Methane Detectors Challenge: An Unlikely Partnership

The 2016 election was one of the most divisive in recent history. I cannot remember a more polarizing time. However, today, I believe, more strongly than ever, that many Americans across the political spectrum have a hunger for something better: for turning down the volume, having rational conversations and finding common ground that unites us.

In the energy sector and environmental communities, this common ground means achieving solutions that benefit the environment and help businesses thrive, not pitting one against the other.

Three years ago, Environmental Defense Fund launched the Methane Detectors Challenge, an unlikely partnership between oil and gas companies and U.S.-based technology developers. This partnership aims to reduce methane emissions by catalyzing technology solutions that continuously detect these emissions. This is our story.

 A Shared Problem, A Shared Solution

25-percent

About 25 percent of today’s warming is driven by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry speed global climate change, waste a valuable energy resource (methane is the key component of natural gas), and often slip into the atmosphere with other pollutants, harming air quality.

In other words, methane emissions are a problem and detecting leaks quickly is a needed solution.

However, in 2013, we learned that no oil and gas operators were conducting 24/7 monitoring of methane emissions. None. Some companies were not using technology to conduct leak detection and repair activities, while others conducted manual leak surveys with special cameras once or twice a year – far better than nothing, but a long way from continuous detection made possible in the digital age.

When EDF learned about this lack of continuous monitoring, we could have launched a negative ad blitz. Started a petition. Designated a villain.

We didn’t.

Instead, where some might see failure, we saw opportunity and a reason to partner. We decided to take a risk, try something bold. We decided to partner with leading companies in the oil and gas industry, technical experts, and others, to source innovative technology solutions from the marketplace and solve the methane leak problem.

We called it the Methane Detectors Challenge. Our aim was to catalyze the development and adoption of new, cost effective, continuous detection systems.

I remember sharing our vision with Mark Boling, President – V+ Development Solutions at Southwestern Energy, over breakfast. Before the food had even arrived, Mark committed to Southwestern’s participation. We had our first partner. And this was just the beginning.

A Partnership Blooms

In the months that followed, we recruited partner after partner: Apache, Anadarko, BG Group, Hess, Noble Energy, Shell, Southwestern and Statoil. We found experts willing to lend their knowledge, from places like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the University of Houston.

We launched a series of gatherings that brought stakeholders together in Houston to define the problem and develop a shared plan of action. We got to know one another and to develop a common empathy for the challenges we all shared.

At the end of our first Steering Committee meeting, one of our corporate partners came up to me and said, “Great meeting today, but one thing you should change. Don’t call it the EDF Methane Detectors Challenge. Just call it the Methane Detectors Challenge. We’re all in this together.”

In March 2014, our jointly developed request for technology proposals was out in the world, and we soon reviewed twenty proposals from four different continents. The surge of market interest was incredible, and the best of the proposals inspired excitement among all partners.

By the end of 2015, in partnership with the independent non-profit Southwest Research Institute, we had conducted rigorous indoor and outdoor controlled testing of nearly a half dozen technologies. Two technologies performed excellently, catching leaks of various sizes in various wind conditions. Next step? Industry pilots.

When Challenge Strikes

As the Methane Detectors Challenge shifted from third-party evaluation to piloting, there were increased expectations of our oil and gas partners. They had already helped inform the project’s direction and shared invaluable technical input about their technology needs. The next step was a higher bar – purchasing one or more units and committing organizational resources for pilot testing.

And then a challenge struck.

In 2015, the oil and gas commodity markets fell off a cliff. Oil nose-dived from over $100 a barrel to as low as $29 a barrel. Natural gas prices crashed. Before we knew it, our partners were making layoffs, in some cases as large as 40%, and cutting capital expenditure by as much as 80% for the year ahead.

As the markets sunk and companies down-sized, our effort became much more challenging, but the foundation of trust and the value of our common mission remained unchanged. And so we persevered.

Over the course of 2016, dialogues continued between the leading entrepreneurs and a number of our industry partners. The unglamorous, but necessary issues were resolved: contracts, prices, disclosure and data sharing agreements.

