Is Your Fortune 100 Company One of the Nearly 40 Percent that Lack a Climate Target? If so, Read This. Then Call Me.

Taken on Nov. 19, 2018 from my San Francisco apartment rooftop

I have helped Walmart, Starbucks and other companies get started with sustainability. I can help you too, using all the lessons I’ve learned from them.

I don’t want to sound like just another environmentalist waving my hands, jumping up and down that we need to act to reverse climate change NOW. The truth is simply this: I know it can be done, sustainability targets create business value and companies stand to lose big financially if they don’t act.

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5 ways companies can act on the latest dire climate warnings

Oh what a week it has been!

Trying to turn away from the political polarization and fracturing civility in this country, I looked elsewhere in the news and found something even worse…dire warnings for our planet.

Two reports in the news this week ring the alarm bell on climate change. The first report is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries. As the New York Times reports, it “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.”

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Breathless in China: Walmart, sustainability and why you should care

Photo: Walmart China

I am just back from a week in Beijing, where Environmental Defense Fund was part of Walmart’s announcement of a new goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its China supply chain. Had I not been there in person, I’m not sure I could have accurately comprehended how essential that this goal – a 50 million metric ton (MMT) reduction by 2030 – must be followed by swift implementation.

That’s because every day in Beijing felt like the worst day in San Francisco, my home, when last year’s horrific wildfires made our eyes and lungs burn. “Normal” in Beijing means not being able to see down to the end of the block, and sharing the crowded streets with commuters, parents and children all covered by facemasks.

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I'm lovin' it: McDonald's exemplifies a sustainability leader

McDonald’s – the world’s largest restaurant company – recently announced new climate goals,  which were quickly followed by many comments like this one, from Axios:

"These are concrete targets, but they’re not as of yet backed up with specific plans of how to get there."

Axios is right. These are concrete targets (and they’ve been approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative).  Here are the details: by 2030, McDonald’s is pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their restaurants and offices by 36 percent, and reduce their emissions intensity (per metric ton of food and packaging) across their supply chain by 31 percent. The company estimates these reductions will prevent 150 million metric tons of C02 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere. That’s huge – it’s the equivalent of removing 32 million cars from the road for one year.

But I want to challenge Axios in saying that the company has “no specific plans" to get there.

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3 reasons to be hopeful about our planet in 2018

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
-Martin Luther King

Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don’t!

There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year – and if the following developments don’t make you feel better, I’ve prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.

Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that 2017 was a hard year for the planet. I’ve lost count of the hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires—many linked to climate change—that rained upon us.  It was a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 enormous weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage (not sure how to calculate the emotional cost).

And don’t get me started on Scott Pruitt’s dramatic and dangerous dismantling of the EPA.

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5 steps that will make your business more climate resistant

No business is immune to the devastating effects of climate change anymore, as we saw from the onslaught of extreme weather events in 2017. Disasters brought more than $300 billion in damages this year, a 60-percent increase over 2016, Swiss Re reported last week.

As every business leader has long known, storms, flooding, wildfires and other calamities all threaten to disrupt their operations and growth, and can even affect an entire supply chain.

What’s new is that shareholders and potential investors are also now aware of the risk that extreme weather and natural disasters pose to “doing business as usual.”

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of companies are factoring resilience to climate change into their operations. It’s about the bottom line: Making a company more resilient is an investment in business continuity, shareholder value and overall performance.

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We’re thankful for…companies setting climate goals!

Target has joined other retailers on the right path to developing a robust science-based policy for tackling greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and supply chain, creating more momentum toward action on climate by leading companies.

At COP23 in Bonn, Germany, we heard leaders at some of the world’s largest companies share their commitments to step forward on climate issues. This year we’ve also seen American companies like Mars Inc., Walmart, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Amazon set ambitious goals during a time when our government is stepping back. At EDF+Business, we see time and time again why our world needs healthy environments and healthy businesses in order to truly prosper.

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Corporate America’s “moon shot”: Walmart’s Project Gigaton

 

At a time when leadership from the federal government is decidedly lacking, the launch of Walmart’s Project Gigaton is a cause for celebration. It is proof that companies can step up to advance solutions that will help business, people and nature thrive.

Just like Walmart itself, this is big.

The world’s largest retailer has launched an initiative to remove 1 gigaton (that’s 1 billion tons — billion with a “b”) of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its supply chain by 2030. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of removing the annual emissions of Germany — the world’s fourth-largest economy — from the atmosphere. This audacious goal is impressive; it’s corporate America’s “moon shot,” and it shows real leadership.

Why? Because, according to The Sustainability Consortium, the modern supply chain is responsible for 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of all water use and 66 percent of all tropical deforestation. And with the global population projected to swell to 9.5 billion consumers by 2050, it is clear there is not just a crucial opportunity for businesses to meet growing global demand, there is also a real need to protect the planet. Embracing sustainable practices is no longer an option for business. It is an imperative. The planet needs fast action at a massive scale.

