Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

A little over a week ago, 20 of the world’s power houses came together for the Group of 20 summit. It was disappointing to see Trump hold firm to his decision to exit the Paris Agreement while 19 world leaders publicly reaffirmed their commitment. But something good has come out of Trump’s climate defiance, and I bet it’s not the reaction he was looking for: climate action.

The inability for the federal government to agree on climate doesn’t stop momentum– it fuels it. An enormous swell of energy and activism has swept across America. Businesses, states, cities and citizens are stepping up, creating plans to pursue lower emissions on their own.

There are now over 1,400 cities, states and businesses that have vowed to meet Paris commitments, sending a message that “we’re still in” and making enormous strides on devising climate solutions that keep the agenda alive. EDF Climate Corps' ten years of experience gives us an inside look into how companies, cities and non-profits are taking action.

Here are four ways that the private and public sector are preparing for a low-carbon future:

1. Scale energy efficiency. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency has for the most part been picked. It’s time to take things to the next level by focusing on larger-scale, portfolio-level energy efficiency projects. Last year, Shuvya Arakali worked with American Eagle Outfitters to recommend HVAC retrofits, and other energy efficiency measures that could be deployed across the store portfolio and save thousands of metric tons of CO2e each year.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

2. Invest in clean, renewable energy. Evaluate opportunities for both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects, like PPAs and VPPAs. Other procurement options includes mechanisms like green tariffs. The City of Fresno enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellow Katie Altobello-Czescik to help promote clean, smart energy initiatives including renewable generation, battery storage and demand response. Together, they worked on advancing a community-scale energy project aimed at helping local businesses and creating a net zero neighborhood.

3. Make a commitment—then execute. Be willing to set big goals and develop ambitious GHG-reduction targets that are founded upon science. Once they are set, create strategies to meet them. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The New York City's Mayor's Office of Sustainability has deployed multiple EDF Climate Corps fellows to help develop and advance strategies to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Go beyond your own company. Tackling climate change requires looking at the big picture, more than what’s happening within internal operations. Consider your supply chains by engaging suppliers and together identifying ways to reduce scope 3—both upstream and downstream—GHG emissions. This past spring, Walmart set a goal to remove 1 gigaton (1 billion tons) of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2030. Companies throughout Walmart’s supply chain now have the directive to go beyond “business as usual” to focus on emissions reductions in their operations.

It’s difficult not to feel discouraged when our national climate policy is moving backwards instead of forwards. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the country is. United States’ leadership will continue, albeit in this new form, and businesses and cities will keep continue to advance climate solutions through smart policy, forward-thinking business and cutting-edge innovation.


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As Trump rolls back methane rules, what should the oil & gas industry do?

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

Recently, at an oil and gas industry event co-hosted by Energy Dialogues and Shell in Houston, Ben Ratner, a Director at Environmental Defense Fund, met up with Michael Maher, presently with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a former longtime economist with ExxonMobil, to discuss the future of the natural gas industry. Specifically, they talked about the growing divide between those—in government and in the industry—who want less environmental regulation, particularly over the issue of methane emissions, and those who see sensible regulation as the best way for the industry to assure its future as offering a cleaner alternative to other, dirtier, fossil fuels.

Since Michael and Ben met in Houston, the Trump Administration announced the U.S. departure from the Paris climate agreement and postponements and potential weakening of methane emission rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management. These new developments put the industry divide into sharper focus.

States could now step up to address issues that the federal government was poised to take the lead on under rules promulgated by President Obama toward the end of his term. But will states act without industry prodding or at least, support for action? And will companies most worried about license to operate intervene against delays, weakening, or even elimination of nationwide standards? Mike and Ben discuss below.

Ben: As a former oil and gas industry employee, how do you think the industry should respond to the regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration?

Michael: This administration is moving rapidly away from a federal role in climate change policies. The question for the oil and gas industry is whether to sit back and coast on the federal failure to act or to work with states to address greenhouse emissions. Coasting may look like a cost saver for the near term, but the pendulum will eventually swing back, and a reversal of Trump’s policies is a real prospect down the road. However, if enough states—with industry support—were to effectively address methane emissions it could provide guidance for federal action down the road and protect the industry against the reputational damage of being seen to have resisted sound environmental regulation.

Michael: In the current political climate, what do you see as the role of leading companies?

Ben: The great irony here is that while the Trump attacks on environmental standards are intended to help industry by reducing costs in the short term, they may end up inflicting much greater long-term damage. A classic case of “short term gain, long term pain.”

Energy consumers, institutional investors and citizens want cleaner energy, and scrapping rules that help the industry clean up may ultimately endanger the industry’s social license to operate and make it more difficult to do business. So we will be looking hard to see which companies step forward to slow down the deregulatory torrent that is tarnishing the industry’s reputation just as demand for cleaner energy is lifting off.

