A strong climate deal makes dollars and sense for American business

VictoriaMills_287x377_1The chorus of business voices calling for climate action has grown steadily in size and strength in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks. Now that COP 21 is finally here, companies have pumped up the volume even more, with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a wave of new commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Championing a Low-Carbon USA

In today’s Wall Street Journal, over a hundred U.S. companies placed a full-page advertisement calling for a shift to a low-carbon economy. The ad’s message is simple: failure to act on climate change puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right action now will create jobs and boost competitiveness. Companies as diverse as Colgate-Palmolive, eBay, General Mills, Ingersoll-Rand, Microsoft, Owens Corning and Pacific Gas & Electric signed on to the ad, which encourages the U.S. government to:

  1. Seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
  2. Support action to reduce U.S. emissions that achieves or exceeds national commitments and increases ambition in the future
  3. Support investment in a low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors

These companies recognize that their efforts alone can’t solve an issue like climate change. Businesses need governments around the world to act as well. By setting ambitious goals and providing regulatory certainty, governments can unleash the power of the marketplace to deliver the necessary reductions in emissions, while also boosting competitiveness and economic growth.

Walking the Talk with the White House

This week, the White House announced that another 73 companies – including Amazon, Cisco Systems, DuPont, National Grid and News Corp. – have signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. By signing the pledge, businesses not only declare their support for a strong outcome in Paris, but also commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their own operations. With this third wave of pledges, 154 companies are saying that a low-carbon economy is good for business. These companies have operations in all 50 states, employ nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion.

Aiming High for Best Results

One final point about goal-setting: ambitious goals drive superior results. Just ask Walmart. The retailer recently surpassed its goal of reducing its global greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million metric tons by 2015, reducing them instead by 28 million metric tons. The company achieved these reductions through a wide range of initiatives, from improving energy efficiency to greening its fleet to working with EDF to cut fertilizer use across 20 million acres of farmland. If you had asked Walmart ten years ago how it was going to deliver the 20 million metric tons, it’s unlikely they could have told you. But having an ambitious goal sealed their commitment and unleashed the creativity needed to get it done – and then some.

Perhaps that’s the strongest message for our negotiators in Paris: set the targets needed to stabilize the climate, and let business innovate to meet them. Whatever the outcome of COP 21, the leadership these companies have demonstrated through their public commitments to address climate change will be even more important after the delegates come home and it’s time to turn talk into action. We look forward to seeing that leadership continue in the months and years ahead.

How helping a multi-billion dollar company (aka Walmart) is like raising a child

When it comes to Walmart meeting its greenhouse gas goal, parenting and sustainability have more in common than you think.

Notes from the Nursery/Eco-Business Nexus

I’m proud to say that Walmart just announced that they’ve not only hit but surpassed a goal that was, at the time, considered nothing short of audacious: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 20 million metric tons (MMT) in just six years.

So why am I proud? Two reasons.

First, I’ve worked alongside them every step of the way. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been Walmart’s lead partner throughout this process, and as a Supply Chain specialist for EDF, I know first-hand the massive amount of research, measurement, innovation, collaboration and communication that has gone into bringing this goal across the finish line.

Second, I’m a brand new mother – and as I stare down into my 5-month-old daughter Helen’s eyes, there’s nothing I care more about than ensuring she grows up in a world that is on course to thrive—both economically and environmentally.  Walmart’s achievement gives me hope for both.Helen and Jenny

So, yes, I’m proud. Because while it may seem that my two unique perspectives—one from the nursery, one from inside the halls of the world’s largest retailer—are worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common. Read more

Walmart Vaults Past Fleet Efficiency Goals Ahead of Schedule

It’s one thing to reach a goal, stop and toast your success. But in the case of Walmart’s announcement yesterday, the finish line became a mile marker and now the company is looking at how much farther it can go.

In 2005, we worked with Walmart to set its first long-term freight goals – to increase its fleet efficiency by 25 percent by 2008 and then to double it by 2015. Walmart cleared the first goal with room to spare and announced yesterday that it has not only doubled fleet efficiency but is now on track to go further – and in the process, will avoid almost 650,000 metric tons of CO2 and save nearly $1 billion in this fiscal year alone.Trucks-Walmart

It’s a testament to the holistic approach Walmart’s taken to improve the efficiency of its fleets. The Walmart sustainability team started by choosing a specific metric of cases shipped per gallon burned in 2005 – shipping the most cases of goods the fewest miles using the most efficient equipment – and then attacked the problem from all sides to get it done.