And then one day, I came into my office to find a note from my colleague. “We have a deal”, it said. A large energy producer and Methane Detectors Challenge partner, Statoil, agreed to purchase a methane detection system and host a pilot with Colorado based start-up Quanta3.

Weeks later, we got more good news. Following a successful pilot test, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) (an enthusiastic recent addition to the Methane Detectors Challenge), agreed to send a device from Acutect, the other leading entrepreneur, to an operating facility in California for real-world testing.

In praise of an unexpected partnership

In the coming months, we will learn much more about how the technologies developed for the Methane Detectors Challenge perform in the trials with Statoil, PG&E, and likely others. It’s too soon to know whether these technologies will provide the needed breakthrough for continuous methane detection, whether they will require additional development, or whether other advances from the marketplace will propel methane management forward.

But it’s not too soon to appreciate this unexpected partnership.

pge-methane-sensor-3828-300dpiWe have demonstrated that there is a vibrant global marketplace of entrepreneurs eager for the chance to accelerate a clean energy future and willing to take risks along the way. And, we have shown that diverse groups can come together over a shared vision.

Most of all, I hope we have proven that even in this era of divisiveness, partnerships are not just possible, they are powerful. Our door is always open to new partners.

 

EDF is grateful to our partners and hope the Methane Detectors Challenge is the beginning of something even bigger.


Follow @RatnerBen on Twitter


 

Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?

The Value of Pursuing a Rational Middle in Polarized Times

rational-middleAt Energy Dialogues’ North American Gas Forum last month, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel moderated by Gregory Kallenberg of the Rational Middle. While the panel pre-dated the presidential election, the topic of constructive engagement through rational discourse is now more important than ever.

We explored how environmental groups, industry, and other stakeholders need to come together to rationally discuss and collaboratively act on the challenges of meeting rising energy demand while addressing real and growing environmental risks.

The still principally fossil-based energy system, which includes natural gas, is not the only cause of climate change, but it is the largest. And so a range of stakeholders, from protesters holding signs, to investors with a long term interest in the future of natural gas, to industry consumers, are looking with increasing criticism at fossil fuels. That was true before the election, and it’s true today. They’re asking: How can we reconcile the environment we want to protect for the future with the traditional energy and feedstock resources we are using now?

Unfortunately, industry, when pressed with concerns and asked to act, has often come up short. For example, with precious few exceptions, oil and natural gas companies have declined to set quantitative methane reduction targets – of their own choosing, and for their own product. And they have declined to join their counterparts’ support for a 2 degree limit on temperature rise. Too often, industry has failed to engage with the real concerns of their customers and communities.

But there’s a better way.

As Sarah Sandberg, from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said on the panel, “You’re either at the table or on the menu.” As panelist Michael Crothers from Shell observed, industry must engage directly and responsively with the legitimate climate concerns of the general public. And they’re right.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we work to create opportunities for diverse stakeholders to come to the table and have the conversations that feed the actions – whether establishing public policy, catalyzing technology innovation, or making best practice standard practice – to address environmental challenges and protect our future.

There have been bright spots of industry leadership, like energy companies joining the table in Colorado to help craft the first methane regulations, or Shell Canada supporting Alberta’s new climate strategy, including a methane goal backed by regulations. Unfortunately, such constructive engagements have been the exception to the rule. All too often, industry’s response to environmental concerns and opportunities has amounted to “Just Say No”.

A better response? “Just Say How.” For example:

  • How will operators demonstrate that they hear and are addressing in practical terms, the air and groundwater pollution concerns of the 15 million Americans who live within a mile of a well?
  • How will industry leaders acknowledge and finally engage on public policy to reduce their contribution to climate change?
  • How will they make unnecessary methane emissions a thing of the past, by finding and fixing leaks?
  • How will the companies that do step up and lead on these issues maximize the competitive advantage of being cleaner companies in a world that demands it?

Let’s hope industry can take the real issues head on and start showing how we can make positive changes by working together. Pressure on industry is not going away, and rational engagement can help cut a productive path through polarization.