In recent days, Shell and Exxon reportedly stated that they are complying with EPA’s contested methane rules, but other companies have stayed silent. Companies like ConocoPhillips and BP voiced their support for the Paris international climate agreement. With the U.S. now withdrawing from the Paris accord, will companies like these make good on addressing climate change by publicly supporting policies aimed at reducing methane emissions? We haven’t seen true industry support at the federal regulatory level, at least not yet.

At the same time, regardless of what happens in Washington, states have a golden opportunity to develop their own methane policies. In Colorado, for example, companies like Noble Energy and Anadarko worked with EDF and the state to negotiate methane and air pollution standards that work for business and the environment.

Industry played a vital role in Colorado’s success, and there will be more opportunities for industry leaders to participate in regulatory development in other states.

Ben: Are there business and reputational impacts of failing to address methane emissions?

Michael: Natural gas has historically competed with other sellers with other fuels almost totally on price. But customers and officials are increasingly looking at energy options based on environmental benefits and not just price. There is a robust debate in the Northeast, for example, about how to move forward in decarbonizing their electric power system and it is not focused solely on the costs of alternatives.

In this regard, it is in the interest of the natural gas industry to be able to promote natural gas as a much cleaner alternative to coal. But methane and associated emissions from natural gas drilling operations cloud that cleaner-than-coal claim and plays into the hands of those supporting a more rapid shift to renewables and who argue for “keeping it in the ground.”

Michael: How does EDF view methane control as part of a company’s social responsibility?

Ben: How a company manages its natural gas leaks tells you a great deal about how responsible it is, because leaks cause climate damage and can harm people’s health—especially among the most vulnerable, like children and the elderly. Also, since methane is a commercial product, if a company doesn’t know or care how much of its own product is going into thin air, that’s not a good sign.

Southwestern Energy is one example of a leader that sets a methane target, conveys to its people the value of methane management, and implements leading practices in the field. Another is Statoil, which is working with EDF and an entrepreneur to pioneer efficient new automated methane monitoring technology. These kinds of efforts can deliver financial value by recouping lost product, and demonstrating to investors, communities and other key stakeholders their lived commitment to responsible corporate behavior.

Ben: How do you see the industry tackling the methane problem?

Michael: Farsighted, well operated companies are already taking action to cut emissions, but sometimes the policy advocacy lags behind. There needs to be leadership on this issue from major players—not just singly but as a coalition urging federal agencies to retain or improve rules, rather than delay or weaken them. This coalition should also engage states in developing sound regulation of new drilling and older wells.

Some in industry are already pushing ahead with testing new technology that would reduce the cost of controlling emissions. That effort should continue, but voluntary action of this sort is not a replacement for regulations that apply across the entire industry. Nor will piecemeal voluntary efforts of a few overcome the stigma of hundreds of other companies abstaining from action to reduce their methane emissions.

Michael Maher is a senior program advisor at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy

Ben Ratner is a Director with EDF+Business at Environmental Defense Fund

EDF and TNC partner on new Environmental Impact Bond to fund coastal restoration

To address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, we must catalyze large-scale private investment in innovative environmental solutions. One place where such solutions are greatly needed is Louisiana, where more than 2,000 square miles of coastal land have vanished since the 1930s, putting communities and industries at risk from the effects of rising seas and increased storm surges.

This week, EDF begins work to develop the nation’s second Environmental Impact Bond, with support from NatureVest’s new Conservation Investment Accelerator Program, the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy. In collaboration with our partners, Quantified Ventures and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, EDF will bring public, private and non-profit resources together to accelerate Louisiana’s coastal restoration and resiliency plans through a new Louisiana Coastal Wetland Restoration and Resilience Environmental Impact Bond.

Coastal wetlands are a form of “natural infrastructure” that provide storm protection by attenuating wave energy. Continual loss reduces these protective services, potentially increasing damage from a single storm by as much as $138 billion and generating an additional $53 billion in lost economic output from storm disruptions. If no actions are taken to restore and protect the coast, Louisiana could lose an additional 1,750 square miles of wetlands by 2060, posing a direct risk to as much as $3.6 billion in assets that support $7.6 billion in economic activity each year.

Can sustainable finance help save Louisiana’s Gulf Coast?

While Louisiana expects 15 years of Gulf oil spill-related funds to support restoration work, the state has identified less than half of the funding necessary. A pay-for-success environmental impact bond backed by these cash flows can help to close this funding gap by mobilizing funds from the private sector to accelerate the pace of restoration project implementation. Restoring the coast earlier in the planning horizon will allow the state to realize long-term cost savings.

Pay-for-success (PFS) is a form of performance-based contracting that ties payment for service provision to the achievement of measurable outcomes. The PFS model has emerged as a promising approach to fund social and environmental innovation. Quantified Ventures, a pay-for-success transaction specialist, paved the way for applying PFS in an environmental context with the development of DC Water’s 2016 Environmental Impact Bond (EIB).