As companies work to increase the efficiency of their freight moves – taking steps on their Green Freight Journey – it’s tempting to choose one area to work on at a time. But by choosing a few key areas to focus on – developing innovative solutions for loading, routing and driving techniques, and collaborating with tractor and trailer manufacturers on new technologies – Walmart was able to bolster freight efficiency along its supply chain at multiple points. Read more

Climbing Toward Corporate Sustainability, Even Walmart Can’t Do It Alone

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377Ten years ago, the CEO of Walmart and the president of Environmental Defense Fund hiked together on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Along the way, Lee Scott of Walmart (now retired) and Fred Krupp of EDF talked about climate change and the environmental challenges of our time. They also talked about ways that Walmart could drive positive environmental change in its product lines and operations.

The hike turned out to be the start of a ten-year journey of collaboration between Walmart and EDF, one that has helped define a new model of corporate sustainability.

In a speech that year, Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals:

“Our environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

These goals are both ambitious and aspirational, and I’m not sure how to achieve them…..at least not yet. This obviously will take some time…”

Lee Scott, Oct. 23, 2005

Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the 21st Century Leadership speech, EDF is taking a moment to take stock of how far this journey has taken us and the distance left to travel.

First, what have we achieved? Here are three of our proudest accomplishments:

EDF and Walmart - removing 20MMT of GHG from its global supply chain

Click to enlarge

1. Today, Walmart is announcing that it will surpass its aggressive goal of reducing 20 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain. In total, Walmart will reduce 28 MMT of GHG from its supply chain by the end of 2015. To achieve this goal, Walmart tackled a diverse range of projects: from helping end consumers through improving products like LED light bulbs; to creating a Closed Loop Recycling fund, and changing food date labeling to reduce waste; and working with EDF to conserve fertilizer use on over 20 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Overall, the 20 MMT reduction of GHG from Walmart’s supply chain is the equivalent of getting almost six million cars off the road.

Yes, EDF pushed Walmart to set this goal; but we also worked side by side with them to achieve it. It is this type of long-term collaboration that drives results at scale, an achievement foreshadowed by EDF president Fred Krupp when he said, "When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world."

2. In 2013, Walmart put a chemicals policy in place that is phasing out chemicals of concern in over 100,000 home and personal care products like laundry soap and shampoo. Private brand products now list all of their ingredients online so consumers have more transparency into what chemicals they are using in their home and on their bodies.

3. EDF and Walmart helped create the Sustainability Index, a tool powered by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) that has evaluated billions of dollars of products on Walmart shelves. To date, 70% of Walmart suppliers have filled out the Index. Read more

Cameras, Drones and Lasers: How They're Tackling Oil and Gas Pollution


Heath Consultants' methane-measuring drone

Dr. Jason Gu was still a graduate student when he developed the technology behind SenSevere, a start-up that creates laser-based gas sensors for use in heavy industry and power plants. Today, he’s working to apply this technology to methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, making him one of the many entrepreneurs developing solutions to tackle the problem. His fascination with innovation isn’t just making his clients more efficient—it may also be saving the planet.

The hidden cost of methane

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a powerful pollutant responsible for a quarter of the global warming we feel today. The oil and gas industry releases 7 million tons of it into the atmosphere every year through emissions from oil and gas fields and associated pipelines, resulting in over a billion dollars’ worth of wasted American energy resources. And, toxic chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen, can accompany methane emissions, posing a potential threat to public health.

“The industry is beginning to become more sensitized to the fact that methane is an aggressive greenhouse gas,” said James Armstrong, president of Apogee Scientific, a Colorado-based methane mitigation company. For more than 15 years, Apogee has manufactured a methane detection system that uses a vacuum and infrared sensors and can be mounted to trucks, ATVs and helicopters to identify leaks in the field. “If you find the leaks and repair them, you’re not only helping the environment…you’re extending the resource.” Read more

Innovations in Sustainable Finance: The View From SOCAP15

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.

SOCAP logoI recently returned from SOCAP15, an annual conference “at the intersection of money + meaning”… in other words, a good place to be if you’re interested in how to harness markets to deliver financial, as well as social and environmental, returns. A record 2,600 attendees turned up this year, evidence of the growing interest in sustainable finance.

The increased focus on this space has triggered a wave of innovations aimed at addressing some of the sector’s key challenges, such as building and supporting a pipeline of investible entrepreneurs, securing sufficient demand from investors, and linking those players so that capital can flow efficiently to provide the greatest impact. It’s a challenging road ahead, but the conference offered important proof points that help show the way forward.