Things You May Have Missed During the Election #1: Walmart, Trust and Sustainability

There’s been a lot of talk about “trust” in the media lately—and it wasn’t all coming from the Trump and Clinton camps. In case you missed it, Walmart announced its 2025 goals just a few days before the election, as part of what Walmart CEO Doug McMillon characterized as a “new era of trust and transparency for customers and communities”.jenny_helen_expert

I’m going to do us all a favor and not re-visit the politicians’ pleas for trust. But Walmart’s desire to become “the most trusted retailer” makes me simultaneously wary and hopeful.

My wariness comes from the fact that we’ve heard plenty of companies talk about trust—especially as it relates to how much trust their customers have in them. And it’s no surprise why: trust is a key driver in customer loyalty and therefore repeat shopping trips and sales. So my cynical self keeps tip-toeing in and setting off the “empty sales pitch alert”, as in: if you have to say you’re trustworthy, you’re probably not.

But, having spent the last five years working side-by-side with Walmart to help them reach their 2015 sustainability goals, I’m hopeful. We all learned a lot in the process of using science to set goals, track progress and actually deliver measurable results… and I’m confident that Walmart can be even more successful this round.

Which is good: many of the 2025 goals—like making more packaging recyclable, reducing harmful ingredients in food and improving working conditions of their employees—matter, a lot. And achieving these goals should engender trust in Walmart: these issues touch consumers directly, and are quickly becoming part of mainstream thinking shared by other retailers and food companies (see the Wall Street Journal’s recent Global Food Forum).

But there's another dimension to the 2025 goals that gives me even greater hope.

What Walmart—and other companies—are starting to realize is that other, less tangible issues also matter. Real leadership means addressing all the major sustainability issues of our time—then helping their customers to come along with them.

Take climate change, for example: past shopper surveys asking mothers to rank areas of “concern” for their families have probably seen food safety scoring much higher on the list than the climate. But if the question were rephrased to ask “are the direct impacts of climate change (like more frequent severe weather) a concern for you and your family?”, I’m willing to bet the survey results would be a lot closer.

That’s why it’s so exciting to see Walmart’s other 2025 goals, where they will strive to achieve:

  • 50% renewable energy to power their operations
  • 18% absolute emissions reduction in their operations
  • Zero waste to landfill
  • Zero net deforestation in key commodities, such as palm oil and beef
  • 100% recyclable packaging in private brands
  • 1 Gigaton emissions reduction across their supply chain

While all of these goals are both laudable and ambitious, this last one—eliminating 1 Gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions—is an industry game-changer.  That’s the equivalent of removing 211 million cars from our roads… and is greater than the annual amount of GHGs emitted by the country of Germany.

And the even better news: Walmart’s not alone. Recent commitments by other companies like General Mills, Kellogg and Pepsi, shows that setting ambitious, science-based climate targets is now officially a trend. Achieving goals like these won’t be immediately seen, felt or touched by their customers—yet these companies are choosing to tackle them anyway.

That’s true leadership.

That’s saying to all of us, “we’ve got the power, scale and leverage to change the world, and we’re going to do it.”

That’s the way to engender real trust.

America knows better: Addressing climate change is good business

President-elect Donald Trump made claims of his own business smarts a cornerstone of his campaign. Vote for him, the logic went, and send a first-rate businessman to the Oval Office to apply business acumen to make America great. Unfortunately, Trump’s actions to date on climate and energy – notably charging a climate change denier with leading the EPA transition and signaling desire to abandon the historic Paris climate accords – send a message of business obliviousness.

