Can Facebook, Google and Microsoft inspire data center innovation at Climate Week?

One focus area at this week’s UN Climate Action Summit is Energy Transition, where one of the expected outcomes is bold new “commitments from the IT sector (individually or collectively) on energy efficiency and the leveraging of technology.”

I’m excited to see what new commitments and momentum arise from Climate Week because emerging technologies like sensors, analytics, and AI can play an important role in the transition to a 100% clean economy – which means that by 2050, we can’t produce any more climate pollution than we can pull out of the air. Getting there will involve shifting our entire economy – power plants, transportation, factories, and more – as well as developing and deploying new technology that can make 100% clean a reality.

The good news for businesses is that investing in and developing cutting-edge technologies also boosts the bottom line. Read more

Applying technology to sustainability is a win-win for business and profit

This week, business executives, tech entrepreneurs, and investors met in Aspen, Colorado at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2019 conference. This annual gathering brings movers and shakers together to discuss the latest tech trends and how businesses can find a competitive edge in a fast-paced marketplace. From retail to transportation to entertainment, technology advances are changing every industry, and knowing where the trends are heading can mean the difference between Netflix and Blockbuster. Read more

Employees Of The Month: Amazon’s Climate Activists

The contrast between how the two largest retailers – Amazon and Walmart – engage on sustainability is on full display right now.

Every April, Walmart convenes hundreds of suppliers, associates and partners at an annual meeting to evaluate progress against the company’s aspirational sustainability goals. A major focus this year was celebrating progress on Project Gigaton: in just two years, more than 1,000 suppliers have signed on to the initiative and collectively avoided 93 million metric tons of emissions towards the billion-ton GHG reduction goal.

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Sustainability and innovation at IBM: A green vision for ‘Big Blue’

The logo for IBM appears above a trading post on the floor of the NYSE. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

More than five decades ago, IBM CEO Thomas Watson, Jr. stated that “Businessmen are influential leaders in public opinion. That is why it is so important that they be as open-minded and far-sighted in matters concerning the general public need as they are in questions relating to the operation of their businesses.”

Today, Wayne Balta, Vice President of Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety at IBM, is keeping Watson’s commitment to sustainable business practices alive.

I recently spoke with Wayne to learn more about IBM’s sustainability goals – including an effort to procure 55 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 – and how the company is using technology to help solve environmental challenges.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Activist CEOs: A new reality for corporate America

The days when business leaders could dodge social or political issues are coming to an end. CEO engagement on issues such as health care, sexual harassment, gun control and immigration have been steadily on the rise.

In a U.S. House committee meeting just last week, lawmakers “grilled [bank] executives more on social issues than business fundamentals,” according to Reuters, and probed them about fossil fuel investments. 

And as a recent Axios Trends piece suggests, pressure on CEOs to address social issues is increasing ahead of the 2020 political campaigns. In particular, demands that they act on climate change are heating up.

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The new rules of business leadership

The job of a CEO has always been challenging. Today it is tougher than ever, because the pressure to deliver rising valuations and ROI is matched by a new set of demands as investors, customers, employees and other business leaders call for profits to be balanced with social purpose.

After 20,000 of Google’s employees staged a walkout last November, the company overhauled its sexual harassment policies. Amazon was pulled into the spotlight late last year, when employees leveraged their stock options to submit petitions asking the company to create a plan to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. And when high school survivors of the Parkland massacre helped make gun control a subject of national debate, Kroger, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and LL Bean put new restrictions on their retail firearm sales.

As BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote recently in his annual letter to executives, “contentious town halls” where employees speak up for “the importance of corporate purpose” are becoming a fact of life. “This phenomenon will only grow as millennials and even younger generations occupy increasingly senior positions in business. In a recent survey by Deloitte, millennial workers were asked what the primary purpose of businesses should be – 63 percent more of them said ‘improving society’ than said ‘generating profit.’”

It’s no longer enough to post your values on the company intranet. You need to publicly and visibly put them to work.

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The 4 critical steps to climate leadership

Business leaders can no longer afford to look the other way on climate change. The recent National Climate Assessment revealed that regional economies and industries dependent on natural resources are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – as are energy systems. Warmer climates will increasingly disrupt international trade, prices, and supply chains, and costs could reach hundreds of billion dollars per year by the end of the century. Climate change doesn’t just threaten ecological balance, it threatens corporate balance sheets.

In light of these findings I’m encouraged by a recent survey of corporate leaders, 82 percent of whom said companies need to advocate for or take a stand on environmental, social and governance issues and that “climate and environment” was one of the three highest priorities for their organizations.

Knowing that a company should take action, however, is a long way from actually taking action on climate. While there are a growing number of cases where leading companies and major investors are ahead of the federal government on climate action, it’s simply not enough, and many more U.S. businesses need to step up.

The role that CEOs and companies play in global governance is changing. Leaders and laggards, winners and losers, will all be defined by how they respond to climate change. The leaders will surface based on their ability to take these four critical steps. Read more

IPCC report reveals urgent need for CEOs to act on climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a sobering report this week detailing the dramatic effects of climate change and the immediate steps we need to take to make significant progress on limiting warming in the future. The report makes it clear that apathy and inaction are no longer viable options. Unprecedented action is needed by both the public and private sector to transform our energy, transportation and other systems around the world.

Could this report finally be the clarion call to our nation’s business leaders to take responsibility for ensuring a prosperous and clean energy future for all?

There has been encouraging progress to date, but much more needs to be done. Businesses have an essential role to play in building political will for action, which may be the biggest challenge of all. Moreover, new research shows corporate stakeholders want – and expect – climate leadership, including policy advocacy. Read more

Scaling for good: can McDonald’s raise the bar for sustainable food?

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting ambitious, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the 10th in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Let’s turn back the clock to 1990. It was a milestone year for McDonald’s, as the company opened its first restaurants in Moscow, mainland China and Chile. It was also when the largest restaurant company in the world joined forces with Environmental Defense Fund to launch a groundbreaking partnership that would find ways to reduce McDonald’s solid waste. The results? $6 million in savings, more than 300 million pounds of packaging eliminated, and 1 million tons of corrugated boxes recycled.

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for McDonald’s too, with a packaging waste goal set in January and an announcement to reduce emissions across its supply chain in March. Led by Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s has raised the corporate leadership bar with these ambitious sustainability targets. But now, the difficult and complex work of meeting these goals begins.

I caught up with Francesca ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit this week to ask her about what the roadmap to meeting these goals looks like, and how they’ll collaborate with their suppliers and the industry to prioritize action on the areas where McDonald’s has the biggest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including responsible beef production

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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The future is sweet – and sustainable – for Allbirds

If you take a quick look around your office, it probably won’t be hard to spot a pair of shoes made by Allbirds, the San Francisco-based footwear company that makes its products using materials like wool and eucalyptus fiber.

The two year-old company aims to make comfortable, sustainably-made shoes – and they seem to be everywhere. Just last week the company launched a new line of shoes, actually flip-flops, with soles made from sugar-cane instead of petroleum. Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown calls the new material, SweetFoam™, “our biggest sustainable-material innovation moment yet.”

I spoke with Tim to learn more about his approach to design and innovation and to look behind the sustainability curtain at Allbirds. Read more