In September 2016, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) raised $25 million from institutional investors Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and Calvert Foundation to finance the construction of green infrastructure projects that will reduce the volume of stormwater runoff entering the sewer system, thereby reducing combined sewer overflow events. If the projects perform as expected, DC Water will pay investors in accordance with the initial term rate of 3.43%. If the project outperforms expectations, DC Water will make an additional payment to investors for sharing its risk in the project. If the projects underperform expectations, then investors will make a payment to DC Water.

By sharing project risks between public and private sector partners, environmental impact bonds allow public entities to support innovative environmental solutions and private entities to put their risk-seeking capital to work. Given that sea level rise, land subsidence, storms and hurricanes add uncertainty to the successful outcome of wetland restoration, an EIB can shift part of a restoration project’s risk from Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to investors.

In collaboration with CPRA, EDF will select a wetland restoration project from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to demonstrate the feasibility of an EIB for coastal restoration. This EIB will serve as a blueprint for investments in coastal resilience throughout Louisiana and other coastal states. We expect it may even usher in a new era of private investment in coastal resilience to help cities in the U.S. and across the globe that are already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change and are looking for solutions.

Public, Private, and Non-profit collaboration needed for a sustainable future

The amount of capital required to transition to a low-carbon economy, adapt our infrastructure to cope with the damaging effects of climate change, and preserve healthy ecosystems far exceeds the capacity of the philanthropic and public sectors alone. Of the estimated $1.5 trillion annual investment needed, roughly $700 billion is currently being invested. Innovative green investment products – like environmental impact bonds and green bonds – are helping to fill the $800 billion funding gap that remains.

Dakota Gangi, Sustainable Finance and Impact Investing Manager and William K. Bowes, Jr. Fellow, EDF+Business

We recognize that financial institutions have a role to play in addressing environmental challenges that goes beyond their direct investment dollars. EDF’s sustainable finance strategy seeks to leverage the influence, expertise and capital of the financial marketplace to protect the environment, improve livelihoods and achieve the ambitions goals in Blueprint 2020.

With the support from NatureVest’s Conservation Accelerator Program, the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy, EDF has an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how collaboration between the public, private, and non-profit sectors can address a critical environmental issue. We are excited to be working with Quantified Ventures and the state of Louisiana on this pilot project and hope that it will serve as a model for crowding-in private capital for coastal resiliency and restoration projects around the world.


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Global investor touts methane opportunity with oil & gas industry

Institutional investors worldwide are increasingly encouraging oil and gas companies to improve and disclose their management strategies to minimize methane risk.

Methane – an invisible, odorless gas and main ingredient in natural gas – is routinely emitted by the global oil and gas industry, posing a reputational and economic threat to portfolios.

Natural gas is widely marketed as a low-carbon fuel because it burns roughly 50 percent cleaner than coal. But this ignores a major problem: methane. Natural gas is almost pure methane, a powerful pollutant that speeds up Earth’s warming when it escapes into the atmosphere.

Last month marked a significant milestone in investor action on the methane issue. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) launched a new initiative representing 36 investors and U.S. $4.2 trillion in assets that will engage with the oil and gas industry across five different continents to improve its methane management and disclosure practices. The PRI initiative complements existing methane engagement efforts focused on the U.S. led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and CERES.

EDF Senior Manager Sean Wright recently sat down with Sylvia van Waveren, a Senior Engagement Specialist with Robeco Institutional Asset Management, a Dutch-based investment firm managing over $160 billion, to discuss the matter and understand why some investors are keen to affect the status quo on methane.

Wright: Why is methane a focus of your engagements? What do you see as the risks of unmanaged methane emissions? 

Sylvia van Waveren, Senior Engagement Specialist, Robeco Institutional Asset Management

van Waveren: Methane is one of the most important drivers of engagement with the oil and gas industry. We invest in oil and gas companies worldwide. A year ago, we started engaging them, specifically on climate change – and within that the methane issue is included.

In the past, methane was viewed as a U.S. shale gas issue, but more recently it has become important in Europe as we learned that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. So in that sense, we learned a lot from the U.S. discussions and we still do.

I would like to stress that we see the methane issue more as a business opportunity than a risk. What we often say to companies is that methane is a potential revenue source. It would be a waste if companies do not use it. 

Wright: The scope of PRI’s initiative is global, with investors from 3 different continents as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and a plan to engage with companies from the Latin America, Europe, North America and Asia-Pac. What does this level of global collaboration convey about methane emissions? 

van Waveren: I am happy and it is good to see that others have taken up the seriousness of this issue, as well.  Methane is no longer a U.S. only problem. The issue is being raised and discussed in all kinds of geographies.