In contrast, a smart business approach would embrace tackling greenhouse gas emissions and supporting clean energy. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Create American jobs – The opportunity to create new American jobs in the transition to clean energy is tremendous. There are now more jobs in solar energy than in coal mining, and the number of solar jobs has grown more than 20 percent in each of the last three years. States like Florida and Nevada are bountiful in sun and can contribute to American energy self-sufficiency.Moreover, just as smart action to nurture domestic clean energy can accelerate jobs in the renewable sector, there are jobs on the line helping the oil and gas industry reduce its air pollution in a cost effective way. Environmental Defense Fund found that there are over 70 American firms employing Americans to help keep potent methane emissions in natural gas pipelines and out of the atmosphere. These jobs, thriving in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, are mainly small business and above average wages – exactly what we all want to see more of. Of course, it’s a competitive global economy, and taking our foot off the pedal in creating green jobs could well cede the space to others like China, which already leads the United States in clean energy investment. Whatever a politician’s personal views on climate change, it is undeniable that global demand is growing for clean energy solutions. Growing demand means growing commercial opportunity for the United States in terms of innovation and exports. But only if we seize it.
  1. Listen to leading American businesses – Savvy business people listen to each other. So Mr. Trump should be interested to learn that 154 American businesses supported the American Businesses Act on Climate Pledge in the run-up to the Paris climate accords. These businesses are a part of the backbone of the American economy, employing nearly 11 million people across all 50 states, with a then market capitalization of over $7 trillion. Participating companies of particular interest: 21st Century Fox, Dupont, Wal-Mart, even a name that will be familiar to any casino magnate – MGM Resorts.These companies not only voiced support for a strong Paris outcome, they committed to increase their low-carbon investments in line with the direction of America’s leadership. Pulling out the rug from American businesses investing in low-carbon would send a destabilizing signal to the market. More recently, 365 companies including Unilever, Intel, General Mills and others reinforced that “implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all”. In sum, the overwhelming voice of businesses who have weighed in on the Paris talks are supportive of climate action. This business groundswell cannot be ignored. Nor should Trump ignore his own prior signing of a 2009 letter that failure to act on climate and the environment would cause “catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”
  1. It hits home – Continued American leadership on climate change can help mitigate physical risks to some of Mr. Trump’s most cherished investments, for example the Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach. NOAA found that “tidal flooding is increasing in frequency within the U.S. coastal communities due to sea level rise from climate change and local land subsidence.”Just a week before the election, the Palm Beach Daily News reported that the local Shore Protection Board unanimously recommended a six-figure “coastal vulnerability evaluation” as flooding has remained long after high tide in certain cases.
  1. Voters want clean energy – One of many things that will change for Donald Trump is that going from CEO to President means having a boss – actually about 300 of million of them. A recent Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans worry “a fair amount” or “a great deal” about climate change, an increase from last year, and including 84% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 40% of Republicans. Clean energy is also wildly popular, with over 80% of Americans saying they support increased wind and solar, according to a recent Pew Poll.

Early on the campaign trail, Donald Trump often used his association with his alma mater, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as Exhibit A in establishing his business smarts. Political leaders including Mr. Trump must learn from experts like Wharton’s Professor Eric Orts, who noted that moving away from President Obama’s climate change polices would come with stiff costs.

From missing out on job creation to ignoring business leaders who have studied the issue and have a stake in its resolution, and from fueling risk to Trump’s own business interests to overlooking voter desires, the case is clear that the costs are stiff indeed. Climate action is good business, and the smart money says it’s time to stay the course.

COP22 – Continued Progress Needs U.S. Business Leadership

victoriaAs world leaders gather in Marrakech for the 22nd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 22) it’s worth celebrating the remarkable progress made recently in the global fight against climate change, and the positive contribution of U.S. businesses in making it happen.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4th, four years ahead of schedule. Its rapid ratification by over 100 countries representing more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions demonstrates the commitment of participants to urgent action on climate change. Over 150 U.S. corporations publicly expressed support for the Paris agreement, representing more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue and with a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion.

Last month, the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed to cap greenhouse gas emissions from international flights at 2020 levels, using market-based mechanisms to offset climate pollution from this rapidly growing sector. U.S. airlines welcomed the agreement as an effective complement to their own efforts to cut emissions through improvements to equipment, fuels and infrastructure, and as a unified global approach to achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 on.

Also in October, negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), gases with 1,000 times the heat-trapping power of CO2. The agreement enjoyed the support of U.S. chemical companies that are developing environmentally preferable alternatives to HFCs, and is good news for companies everywhere that want to cut greenhouse gas emissions from their global supply chains.