Growing support for entrepreneurs

Now is a very good time to be a social or environmental entrepreneur. We are witnessing a growing array of resources, services, and incubator and accelerator programs aimed at kick-starting ventures and preparing them for investment. One exciting example: Agora Partnerships hosted 20+ “deal rooms” at this year’s conference, offering Latin American-based entrepreneurs who had completed Agora’s intensive six-month accelerator program the chance to pitch to interested investors. Last year, these deal rooms resulted in eight investments, ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. EDF is in the early stages of engaging with Agora as we look to scale our sustainable fisheries finance work in Latin America.

Increasing demand from investors

Investor demand is rising to meet the growing supply of social and environmental ventures. A recent survey by US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment shows that U.S.-based sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets grew 76% from 2012 to 2014. Another driver of demand is the growing trend of big banks, such as Citi, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, committing to increased investment in environmental innovation.

The demand extends beyond banks and institutional investors – to individuals, foundations, and companies, all of which have roles to play. During a panel discussion, Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer of Acumen Fund, an international nonprofit venture fund, noted a recent shift in how companies invest in their supply chains to build more sustainable businesses: moving from funding initiatives to becoming more deeply engaged, strategic partners. He cited the example of Acumen’s partnership with Unilever and Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which will improve the livelihoods of up to 300,000 smallholder farmers globally by investing in enterprises to support farmers and incorporate them into Unilever’s global supply chains.

Michael ReadingOur own work to support sustainable fisheries also shows the importance and effectiveness of attracting a variety of investors in building more sustainable enterprises. At the global scale the stakes are large, and public and private capital sources have vital – and viable – roles to play. New research by University of California-Santa Barbara, Environmental Defense Fund, and the University of Washington shows that managing the world’s oceans sustainably could increase profits from the fishing sector by $51 billion a year compared to today, and $90 billion per year compared to a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario that factors in the declining health of the world’s oceans unless reforms are made. EDF’s work with the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainable Unit lays out a high-level framework for leveraging philanthropic, public, and private capital towards achieving the kinds of reforms necessary to provide more fish in the water, more food on the plate and more prosperous communities.

Strengthening connections

Simply having a supply of entrepreneurs and a demand from investors may not be enough to spur investment at scale. A number of hurdles remain in connecting entrepreneurs and investors with each other and with other critical actors, like those providing technical assistance to new ventures or due diligence to vet potential deals. Web-based platforms have been developed to help facilitate connections; however, the lack of standardization or connectivity among platforms limits their reach.

The SOcial DAta Commons (SODA), a data exchange that connects various web platforms and launched at SOCAP this year, offers a promising example of how to increase connectivity and decrease transaction costs for organizations working across platforms. By standardizing how basic information about enterprises is reported across platforms, SODA hopes it will help the various platforms “raise their visibility and lower their costs,” as stated by David Bank, of Impact Alpha, one of SODA’s co-founders. Other founding members of SODA include Artha Platform, Sphaera, Smartgrid, SVX, and USAID Global Innovation Exchange, and SOCAP.

Standardizing transactions is another key component of strengthening connections and decreasing transaction costs. For example, EDF is tackling this issue head-on with our Investor Confidence Project (ICP), aimed at unlocking access to financing for the building renovation market by standardizing how energy efficiency projects are developed and measured. Financing for energy efficiency represents a potential $1 trillion market – but, to access even a small portion of that total, the energy efficiency industry needs to demonstrate investment outcomes more clearly to investors. ICP addresses this issue, in part, by defining a clear roadmap for developing projects, determining savings estimates, and documenting and verifying results.

Finding market-based solutions to environmental challenges is a tenet of EDF’s approach, and this year’s SOCAP conference provided plenty of inspiration to consider for our own initiatives. As our work in sustainable finance advances, we’re working to make sure that new capital can flow towards solutions in spaces as diverse as sustainable fisheries finance and energy efficiency investment – and do so in ways that ensure investments generate real environmental results alongside financial returns.

How Fast is Fast Enough to Solve a Challenge Like Methane?

aileen_nowlan_31394Bill Gates, in an interview with The Atlantic, reminded us that if Thomas Edison were alive today, he’d probably recognize a lot of our energy infrastructure – batteries and most coal plants, for example. Gates argued in the interview that we need to drastically speed up the pace of innovation to bring our energy infrastructure out of the Victorian era. But how do we change how we make and use energy? It touches everything we do, but in less than a decade we will be living, working, and traveling differently.