I’m a firm believer in collective engagements. They can be a powerful force when the issue is not contained within borders. That is the case with greenhouse gases. So yes, I’m happy to see the PRI initiative taking off and I am an active believer in getting this solved and bringing attention to this subject.  

Wright: In your conversations thus far with companies about methane, what resonates best when making the business case for improving methane management and disclosure?

van Waveren: When we talk about motivation at the company level, I have to be honest, it’s still early days. The European companies are talking in general terms and just now conceptualizing methane policies. If we’re lucky, they have calculated how much methane is part of their greenhouse gas emissions. And if we’re more fortunate, they are producing regional and segregated figures from carbon, but it’s really very meager how motivated the companies are and what triggers them most.

I really feel we should emphasize more with companies to get them motivated and to really look at the seriousness of methane. One issue that is particularly bothersome is that many companies do not know how to calculate, estimate and set targets to reduce methane. It is still a mystery to many of them. That’s why we come in with engagements. We need to keep them sharp on this issue and ask them for their actions, calculations and plans. 

Wright: Who are other important allies that have a role in solving this problem, and why?

van Waveren: We always would like to have an ally in the government. For example, carbon pricing or carbon fixations are all topics that we look for from the government. But in practice, that doesn’t work. Governments sometimes need more time. So we do not always wait for the government. When companies say they will wait for government, we say, “You should take a proactive approach.”

We rely very much on our knowledge that we get from within the sector. We review data analyses and make intermediate reports of scoring. We find best practice solutions and we hold companies accountable. There are also times when we name names. So in that sense, that is how engagement works. The data providers and other organizations with good knowledge and good content on methane – and EDF is certainly one of them – are very instrumental to get the knowledge that we need.

Wright: Can you give me an example of a widespread financial risk facing an industry in the past that was proactively improved by investors leading the charge – similar to this initiative?

van Waveren: More than 20 years ago, we had a greenhouse gas issue – acid rain. Investors helped solve that problem. Because of this, I’m hopeful that investors can also play a positive role in reducing methane.

I would also say the issue of Arctic drilling. Not so long ago, this was top of mind when we talked to our portfolio companies. A lot of companies have now withdrawn from Arctic drilling, especially from offshore Arctic drilling. I think investors were quite successful in sending a clear signal to the industry in a collective way that we didn’t see Arctic drilling as a good process. Maybe profitable – if at all – to the companies, but certainly not for the environment.

Wright: Thank you, Sylvia. We really appreciate your time and your thoughtful answers showing how investors can be part of the solution on methane.

Careful what you wish for: Trump’s environmental attacks will harm industry

In the same week Apple raised $1 billion through green bonds to invest in clean energy, and Amazon put solar panels on a million square foot processing facility, the Trump administration – at the urging of the worst elements in the oil and gas industry –proposed a two-year delay of sensible rules that would limit emissions of methane and other air pollutants. While a federal court since struck down a previous 90-day delay as unlawful, the two-year delay is still subject to public comment, and many expect the administration’s attacks on methane safeguards to continue through other means.

Natural gas, which is mostly methane, has been put forward as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels and as an energy resource that can play a key role in the transition to a lower-carbon future. But now more than ever, that proposition is now called into serious question.

How will natural gas compete in a changing world?

Every year, oil and gas operations around the country emit some 8-10 million metric tons of methane into the air. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, responsible for about a quarter of the climate warming we’re experiencing today – and those emissions come mingled with a host of other smog-forming and carcinogenic pollutants.

There are cost-effective, proven ways to reduce these emissions, and leading companies are already implementing them. The problem is, many companies refuse to address the problem on their own. And now they’re looking to the Trump administration for a free pass to pollute.

When trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute attack cost-effective policies that protect public health and the climate, it sends a signal that the natural gas industry will do everything it can to maximize short-term profits – even at the risk of damaging the reputation of the industry in the eyes of the public and jeopardizing its ability to operate over the long term.

The question is: In an increasingly carbon constrained world, what is the natural gas industry’s plan for the future?

We’re not arguing that gas is at risk of going away tomorrow. The United States leads the world in natural gas production, as new technologies and processes have unlocked massive, cheap reserves. But make no mistake, the transition to cleaner energy in the U.S. and across the globe is irreversible and accelerating. In this context, fighting reasonable and necessary emissions rules only magnifies risk for the natural gas industry and its investors. It’s a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the realities of what consumers, communities and markets demand.

Capital markets shifting to cleaner companies and forms of energy

The Trump administration’s recent moves come at a time when environmental concerns informing investment decisions are reaching record highs. For example, investors with $10 trillion in assets under management have committed to the Montreal Carbon Pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of their portfolios, with an eye towards portfolio de-carbonization in the long run.

As part of the shift to assets in lower emitting companies and industries, investors are demanding better carbon and methane disclosure as well as proactive environmental management. The recent watershed Exxon vote, in which 62% of investors (including industry titans like BlackRock and Vanguard) demanded better climate risk disclosure from Exxon management, showed that carbon risk considerations have hit the mainstream.