Business support was instrumental in reaching all three agreements, and will be critical to implementing them successfully. The good news is that leading companies are already taking action to help the U.S. meet its climate goals. To build on this great momentum, more companies need to take the next step in corporate climate leadership. Here are three ways business can step up:

  1. Setting ambitious GHG reduction goals. PepsiCo recently announced a goal to reduce absolute GHG emissions at least 20% by 2025, joining Kellogg’s, General Mills and Walmart in setting big goals to cut climate pollution from their supply chains. Almost 200 companies have joined the Science-Based Targets initiative, committing to reduce their GHG emissions in line with climate science.
  2. Scaling up renewable energy. Over 80 companies, including Apple, General Motors and Unilever have now joined RE100, an initiative to by committing to use 100% renewable energy sources. And the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance brings together three different initiatives working with break down barriers to large-scale renewable energy deployment. Together, these companies are leading the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy system.
  3. Shaping public policy. Leading businesses are looking beyond their fence lines and seeking to transform the systems in which they operate. By supporting climate and energy policies that impact entire sectors of the economy, they’re having the biggest impact of all. Earlier this year, eight companies including Apple, Google and Microsoft filed amicus briefs supporting the Clean Power Plan. And private fleet owners, engine manufacturers and technology providers joined together to advocate for the new Clean Truck standards announced in August by the U.S. EPA and DOT.

It will take the continued leadership of U.S. businesses to ensure that we stay on track to deliver on the promise of Paris, meeting our 2025 targets and bending the emissions curve even more steeply downward thereafter. Working together, businesses and policymakers can create a world in which a stable climate and thriving economy go hand in hand.


Follow EDF+Business on Twitter, @EDFBiz


 

 

Walmart’s 2025 Sustainability Goals: My Three Takeaways

Amidst the noise in the run-up to the election, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon will map out the company’s sustainability goals for the year 2025 later today. As a keynote speaker at this year’s Net Impact Conference, he'll be delivering a fairly lengthy, aspiration list; here are a few highlights of what the world’s largest retailer has planned:ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377

  • 50% renewable Energy
  • 18% absolute emissions reduction Scopes 1+2
  • 1 Gigaton emissions reduction Scope 3
  • Zero waste to landfill by 2025
  • Zero net deforestation in key commodities
  • 100% recyclable packaging in private brands

As a director of the NGO that has worked closely* with Walmart on their sustainability journey over the last ten years, here are my initial, big takeaways:

Walmart can’t accomplish such ambitious goals alone. Which is good.

Getting to 50% renewables, reducing absolute emissions from their stores and trucks, and removing a gigaton of GHG emissions from their supply chain are exactly the kinds of leadership goals Walmart should be putting forth to help meet the challenge of climate change.

But, actually delivering on these goals will be no joke. Luckily, our 25 years of working with companies has consistently revealed two, important guideposts:

  • specific, ambitious goals are vital for driving innovation and progress;
  • achieving real, science-based results truly takes a village of collaborators.

To give just one example, three years ago Walmart set a policy to eliminate eight of the most prevalent and concerning chemicals in their home and personal care products. With no clear path forward, Walmart engaged thousands of suppliers, requiring them to submit full product formulations to a 3rd-party database, then replace those eight ingredients with safer substitutes.

The result? A 95% reduction in chemicals of concern, adding up to 23 million pounds.  This affects 90,000 products that are sold everywhere, not just on the shelves at Walmart. At the same time, this work also helped to set the stage for this year’s passage of The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, the first piece of environmental legislation in a generation aimed at fixing our broken system of regulating toxic chemicals.

By aiming big and bringing on strategic partners, Walmart was able to go further, faster than they’d ever dreamed. The same holds true now.

Corporate sustainability is officially a trend.

Walmart’s announcement is just the latest in a string of other companies—PepsiCo, Kellogg, General Mills—who have also put forth ambitious sustainability goals. What this tells us is that companies are proving, over and over again, that this is not about “doing the right thing,” it’s about doing what creates business value and environmental progress.