So do forward-looking CEOs. Shareholders are rewarding resiliency when companies climate-proof their global operations. And customers, especially millennials, expect sustainability to be baked into the things they buy. In short, business is looking to drive bottom-line value, including growth, with sustainability.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Which explains the significant Project Gigaton commitments being made by companies like Unilever (20 million metric tons of GHG reduction) and Land O’ Lakes (20 million acres sustainably farmed) and commitments made in the past six months by Apple, Amazon, Google, PepsiCo, Smithfield Foods and others.

Execution and delivery

But setting goals is just the first step. The execution and delivery must follow to complete this journey.

Which brings me back to this moon shot: Walmart cannot do this alone. Project Gigaton will take a village — in this case, the tens of thousands of companies that make up Walmart’s global supplier network — to make this goal a reality. And that’s a good thing: Eliminating GHG emissions at this scale will reverberate across entire sectors and industries. It will be the change to “business as usual” that’s long overdue.

That’s all fine and well, rhetorically. But what if you’re a CEO or CSR exec who’s facing the hard reality of “Where do I start”?

Some new research by Environmental Defense Fund starts to sketch out a roadmap to success — and illustrates the need for supply-chain partners to get on the bus. While we’re just at the beginning of a deep dive into the sustainability of the U.S. retail supply chain, our initial findings show two things:  the complexity and emission hotspots of box chain retailers and three clear, initial areas of focus:

  1. The supply chain is the largest source of emissions. If there was any doubt left, put it to rest: 80 percent of retail emissions occur in the supply chain; 12 percent are associated with the use and disposal of products and 8 percent come directly from retail operations — mostly buildings and facilities.
  2. Grocery is a huge hotspot and opportunity. Are you a retailer? Food company? Agricultural service provider? Farmer? Nearly half — 48 percent — of supply-chain greenhouse gas emissions come from the grocery category, which encompasses everything from fresh meat, veggies and dairy, to bakery, dry goods, beverages, snacks and frozen products. Together, these and other products emits 1.7 gigatons of GHGs (there’s that billion thing again). In other words, food production — and food waste — is definitely a place to make your numbers — and to make a difference. (Talk about low-hanging fruit!)
  3. Electricity is the biggest activity that contributes to emissions. From factories to farmhouses, whether powering a business or refrigerating an item at home, using electricity is the largest activity that produces emissions for consumer packaged goods production. Think about that: by tackling electricity use, whether from conservation or renewable energy, business leaders can not only run a more efficient operation, they can also engage their customers on which products to buy and how to best use them. That’s good business.

For those who have been paying attention to these issues for decades, these big opportunities won’t come as a surprise. But they help sharpen the focus for supply-chain professionals searching to answer the question of where to put effort and investment to get the most emissions-reduction results. Scale and speed are necessary. Knowing where to focus is critical. The EDF research is in the early stages and we plan to release the full results later this year.

In the meantime, kudos to Walmart. As suppliers make commitments for Project Gigaton that will drive reductions from factories to farms to forests to fleets, it will become imperative to identify hotspots to enable the largest impact. That’s exactly what drives innovation and the environmental impact we need.

The supply chain may be complicated, but the rewards are well worth it: thriving companies, thriving communities and a thriving planet.

Jump on the Project Gigaton moon shot. It’s leaving the launching pad, with or without you.


Follow Elizabeth on Twitter, @esturcken


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The state of green business? Hopeful, puzzling… and pushing forward

I always look forward to the latest State of Green Business report from GreenBiz. It invigorates me and reminds me that there are a lot of talented people making sure that both business and the planet can thrive– a notion that I’m holding tight as the political atmosphere gets increasingly crazy.

I found two of the trends in the report of particular interest because they signal that smart business leaders are staying the course on climate.

Trend: Corporate Clean Energy Grows Up

The trend toward corporations transitioning to renewable energy has been gaining momentum for years. Today, twenty-two of the Fortune 100 have committed to procuring 100% of their energy from renewables, and 71 have a public target for sustainability or renewable energy.

“Business is a very important advocate for clean energy, because it speaks the language of hard economics,” points out Jim Walker, co-founder of The Climate Group. “It’s sending a strong signal to policymakers and the general public that this is the inevitable direction we’re going to move towards – a 100% clean energy economy.”

When innovative companies like Apple, Amazon, Unilever, and Google show leadership on renewable energy, their suppliers, customers, competitors, and the market respond. Microsoft, for example, is helping lead the way by purchasing 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas. And, Walmart, a long-time EDF partner, has also made a commitment to source 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. Currently at 25%, they’ve made significant progress on implementation.

With corporate leadership like this in place, it’s clear that business will continue to have an impact on the renewable energy revolution. The recent report from my EDF Climate Corps colleagues is proof of that: the solar power sector is growing quickly, and is a major source of jobs that are a.) impossible to outsource and, b.) available in all 50 states.

Trend – Companies Put Their Money Where Their Suppliers Are

According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, embedding sustainable business practices in the global food and agriculture industry could deliver $2.3 trillion annually.