Increasingly, investors see methane simply as a form of carbon risk in need of management, not neglect. And methane waste can be cost-effectively managed – as proven in states like Colorado where production has continued apace even as strict methane rules have come on the books.

On top of investors’ efforts to shift portfolios towards cleaner companies, the divestment movement also continues to grow, driven by a range of environmental risks of owning fossil fuel stocks. Just recently mainstream investor CalSTRS divested from coal. Going forward, increasing numbers of investors will look carefully at the environmental record of oil and natural gas companies in determining their comfort level in continuing to invest.

Some companies lead but no substitute for commonsense rules

Companies like Southwestern Energy, Noble, Shell and others have led on methane emissions by setting methane targets, supporting state-based regulations, and working with the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership to disclose methane emissions. Their efforts certainly deserve recognition, and are supported by some investors who factor strong methane management into investment decision.

Still, voluntary actions by the few are no substitute for rules and oversight that require responsible operations by the thousands of oil and gas companies operating in the United States. Some of these companies simply lack a commitment to sustainability and to operating over the long-term, and will not rein in emissions unless they are required to do so by law.

Methane safeguards serve the long-term interests of industry and investors

As the scientific reality of climate change and consumer demand steer the world toward a cleaner energy future, will attacks on environmental protections inflict lasting damage on the oil and gas industry? Only time will tell. It’s likely, however, that if the loudest industry voices continue to oppose rules that could guide it toward a cleaner future, the industry as a whole will suffer.  Unfortunately, that will include the more forward-leaning companies, which will be dragged down by their intransigent peers. This outcome will become all the more likely thanks to the Trump administration’s erosion of environmental safeguards that are fundamental to responsible development.

It’s time for oil and gas operators and mainstream investors with a long-term view to take a look at what rules and regulations are needed to rein in methane emissions in their industry. And they also need decide if they want to align themselves with an administration whose policies may be unwittingly handicapping the very industry it attempts to serve.

Six months into the presidency, where are all the jobs?

We’re halfway through “Energy Week” at the White House–a series of events promoting President Trump’s energy policies. These are policies the administration claims will boost the economy and grow America’s energy dominance (note the change from “energy interdependence” to “energy dominance”), while creating jobs by reviving America’s declining coal industry.

It’s the same plan we’ve heard since Trump’s first day as President. So let’s ask ourselves, is it working?

Slashing climate policies

In March, Trump signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and on June 1st, he followed through on his promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. These reckless decisions were a major setback to both our nation’s economy and our job market.

The decision to withdraw from Paris was justified by the “economic unfairness” that it would bring upon the country, citing negative effects on jobs. The administration claimed they would continue to be the “cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth”, but not at the expense of our businesses and jobs. After business and world leaders criticized his actions, Trump defended his decision by stating he was simply fulfilling a campaign promise.

This was a campaign promise to bring back [coal] jobs. It’s time we check whether Trump has delivered.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

America’s job board: where does coal fall on the list?

In addition to his actions on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris agreement, Trump has focused on weakening health protections that reduce the impacts associated with the production of fossil fuels, like coal. Since then, the coal mining industry has added a mere 1,000 jobs, bringing us to a total of just 51,000 coal mining jobs nationwide—keep in mind that’s roughly only .03 percent of the more than 150,000,000 jobs in the U.S—as of May 2017. And of those industry workers, only roughly one-fifth actually mine the coal. These numbers fall far behind the 50,000 coal jobs that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed have been created in just the time since Trump became president.

It’s time we look at the long-term picture. The economic realities of the past few decades haven’t favored coal power and this isn’t going to change. The decline of coal-related jobs is partly due to the rise in cheap natural gas, combined with increased continuous automation, and the industry is forecasted to see an additional 51% reduction in generation by 2040. We’re heading in a new direction. The U.S. power sector—as states and power companies reaffirm their commitments to de-carbonization—is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution.

Meanwhile, despite Trump’s best efforts to dismantle their progress, renewables are on track to see a 169 percent increase in generation by 2040, bringing with them clean, local and well-paying jobs. There are an estimated 4-4.5 million clean and sustainability jobs in the U.S. today according to this Now Hiring report. Solar and wind alone account for close to half a million jobs, and energy efficiency makes up another 2.2 million more jobs. The rest are in fields such as natural resources conservation, corporate sustainability and environmental education.

The future of clean jobs only looks more promising. Wind turbine technicians are the fastest-growing occupations in America, adding jobs over nine times faster than the overall economy, just behind solar jobs, which are growing at a rate 17 times faster than the rest of the economy. And, investing in renewables or energy efficiency results in about 5 more jobs than the same investment in fossil fuels. That’s an opportunity we can’t afford to turn our backs on.