That’s where I –and EDF – come in.  I joined EDF this fall after working as a lawyer, consultant and accelerator for business-social collaborations, and I’ve found that it takes all kinds of skills and experiences to set ambitious targets and turn the impossible into the inevitable. From energy retrofits for churches to starting a clean energy incubator with global energy companies, I’ve attacked the challenge of achieving a low-carbon future from many angles. I’ve been drawing on all of that experience since joining EDF, at what’s proving to be an exciting time for climate change leadership.

Methane: a challenge we have to tackle today

One area where we know we have to innovate – like people stranded on a desert island – is methane emissions from oil and gas. Methane is the most powerful greenhouse gas that almost no one has heard of. And more importantly from a climate perspective, methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are cheap to eliminate, if you can find them. The recently-announced regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry won’t take us all the way to the 40-45% reduction in methane emissions the administration has set as a priority. We need action at hundreds of thousands of oil and gas facilities, and that’s just for U.S. onshore oil and gas. Worldwide, methane leaks amount to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, or the equivalent of 40% of the total CO2 emissions from burning coal.


How do you innovate fast enough to attack this challenge? One approach we at EDF have taken with the Methane Detectors Challenge is to identify a need – invisible methane leaks – and envision a tool that didn’t yet exist that could enable the action we need – operators finding and fixing leaks faster. The ultimate goal is to make tools like that a reality, and bring to market continuous methane detection systems that are so affordable they can be deployed throughout the oil and gas supply chain. Read more

5 Energy Trends Driving Climate Progress in 2015

Tech installing solar panels

John Rae

What a difference a year can make. Even before the last weeks tick away, 2015 stands out as a remarkable and dynamic year for climate and energy in the United States.

Read on for five bold trends that are beginning to reshape our economy – and our national discourse on climate change.

1. Investments in renewables soar

I admit it: For years, I thought renewable energy was more hype than reality. I’m happy to report that recent data proves me wrong.

In just five years, solar panel prices have fallen 80 percent, and solar capacity installed worldwide grew more than six-fold. The overall cost of solar per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, plummeted 50 percent.

For the first time in history, energy from the sun is as cheap as traditional energy in states such as Arizona, California and Texas.

The proof is in the pudding. Apple, for example, recently signed an $848-million power agreement with a solar provider – bypassing the electric grid. A deal of this magnitude shows where solar is today, and where it is headed. Read more

How Campbells is Helping to Make Sustainable Growing the New Normal

There’s a lot of momentum in the sustainable agriculture world. We helped Walmart discover that fertilizer runoff is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, and they’re now working with suppliers to improve the way grain is grown across the U.S. That’s because half of all fertilizer applied to crops runs off the field, leading to water pollution, aquatic dead zones that kill marine life, and contributing to climate change – since the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff converts to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Major food companies are also recognizing that increased weather variability from climate change can cause supply chain disruptions, that their customers are demanding transparency for how their food was grown, and that it’s in their best interest to meet retailers’ demands for sustainably grown grain.


That’s why Campbell’s Soup has focused on growing its vegetables as sustainably as possible, and why its Pepperidge Farm subsidiary is now investing in wheat sustainability in their Ohio and Nebraska sourcing areas.

My colleague Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at EDF, recently interviewed Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to get his take on this unprecedented momentum. Below are the highlights of their conversation on why his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, what they’re hearing from customers, and about why sustainable grain is becoming the new normal. Read more

Leadership + Collaboration = Impact: The Equation That Will Lead to Climate Solutions

Hand of a student pointing at green chalk board2015 has been an exciting year for action on climate and energy management. In the EDF Climate Corps network, there is a strong feeling of momentum, as company after company steps up to answer the call on climate action and demonstrates concrete ways that they are greening their energy programs. Looking around at last week’s Energy Solutions Exchange (ESE), which brought together 150 people from top organizations to share stories and insights, I was struck by all of the connections and interactions taking place in the room.

But if I learned anything from this year’s event, it’s that in order to continue this momentum and create lasting impact, we need to form a new equation: leadership + collaboration = impact. Leadership and collaboration are essential as there is a limit to how far we can get by ourselves – to get the big stuff done, we have to work together.

Companies are leading, but they need to talk about it more

I learned from our dynamic speakers that organizations are doing amazing things in energy management: like pioneering microgrid installations, scoping out solar PPA agreements, and scaling LED and VFD retrofits across their operations, yet many more are doing things that we don’t even know about.  To truly lead in this space, we need companies to start talking about their concrete energy solutions. Read more