided that the difference between newly reported base year location-based or market-based Scope 2 emissions and previously reported base year Scope 2 emissions is less than 5%.

What if the applicant has changed their reporting approach from a calendar year to a fiscal-year basis, and vice versa?

If an organization changes its reporting approach (e.g., from a calendar year to a fiscal year-basis) during the goal period it must provide emissions data for the period of time not reflected in the achievement year inventory so as to demonstrate that the organization would have still achieved the original goal had the reporting approach not changed. While verification of that data is recommended, it is not required. Alternatively, organizations can elect to adjust the base year to conform to the reporting approach of the achievement year – in which case verification of the adjustment is required if the change in emissions is 5% or greater.

Do the CLA requirements reflect the GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance?

Yes. The GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance introduced new requirements for reporting of Scope 2 emissions. Several changes to the award’s requirements were made as a result. Organizations must include both location-based and market-based Scope 2 emissions in its reported GHG inventory for both the base year and the achievement year. GHG reduction goals can be based on either the location-based method or the market-based method. The organization will specify in the application which method is used, and should also specify this in public communication of the goal.

What if there has been a change in the applicant’s base year emissions?

If base year emissions have changed by 5% or more as a result of structural change, a change in calculation methodologies, or because of a discovered error, applicants must adjust the base year inventory to reflect this correction or change. The organization must include both location-based and market-based Scope 2 emissions in its reported GHG inventory for the base year, regardless of the magnitude of the change from previously reported Scope 2 emissions.

If the base year inventory has undergone a previous third-party review, but there is an adjustment of 5% or more of the base year emissions made to that inventory, a third-party verification body must attest to the accuracy of the base year adjustment. This requirement also applies if the difference between newly reported base year location-based or market-based Scope 2 emissions and previously reported base year Scope 2 emissions is 5% or more.

Can a subsidiary or government agency apply for an Excellence in GHG Management award?

Yes, as long as the applicant can provide a detailed GHG inventory that is accounted for separately from that of the parent organization. Additionally, the subsidiary/agency must meet the established revenue/budget eligibility thresholds.

Can offset and renewable electricity purchases be listed as one of the three mitigation activities under the Excellence in GHG Management criteria?

Purchases of high-quality offsets (for Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions) and renewable electricity demonstrated by the ownership and retirement of renewable energy instruments, such as renewable energy certificates (Scope 2), can be used as part of a program to reduce an organization’s GHG emissions. If used, they should be incorporated into the verified GHG inventory. However, the Climate Leadership Awards look to recognize leaders that undertake mitigation activities that go beyond short-term purchases of renewable electricity and offsets. Thus, the three mitigation activities provided in the application should be internal initiatives that an organization undertakes to manage and reduce its emissions, also known as decarbonization. These activities should reflect the applicant’s most impactful strategies and should ideally be in addition to renewable electricity or offset purchases.

Can offsets and renewable electricity be sourced from outside the United States?

While it is preferred that offsets are sourced in the U.S., non-U.S. offsets are also acceptable as long as they meet the following key accounting principles:

  • Real: The quantified GHG reductions must represent actual emission reductions that have already occurred.
  • Additional: The GHG reductions must be surplus to regulation and beyond what would have happened in the absence of the project or in a business-as-usual scenario based on a performance standard methodology.
  • Permanent: The GHG reductions must be permanent or have guarantees to ensure that any losses are replaced in the future.
  • Verifiable: The GHG reductions must result from projects whose performance can be readily and accurately quantified, monitored and verified.

Purchases of renewable electricity from the U.S. for U.S. facilities are also preferred. Purchases of renewable electricity outside the U.S. for non-U.S. facilities may be acceptable as long as the applicant can demonstrate that the renewable electricity purchases otherwise meet the EPA’s Green Power Partnership eligibility requirements.

Does the organization have to be a participant of EPA’s SmartWay program to be eligible for the Supply Chain Leadership Award?

No. EPA’s SmartWay program is existing best-practice for managing freight and transport emissions. Thus, it is highly recommended that applicants citing significant achievements in U.S. and Canadian transportation and distribution-related supply chain activities and that are eligible to be a SmartWay partner in one of the six categories—freight shippers, logistics companies (including 3PLs/4PLs), rail carriers, truck carriers, drayage truck carriers, and multi-modal carriers— be both SmartWay partners and eligible for recognition under EPA’s SmartWay Excellence Awards criteria. However, this is not a requirement.

Application and Evaluation Process

When are applications due?

Applications for the 2021 Climate Leadership Awards must be submitted by 11:59pm Pacific Time on December 4, 2020.

Where should applications be submitted?

Application and Submission Instructions:

Review the general eligibility requirements and the specific evaluation criteria for the award category you plan to apply for.

Download the Climate Leadership Award Application from the awards category webpage, as well as any required forms (e.g. Third-party Reference Form).

Completed reference forms may be submitted via email to applications@ClimateLeadershipAwards.org, or submitted along with the application in the SmarterSelect portal (see below).

Complete the application package, save it to your computer. Collect any required or additional supporting information.

Submit application and supporting materials online via the CLA SmarterSelect portal.

PLEASE NOTE: If applying for an award in more than one category, submissions must be made separately for each. An organization may not reapply for an award category in which it has won in the past two years (e.g., an organization that won in a category in 2019 may not reapply for the same category until the 2022 awards, however, it can apply in another category if it meets the eligibility requirements for that category).

Can organizations apply on their own behalf?

Yes, as long as the applicant meets the award criteria eligibility requirements, and for organizational and individual leadership categories, their respective third-party references meet the following requirements:

  • The third party must be duly authorized to represent the applicant;
  • For organizational recognition categories, a responsible point of contact employed by the applicant organization must be identified in the application (full contact information for that individual must be provided);
  • For the individual leadership award, full contact information for the applicant must be provided in the application.

Climate Leadership Awards Ceremony

When and where will the Climate Leadership Awards Ceremony take place?

The 2021 award winners will be publicly recognized during the Climate Leadership Awards Ceremony, held in conjunction with the tenth annual Climate Leadership Conference.

Who may attend the awards ceremony and conference?

The conference is open to the public. Conference attendees, award winners, and special guests are encouraged to attend the awards ceremony during the conference. Registration for the conference and awards ceremony are required.

Will there be multiple winners in each award category?

Multiple winners may be recognized where it is deemed appropriate to do so.

When will applicants be notified regarding the status of their applications?

All 2021 awards applicants will be notified by March 2021 regarding the status of their application.

What do award winners receive?

Organizations recognized for Excellence in GHG Management: Goal Setting and Innovative Partnership will receive a mounted certificate. The Excellence in GHG Management: Goal Achievement, Supply Chain, Individual, and Organizational Leadership Awards (Large and Midsize) winners will receive a physical award. Additionally, winners will receive two complimentary tickets to the awards ceremony, or a deeply discounted rate on the Climate Leadership Conference (which will include the awards ceremony).

How do I register to attend the Climate Leadership Awards Ceremony and Conference?

Registration information for the Climate Leadership Awards Ceremony and the Climate Leadership Conference will be available at www.climateleadershipconference.org.

Does the awards program occur on an annual basis?

Yes. C2ES and TCR produce the awards program on an annual basis.

More Information:

    Questions will be directed to the appropriate parties and we will respond within 2-3 business days.