Moving the needle in the right direction

If Trump wants to fulfill his campaign promises of creating jobs, then he should redirect his attention from the dying coal industry to the booming clean energy sector. Why? Because it makes economic sense. That’s why business leaders, investors and politicians are demanding that the Trump administration deliver a plan to address climate change with smart policies.

There’s a way for Trump to make good on his campaign promises to bring back America's jobs and lead us closer to becoming energy “dominant”. The answer is to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.


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Your business legacy must now include the planet

In the absence of federal leadership and oversight, who will be the standard-bearer for the environment?

You will.

The opportunity and need for bolder private sector leadership has never been greater. Business must continue to step up and lead the way to a more sustainable world where companies, communities, and the environment thrive. Your legacy must now be a legacy of leadership and stewardship. One cannot exist without the other.

Long-term economic growth and business competitiveness depends on a thriving environment. By 2050 there will be 9.5 billion consumers on our planet, all demanding more energy, food, products and services than ever before. This presents a huge challenge, and a huge opportunity for business leadership, collaboration and advocacy.

Tom Murray, VP EDF+Business, Environmental Defense Fund

Tom Murray, VP EDF+Business

It is up to you to inspire, influence and innovate for a future where both the economy and the environment can prosper. We know this is achievable because we’ve proven it. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been at the forefront of this change for 25 years, bringing cutting edge science, policy, and economic expertise to high-impact companies – including McDonalds, Walmart, and KKR – to transform business as usual in their products, operations, and advocacy. But now it’s time for all of us to raise the bar.

Set big goals

When companies like Walmart, PepsiCo and Microsoft set aggressive sustainability targets, three very important things happen:

  1. Loud and clear signals are sent to employees, customers, investors, competitors and other stakeholders that they are planning for long-term competitiveness; not short-term politics. By publicly committing to bold environmental goals that reflect their impact and influence, business leaders are building a legacy of responsible prosperity for their organizations.
  2. Big public goals inspire competition and results. There’s never been a more important time for business to create a race to the top, not because regulations demand it, but because employees, customers, the economy, and the planet deserve it. And, business operates on a global scale. Environmental leadership and oversight –or lack thereof — in the U.S. is no reason to fall behind in the global race to dominate the clean energy sector.
  3. Big challenges breed big innovations. Rarely do business leaders know exactly how they will achieve their aggressive sustainability goals; but instead use goals as an impetus to innovate. Sustainability is a business challenge like any other – solutions and efficiencies are found through strategic, innovative thinking and an openness to bring the right people to the table to find the most transformative solutions.

This effort is well underway.  To date, over 275 companies are taking action on science-based targets. Here’s a step-by-step guide to learn more about setting your own science-based target.

Collaborate for scale

Private sector leaders must work together and use their purchasing power to inspire a future where both business and the environment can prosper. There is too much rhetoric coming out of Washington, DC today about a false choice between a healthy environment and a growing economy. To borrow a well-used phrase from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich …that’s rubbish. The good news is that we can have both.  There are currently over four million jobs in the clean energy and sustainability sectors across all U.S. states. The solar industry is growing at a rate of 12 times faster than the U.S. economy. Business is innovating to create cleaner air and water, safer products and abundant, low-cost energy supplies while figuring out how to accommodate a growing population without decimating natural resources.

Business leaders must look beyond the four walls of their own operations and drive broader change across their industries and global supply chains.

Get started with EDF’s supply chain solutions center.

Shape future safeguards

The good news is that the momentum for a sustainable future is not going to come to a screeching halt now that Trump has said the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Agreement. Business leaders have voiced their intent to stay the course, loud and clear. But business has always relied on regulatory guardrails for long-term planning when it comes to the environment. What happens now?

First, if your company is already on the front-lines of climate policy, keep your foot on the gas and your brand at the forefront. If you need help stepping up your sustainability, EDF and other NGOs are here to help to drive business- and planet-worthy victories.

Second, if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens, now is the time to join the conversation. Step up and voice your business-first reasoning for a clean energy, sustainable future. Collaborate with others in your industry to amplify the message. Join other like-minded business leaders to uphold strong, global commitments.

How you can get involved:

  • Add your brand to the 1,219 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses and investors who have voiced their continued support for the Paris Agreement – We Are Still In.
  • Join the world’s most influential companies in committing to 100% renewables
  • Ask your Representatives to join the Climate Solutions Caucus

In the absence of federal safeguards for our environment, it is time for business to lead from the front.


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Companies can and should do more to eliminate lead in food – our kids’ health depends on it

As a parent, environmental professional and wife of an accomplished chef, I spend a lot of time thinking about food and how to make the best choices when it comes to feeding my family. That’s why EDF’s report detailing lead in food has me so concerned.