“All stakeholders can share in the benefits: smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods; suppliers gain increased security of supply with improved quality; and we reduce volatility and uncertainty with a more secure and sustainable supply chain,” wrote Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

When a corporation commits to reduce emissions in their supply chain, the results can be powerful.  We’re seeing this firsthand with our work with Walmart. EDF spent 10 years with Walmart to help drive sustainability across its global supply chain. The result? By the end of 2015, through leadership, innovation and a diverse range of projects, Walmart had exceeded its goal to reduce supply chain emissions eliminated 36 MMT of greenhouse gas from its supply chain. Now, they’ve committed to removing 1 Gigaton of emissions by 2030 – the equivalent of the total annual emissions of Germany.

Smithfield Foods is another company that EDF collaborated with in setting a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain. EDF will continue to help Smithfield improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health, which will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from grain farms.

But to keep moving forward on these sustainability trends and others requires business to use its voice and influence to not backpedal on policies that are a win-win for our environment and our economy. We are at a crucial period where companies need to make the long-term economic case for policy, including the Clean Power Plan, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and ensuring the U.S remains part of the Paris Agreement.

Businesses will not go backwards on environmental protection. It’s bad for business and the environment. In fact, over 600 businesses have signed the Low Carbon USA letter calling on U.S. elected leaders to stay the course on environmental protection and climate leadership.  Now is the time for unlikely voices to step up and continue to press the case for action; the recent call for a carbon tax is probably most noteworthy because it was brought forth by Republican party faithfuls.

If there was one sentence in the State of Green Business report that captured the feeling of the moment it was this: “It’s hard to imagine a time more hopeful and horrifying for sustainable business.” At EDF, we’re not only hopeful but we’re committed: the economy and the planet can—and must–thrive together. Any conversation that suggests otherwise is a non-starter.

 

No “alternative facts” needed: leading on sustainability is smart business strategy

A Businessman is looking out the window in a modern panoramic meeting room in New York. The concept of the meeting of the Board of Director of the huge transnational corporation.

For the people who dedicate their lives to helping keep the planet livable, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around our new weird, warped, post-election world. Every day seems to bring some new government official denying facts and science (aka reality), or doing unthinkable damage to the suddenly-less-venerable institutions they now lead.

As someone who has a 20-year track record of working side-by-side with the private sector to create positive environmental change, I can just imagine how anxious business executives must be feeling these days. The specter of a three a.m. tweet from the White House demanding that they run their company according to a Presidential whim, rather than the realities of the global marketplace (or the expectations of shareholders), can make for a lot of sleepless nights.

Unlike certain “business-executive-Presidents", however, real CEOs have to be fact-driven.

And the forward-thinking executives—the ones who are thinking hard about the long-term growth, profitability and resiliency of their companies—are well aware of the facts. They know that human-caused climate change is real, and carries with it huge costs. Executives selling food grown in rapidly changing landscapes and/or products dependent on materials from across the globe aren’t playing in a fantasy world where climate change is a “hoax invented by China.”

And they know that how we deal with climate change will determine whether we will be a driver or a destroyer of business value. As a peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature recently found (and the New York Times reported): "even if the world is able to stave off an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — a goal agreed to as part of the Paris deal — climate change could wipe out $1.7 trillion worth of global financial assets."

So, I’m hopeful that, at least in terms of sustainability, the rational decisions being made on Wall Street will act as a counter-balance to what appears to be erratic decisions coming out of Washington. Consider just a few of the recent announcements and actions of the private sector:

  • In just the past 3 months, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and many others have continued to lead the way and prove what’s possible through bold, science-based goals, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains.
  • At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said “to make America great again, climate action is very logical. This is a very convincing story for job creation and economic growth.” My colleagues at EDF Climate Corps back this up with data; the sustainability sector is booming with jobs that 1.) can’t be outsourced, and 2.) are readily available in all fifty states.
  • A WEF report on the future of retail talks about “the golden age of the consumer” and the implications and opportunities that are created for sustainability by addressing how goods are delivered—what is called the “last mile of delivery”—and how products are packaged.
  • Commenting on that same report, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon pointed out that sustainability will impact retail in ways far beyond logistics and packaging: in this age of social media sharing, the push for transparency in supply chains will be customer-driven. McMillon knows that “retailers will only survive if their business creates shared value that benefits shareholders and society.”
  • Finally, in a recent op-ed entitled Why Walmart is doubling down on its commitment to climate change, Walmart board member Rob Walton, gave a simple answer: because it’s good for business! “We set [our climate goals] because we wanted to help address climate change and improve lives, while also strengthening our company and reducing expenses,” he said. “We thought it would be a win-win: good for society, and good for Walmart.  Eleven years later, that's exactly what we've seen.”

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

That’s a long list—and one that adds to the mounting evidence that corporate America “gets it”:

momentum for business leadership on sustainability is here to stay. Which is in no way surprising, because after my many years of working with business, I’ve seen firsthand the immense value creation that comes with moving forward—not backward—on environmental issues.

So, for all that has changed in these times of “alternative facts,” those who care about having a livable, thriving planet can feel confident that they have a powerful ally in business. Because when it comes to our climate, our health and our planet itself, if we’re not making progress, we’re losing.