As if to prove this point, last month Doug McMillon talked publicly about how sustainability is a core part of their business strategy during an investor call. In this first-time-event-for-a-Walmart-CEO, he emphasized to Wall Street that one of the four ways that Walmart will win in the 21st century: lead on sustainability by being “the most trusted retailer” and call out progress on making products like shampoo and lotion safer, healthier and better for the planet**, increasing renewables and reducing waste.

Sustainability is finally being seen for what it is: a smart business strategy. In a world of decreasing resources and consumers that want better products, there’s no other path forward in the long term.  And, looking around at what’s happening, the long term is here!

The election is finally (almost) over. Now let’s get back to work.

This election has shown that people want change.  It’s been scary and unsettling but it’s a challenge we can’t shrink from. We have healing to do as a country, which can only begin if we engage with each other. Climate change and its effects are going to get worse before they get better.  Just look at this summer’s fires in California, the hurricane in Haiti, the floods in Louisiana and North Carolina…

I know there’s another path forward.

Having worked with companies over the last 25 years doing what many thought was impossible, I have hope.  These corporate leaders aren’t waiting for regulation to force them to act, but are choosing to consciously, aggressively become more sustainable. And, I’m inspired by companies doing the hard work to think beyond their corporate walls and take ownership for the impact of the products they make and sell in the world.

The scary truth is,  business won’t know exactly how to achieve the aspirational goals we need for our planet and for long-term business viability mean that.  That forces an openness to innovation and requires bringing suppliers and customers in as partners to achieve those goals.

So congratulations, Walmart, on setting aggressive yet achievable goals for 2025—and doing what the science tells us needs to get done for a stable and healthy planet. You have a proven track record of meeting and exceeding big sustainability goals. We expect the same here.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership.  We like to say we get paid in environmental results.

** I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that while Walmart is committing to healthy products in their 2025 goals, we are disappointed to not see further goals on the path to becoming a “toxic free” store.

 

Panera Bread tackles “clean” food – and means it

Panera BreadLast June, fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it would do away with the remaining artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its Panera at Home products. The company expects to make its entire portfolio of nearly 50 grocery items “clean,” meaning free of its “No No List” additives, by the end of 2016.

"Cleaning" up its Panera at Home product line comes in addition Panera’s 2014 commitment  to remove the “No No list” ingredients from all restaurant food offerings within the same time frame and adhere to other criteria of its “Food Policy”.

Panera has consistently run far ahead of their competitors, and they’ve done it in five key areas where companies can lead on chemicals: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informing consumers, public commitment, and product design. Panera set such a good example of leadership in making safer food available to their customers that we’ve developed a case study to showcase Panera’s approach and results to date.

EDF worked with Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, to develop the case study, who offered many insights into their process. For example, on Panera’s decision to expand its commitment to include retail food, Burnett shared that, “Much of the work that we’ve done to simplify recipes in our bakery-cafes has set a standard for Panera at Home products. However, the challenges in the consumer packaged goods space are unique, where artificial additives have long been used to preserve taste and appearance. For us, the answer was often simple. For instance, we decided early on to use refrigeration to help extend shelf life for products like our soups and salad dressings. Where necessary, we’ve relied on natural preservatives – such as rosemary extract – to do the job.”

Panera started that process by looking at every ingredient used in their food and deciding what was essential. Once that determination was made, Panera identified more than 150 food additives to be prohibited in their food after 2016. Of approximately 450 ingredients they manage, roughly one-third needed reformulation.

Out of several hundred suppliers, only one walked away as a result of the new guidelines. In addition, the deep dive into Panera’s sources and potential replacement options also surfaced opportunities for improvement. As a result, many of the suppliers found that they not only strengthened their relationship with Panera, but developed better business offerings for their other customers.

While a limited number of categories still require change – sweets and fountain sodas among them – Panera has overcome many of its toughest challenges. For example, broccoli cheddar soup took 60 revisions to meet customer expectations in taste tests. Many items, from candy pieces to mozzarella cheese, are now differently colored from their predecessors but meet Panera’s clean criteria and customer preferences. Two products – pepperoncini and white pastry cream – have been unable to meet both Panera’s and customers’ expectations, and will likely be removed from the menu come 2017.

