The 2021 environmental naughty or nice list: We’ve made a list and checked it twice

This environmental “naughty or nice list” runs decision-makers at various levels through the filter of who’s done right when it comes to protecting the quality of our environment this holiday season and who hasn’t.

icy morning on Bare Mountain

Holiday traditions in my house include baking Christmas cookies, picking up a tree from the Christmas tree farm my sister-in-law’s family runs, and, much to my husband’s chagrin, listening loudly to Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas albums with my kids. I know my kids are getting older — now 8 and 12 —  and one of these years they’ll stop asking to hear high-pitched squeaky voices belting out the 12 days of Christmas,  but, mercifully, that day hasn’t yet come.

In 2021, we’re still relishing singing along to the chipmunk boys about finding out who’s been naughty or nice.

So, in the spirit of a Chipmunk Christmas, this year I decided to craft my own “naughty or nice list.” For my list, I’m running decision-makers at various levels through the filter of who’s done right when it comes to protecting the quality of our environment this holiday season and who hasn’t. Below is my list of high-profile players who are either helping break the cycle of pollution, or need to reform their approach to protecting our air, water and open spaces.

So without further ado, let’s start with the people and companies that deserve a big present this year.

  1. Framework, a new super repairable laptop company. While other manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft make modest steps toward repair, Framework is setting the bar much higher. Framework is a true market leader in the electronics arena, pushing against the ‘planned obsolescence’ that is far too pervasive in the tech industry and the rest of society. Americans dispose of 416,000 cell phones per day, and only 15 to 20 percent of all electronic waste is recycled. That has to change. Framework is helping lead the way toward a different kind of system, where instead of throwing things out, we reuse, salvage and rebuild. 

  2. McDonalds, Wendy’s, and the states of California, Connecticut and Maine for acting to reduce the use of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.” Exposure to PFAS chemicals can lead to serious health problems, but they continue to get used in everyday products, including food packaging. By curbing the use of these dangerous toxins, these leaders are paving the way for others to make important changes in the name of public health. 

  3. Joe Biden and members of Congress for passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Finding common ground to move things forward is not easy, but these elected officials got it done. Their action will help America keep its drinking water clean, invest in walkable and bikeable communities, and advance such clean energy solutions as electric vehicles and energy efficiency investments.

  4. Austin, Texas, which is making it easier to buy and use electric vehicles. Texas’ capital, Austin, is taking its commitment to cleaner transportation to heart. The city’s electric utility has extended rebates for residents to install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in homes, created a Plug-in Everywhere network, which supplies more than 1,000 affordable charging ports, and purchased 325 electric bikes for public use and 38 electric buses for public transit. At every level, Austin is showing other cities what electric vehicle leadership looks. 

  5. School districts for Portland, Oregon, San Diego and Detroit because they’re taking important actions to prevent the lead contamination of school drinking water. Lead is harmful to kids’ health  and school should be the last place for kids to get exposed to this neurotoxin. For other school districts aspiring to join the “nice” column for safe drinking water, check out Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Get the Lead Out toolkit.

  6. Leaders in California, Texas, Iowa, Maryland and the other states who are working to tap into clean energy resources. California continues to be at the front of the pack when it comes to installed solar, energy storage and electric vehicles. Texas is the national leader when it comes to generating wind power. Maryland is the most improved state when it comes to reducing energy waste. Leaders who are driving these efforts should take a bow. While, perhaps not at the top of the lists, there are other states leading the way on clean energy. To find out which ones, check out Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Renewables on the Rise report. 

Sadly, not everyone deserves a full stocking. Here’s my environmental naughty list for 2021, which, unless they change their ways between now and Christmas, won’t receive a visit from Santa this year.

  1. The Investor-owned utilities of California, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) are attempting to undercut solar energy. These companies are targeting the state’s net metering program, which compensates solar owners for the excess electricity they sell back to the grid. PG&E, SoCal Edison and SDG&E are using the playbook described in Blocking Rooftop Solar to push for drastic changes to net metering in California. Earlier this year, the utilities moved to create the nation’s highest fixed charges for solar customers while simultaneously slashing the net metering payments that solar customers receive. 

  2. The Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey, who are pushing their state’s residents to remain addicted to dirty fossil fuels. The group is waging a campaign to keep the Garden State hooked on fossil fuels when efficient electric technologies can do the job more effectively and with less of the pollution. 

  3. Burger King continues to use dangerous PFAS. The burger chain still hasn’t announced a commitment to getting rid of PFAS in its food packaging, despite competitors McDonald’s and Wendy’s addressing this issue (see list above). There is ample evidence that fast food companies can go PFAS-free – notably some of Burger King’s packaging already doesn’t contain PFAS. Nevertheless, the choice to knowingly expose people to dangerous chemicals through their wrappers and boxes is seriously naughty. 

  4. Procter & Gamble’s paper products are made from pulp harvested from our critical forests. P&G, which is the parent company of the Charmin toilet paper brand, increased the volume of pulp it purchased from Canadian boreal forests in 2021 by more than 15 percent. This comes at a time when companies need to figure out ways to protect these vital forests. Given the reality of climate change and the role boreal forests play in the global carbon cycle, P&G must stop creating products that literally flush these forests down the toilet.  

  5. AIDEA, an Alaska State Government entity, set itself up to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The group purchased oil and gas drilling leases in the coastal plain of the refuge, which is such a natural jewel that some call it “America’s Serengeti.” Even entertaining the idea of drilling in the Arctic Refuge puts you on the naughty list.

Thankfully, we still have a few days between now and Christmas, so those looking to make a change for the better still have time. It’s not too late to flip from naughty over to nice. Just ask Alvin.


Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Johanna directs strategy and staff for Environment America's energy campaigns at the local, state and national level. In her prior positions, she led the campaign to ban smoking in all Maryland workplaces, helped stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and helped build the support necessary to pass the EmPOWER Maryland Act, which set a goal of reducing the state’s per capita electricity use by 15 percent. She also currently serves on the board of Community Action Works. Johanna lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family, where she enjoys growing dahlias, biking and the occasional game of goaltimate. 

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