Usually I think about, and maybe even felt guilty at times, about the nutritional content and environmental impacts of the food I choose, but it never occurred to me to worry that the food itself could be contaminated with lead.  And, let’s just be clear – there is no scientific evidence of a safe level of lead in blood. Lead can harm a child’s developing brain, potentially leading to learning problems, lower IQ, as well as cause behavioral problems.

While I knew that the major exposures to lead come from lead-based paint, contaminated soil and dust, and drinking water, I didn’t realize that in order to have a comprehensive plan to protect my child from harm, contaminated food should also be on my list.

According to EDF’s analysis of FDA data from 2003 to 2013, 20% of baby food and 14% of other food sampled contained detectable levels of lead. The baby food items with the highest rates of detection include grape, mixed fruit, apple, and pear juices, sweet potatoes and carrots, arrowroot cookies, and teething biscuits.

The following chart details the percentage of various food samples where lead was detected.

There are two key takeaways from this chart.

  1. Some product types have a high percent of lead detection across the samples, while other product types have much smaller percentages.
  2. While many samples of products have detected levels of lead, every category has some products with no detectable levels of lead. This suggests that lead in food is a problem with a solution.

So, what is a food company to do?

  • Step 1 – Set a goal of less than 1 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in baby food and other foods marketed to young children
  • Step 2 – Test for lead
  • Step 3 – Identify the source of contamination – is it the raw ingredients, something the food is exposed to during processing, or something else?
  • Step 4 – Take steps to eliminate the contamination
  • Step 5 – Remain vigilant – keep testing and improving until the contamination is eliminated

What can you do?

Ask companies if they regularly test their products for lead; and whether they ensure that there is less than 1 ppb of lead in the food and juices they sell. If they don’t, let them know it is a high priority concern for you.

I’m about to have another baby, and I hope that by the time baby number two is here and ready to eat solids, food companies have taken the steps necessary to eliminate lead. That way, I can spend more time focusing on eating great food and less time worrying about if it’s  contaminated.

Trump budget breakdown: Time to defend the clean energy economy and American innovation

My first week on the job at Environmental Defense Fund was also the week the Trump administration released its full federal budget proposal. I joined the EDF + Business team after working at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), implementing technology-to-market innovation partnerships for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The proposal slashes EERE and related offices and programs that have been at the forefront of successful public-private partnerships. At a time when the U.S. is backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement and federal clean energy technology investments are critically and urgently needed, this budget threatens American innovation.

Funding that nurtures new businesses without requiring their owners to give up any stake in their companies can be make-or-break for the early-stage startups that drive innovation. When government, well-positioned to make this kind of unique investment, puts forth tax-payer dollars, it encourages the private sector to buy-in as well—oftentimes with a multiplying effect. DOE has created opportunities like these that reduce risks for both entrepreneurs and investors. It is through this public-private collaboration that meaningful partnerships and lasting progress are possible for clean energy and our nation’s economy.

Clean energy and innovation threatened

Titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” the president’s budget proposal jeopardizes nearly a decade of progress in building our clean energy economy.

Dulling the cutting edge of our nation’s innovation enterprise curtails our ability to strategically lead in scientific and technological innovations more broadly, across sectors. Decelerating cleantech research, development, demonstration, and deployment would also inhibit our ability to deal responsibly with climate change and its consequences.

Specifically, the President’s plan cuts FY18 funding to EERE by over $1.4 billion, down nearly 70 percent from FY16 and FY17 levels, and it all but eliminates the $290 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), with a 93 percent reduction for FY18. It zeroes out EERE’s Strategic Programs Office that initiated, funds, and organizes tech-to-market efforts like the National Incubator Initiative for Clean EnergySmall Business Vouchers Pilot, and Energy I-Corps, which build innovative partnerships among startups, small businesses, incubators, and accelerators and give them unprecedented access to national lab scientists, engineers, and equipment. The plan does note that strategic subprograms would be consolidated or transferred to elsewhere within DOE.

The budget also includes 70 percent cuts to both EERE’s Solar and Vehicle Technologies Offices. These are home to successful public-private partnership programs like the SunShot Initiative, which helped the solar industry achieve DOE’s vision of $1-per-watt three years early, and SuperTruck II, which builds upon the success of the original SuperTruck program that showed 115 percent improvements to freight fuel efficiency are possible.

The reductions go as far as eliminating the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office, which has worked with state, local, and tribal governments for decades to assist more than 7 million low-income households find significant savings through energy efficiency. These upgrades have lowered these families’ utility bills an average of $283 per year and brought demonstrated improvements to health and safety.

There is something for everyone to be concerned about in this proposed budget, and even the fossil fuel industry stands to lose.

Even DOE “crown jewels” that Energy Secretary Rick Perry vowed to protect are not safe as the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) now faces a 20 percent cut. NREL celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with its 2,200 employees who hold over 300 patents and further support the growing clean energy economy through more than 500 technology partnership agreements with businesses, nonprofits, and academic institutions. Despite these and other successes, the proposed budget significantly defunds or eliminates clean energy activities across all 17 national labs.