Sales numbers would indicate that customers are also pleased. In July 2016, Panera Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich said “Our strong Q2 results reinforce the fact that our strategy is working and our initiatives are performing. Panera is becoming a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. At a time when other restaurant companies are feeling the impact of a slowing consumer environment, we are maintaining our momentum.”

Or as Burnett puts it, “When we meet customer needs and expectations, sales follow.”

Panera is not alone in their efforts, but they are definitely among the leaders. Since Panera announced its comprehensive food policy in June of 2014, more than a dozen major food manufacturers and restaurants have also made public commitments to reduce or eliminate artificial flavors and colors from their brands.

Learn more about how food companies can lead on safer chemicals management with our blueprint for safer food additives, part of EDF’s Behind the Label initiative.

Follow Michelle Harvey at @MMHarvey

 

Technology Breakthroughs: Creating Fertile Ground for Innovation in the Oil and Gas Sector

aileen_nowlan_31394David Hone, Chief Climate Change Advisor at Shell, recently stated that it takes 25 years for a new technology to reach one percent of the energy system. At the multinational companies I have worked with as clients and partners, I have seen how much time it can take to launch a new idea or product.  But, I believe we can and must accelerate the pace of technology development and adoption. This is especially crucial in the area of methane detection. Methane is the main component of natural gas and methane emissions are the cause of 25% of today’s global warming.

For the past three years, the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a groundbreaking partnership between Environmental Defense Fund, oil and gas companies, technology developers, and other experts, has focused on designing and testing promising methane detection technologies. Two of the most promising technologies, both of which provide low-cost continuous methane emissions monitoring, will soon be pilot-tested by major oil and gas companies. Moving from concept to pilots in just a few years teaches us that it is possible to accelerate the adoption of new technology in the oil and gas sector.

Lesson One: Bring all stakeholders to the table around a realistic shared goal

During tMDC_teamhe initial phase of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we facilitated a series of meetings between environmentalists, scientists and oil and gas companies, including Shell, Noble Energy and Southwestern Energy.  This collaborative approach set MDC up for success.  We gained insights on how methane detectors would need to work in the field—simple, self-powered, able to send automated alarms—and this helped the technology entrepreneurs target key functionality.

Our environmental goal for MDC struck a balance of ambitious and pragmatic; detecting big emissions that account for the vast majority of total methane emissions.  By understanding which features would deliver the most impact, we focused on key—but not all—technology gaps.  This dramatically sped up the development and testing time.

Lesson Two: Cast the net widely

At the start of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we cast the net widely for initial applications. If existing providers aren’t already solving the problem, there is no reason to stick with the familiar.  MDC invited applications from all over the world and from different industries.  The result was technologies adapted from outer space, coal mine safety, and personal breathalyzers, to name a few: fresh ideas and new approaches brought together by entrepreneurs who are committed to slowing the tide of climate change.

Lesson Three: Small, flexible investments can pay off

Small investments in emerging technologies can yield great results, and while not all will pay off, those with promise will improve rapidly. This is a portfolio approach to innovation—much like successful Silicon Valley enterprises. This requires leadership commitment and clear communication of project goals to all stakeholders, then being flexible and creative.

Taking some early-stage risk is necessary to create opportunity for big payoffs. Oil and gas companies are familiar with this at the exploration stage; the same is true for technology innovation.  MDC focused on new hardware solutions. Many entrepreneurs (as with entrepreneurs in other sectors) were often advancing personal funds to contract manufacturers or suppliers. This is a dangerous stage that many startups do not survive.

Oil and gas companies should consider offering working capital, rapid payment terms, and in-kind support for early-stage ventures.  The payoff could be significant—a more efficient, more effective strategy that works with a company’s exact specifications. With the right assistance, hardware startups are still not going to turn a profit on the first units, but they might make it through their first year.

MDC headerCatalyzing innovation requires flexibility and compromise on all sides.  Just as entrepreneurs aim to learn about the culture, quality and safety standards and business priorities of oil and gas customers, oil and gas companies will learn and improve faster if they ask themselves what they do and do not need from an early-stage entrepreneur as compared to their expectations of an established provider.  Their requirements for fast iteration of a developing technology may be different from adoption of a tested and proven technology. A lower risk, rapid improvement orientation can be reflected in product or service agreements, warranties, and the feedback offered to innovators.  Similarly, for oil and gas companies, the business case for adopting a new technology may not initially outweigh their current approach.  But with a portfolio of small bets, and the patience to help new ideas progress down the cost curve, these companies increase the odds that a new technology dramatically improves on the status quo.

During the Methane Developers Challenge, I have witnessed first-hand how environmentalists and oil and gas companies can learn from the portfolio approach and rapid iteration lessons of Silicon Valley innovation. In the next few months, MDC entrepreneurs will learn from deploying their technologies at major oil and gas companies. This is a powerful example of ambitious and pragmatic collaboration. This corporate leadership, with oil and gas companies taking a risk and putting their unique resources and insights to work catalyzing innovation, will enable business and the planet to thrive.


Follow Aileen Nowlan on Twitter, @aileennow


Additional information on EDF Methane Detectors Challenge

 

As Investors Benchmark Methane Management, Where Will Companies Stand?

Ben Ratner headshotGlobal attention on oil and gas methane emissions is taking off. The International Energy Agency has recognized that  “the potential for natural gas to play a credible role in the transition to a decarbonized energy system fundamentally depends on minimizing these [methane] emissions.” North American heads of state recently committed to reduce oil and gas methane emissions 45% by 2025. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued standards for methane from new sources, while Canada and Mexico begin executing their commitment to develop regulations necessary to achieve waste-cutting emission reductions.

With a rising wave of public and policy maker scrutiny, it’s no surprise that methane has become a hot topic in investor circles. A group of 76 investors representing $3.6T assets under management publicly supported the North American methane announcement. And a much broader set of investors, from large institutional investors to private equity, and socially responsible investors to large banks, are turning their attention to reading up on the issue and engaging operator management in quiet but important conversations on managing this rising risk. As leading global asset management company Allianz Global noted to its clients, methane emissions are “the next frontier for the Oil & Gas industry” and there is an “urgent need to act."

EDF has long recognized the power of stakeholders with an economic incentive to drive progress that helps people and nature prosper. That’s why we are devoting a growing effort to educate oil and gas investors on why methane risk matters and what they can do to address it through constructive engagement with operators across the world.

In a post-Paris, carbon constrained world where investors constantly demand more and better information on all manner of corporate responses to climate risk, it’s only a matter of time until investors have the data at their fingertips to use the quality of methane management as one additional input in decision making processes, even including which companies to buy or sell.

If that seems like a stretch, just consider: an operator managing methane aggressively is better poised for smooth regulatory compliance, while also reaping operational efficiencies through waste reduction, providing evidence they can be part of the transition to a lower carbon energy economy, showing neighbors they are helping to reduce air pollution, and even appealing to top talent in an environmentally conscious workforce.

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In the meantime, EDF has released a new resource in partnership with the Principles for Responsible Investment: “An Investor’s Guide to Methane: Engaging with Oil and Gas Companies to Manage a Rising Risk”, which builds on our landmark report “Rising Risk: Improving Methane Disclosure in the Oil and Gas Industry.” While the primary audience is investors who represent growing demand for improved methane management (and indeed gave us the idea for creating a guide in the first place), the Guide is public for a reason – operators who want to get ahead of the curve can review it for themselves.

Our Guide is based on three simple ideas. 1) Methane poses a material risk, in the form of financial, reputational, and regulatory risk. 2) Managing the risk well requires directly measuring emissions, transparently reporting the plan of action and its results, and actively reducing emissions. 3) Continuous improvement is key: each company can advance along the spectrum from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced, on each dimension of measure, report, reduce.

As operators review the Guide, they can use it to benchmark where they are today, prepare for dialogue with investors, and develop an action plan for continuous improvement. Whether motivated by investor relations, operational enhancements, regulatory positioning, or simply doing the right thing, we hope operators will find the guide to be a useful tool. Competitive advantage is at stake, and there’s no time to waste.


Follow Ben Ratner on Twitter, @RatnerBen