The contradictions between the administration’s rhetoric and numeric reality are signs that our Energy Department may very well lose its unique and leading role at home and abroad in driving innovation.

There is something for everyone to be concerned about in this proposed budget, and even the fossil fuel industry stands to lose from cuts to ARPA-E and EERE, which also work on methane leak detection and advanced combustion engines. These offices, programs, and labs have proven results, and to end or scale them back would be a disservice to U.S. industrial competitiveness and the American people.

Common ground and hope for progress

The good news is that clean energy continues to receive bipartisan support, and the proposed DOE cuts are widely opposed, including by at least six Republican senators. There is also broad consumer backing even among Trump voters for Energy Star, a joint EPA-DOE program helping consumers identify and select energy-saving products. Yet it too has been targeted by the administration. Fortunately, the private sector continues to step up, with diverse businesses and investors making serious cleantech commitments around the globe.

As I begin my work at EDF during these challenging times, I find hope in the common goal of human prosperity shared by the public and private sectors, in the opportunities created by collaborative approaches, and in the vast infrastructure and resilient spirit that are the true foundations of American entrepreneurship and innovation. Our country has a history of unexpected, rapid, and game-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, health, and sustainability that have improved the lives of millions of people. These can continue and accelerate into the future if, and only if, we do not back down now.

Follow Bryce Golden-Chen on Twitter

Photo source: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

FDA is reevaluating its tolerances for lead in food, and food manufacturers should too

By Tom Neltner, J.D., EDF Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Until recently, we have known very little about food’s contribution to children’s exposure to lead. Surprisingly, a recent report from the EPA found that two-thirds of one-year olds get most of their exposure from food. FDA has been reviewing its testing methods and standards for a while and just published FAQs regarding lead in food. Leading companies should take notice.

We have written about the health risk of lead exposure from major sources such as paint and water and the well-known fact that there is no safe level of lead in the blood of children. We also wrote about what agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are doing to reduce or eliminate persistent sources of lead exposure as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Food remains a poorly understood source of exposure.

In its FAQs for lead in food, FDA describes what it has done, its current standards, and its planned next steps. The agency makes no reference to EPA’s assessment and attributes the lead in food to contaminated soil. The agency say it seeks to limit lead in food to the greatest extent possible and set the following tolerances:

To limit lead in food to the greatest extent possible, FDA set the following tolerances:

  • Bottled water: 5 parts per billion (ppb);
  • Juices from berries and other small fruits, including grapes, and passion fruits: 50 ppb;
  • Other fruit juices and nectars, including apple: 30 ppb;
  • Candy likely to be consumed by small children: 100 ppb; and
  • Dried fruits, including raisins: 100 ppb.

Only the bottled water tolerance is established in regulations. For the rest, FDA provides only guidance.

How did FDA set the tolerances?

The 5 ppb limit in bottled water was established by FDA in 1995 based on the inability to reliably measure below that level and that only 2 of 48 (4%) samples collected by FDA exceeded those levels. For comparison, in 2016, the AAP recommended lead levels in drinking water at schools be less than 1 ppb.

The fruit juice limits are based on international food standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), an organization representing 188 countries and the European Union. Those standards were designed to ensure that only about 5% of the juice samples would exceed them. While Codex recognizes the risks posed by lead, its standard was not based on those risks.

For all other foods, FDA relies on a maximum daily intake level of 6 micrograms of lead per day (µg/day) for young children that it established in 1993 based on CDC’s Level of Concern of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).

One million children exceed FDA’s current maximum daily intake level

In the FAQs, FDA affirmed that “there is no known identified safe blood lead level” and acknowledges that scientific information has become available in the last decade that indicates neurotoxic effects at low levels of exposure to lead. It notes that the evidence has prompted EPA to lower its air quality standard, CDC to strengthen its standards, and the Joint WHO and FAO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) to withdraw its limit for lead because it concluded there was no safe level in food. With this backdrop, FDA is reevaluating “its methods for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers.”

At EDF, we are pleased to see FDA has undertaken this long overdue reevaluation. EPA’s draft report estimates that more than 5% of children between 2 and 7 years consume more than the 6 µg of lead/day FDA says is tolerable. This estimate excludes drinking water. With 20 million children in those age groups, that means 1 million children exceed the maximum daily intake level. And, by all accounts, this 1993 level does not reflect the mounting scientific evidence that has led other science-based organizations to reduce their standards. We are also encouraged to see that FDA is willing to be more protective of children’s health by conducting its own assessment rather than just following the Codex standards for fruit juices.

Food manufacturers and retailers can better earn consumer trust and avoid more costly changes by updating their preventive controls and supply chain management programs now to reduce lead levels in food.