Why the world's largest pork producer is breaking new sustainability barriers

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 aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the second 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.

As head of the Smithfield Foods’ sustainability program, Stewart Leeth focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development.

EDF has been collaborating with Smithfield for several years now to help farmers optimize fertilizer applications to grow grain for animal feed – and I’m inspired to see the progress that has been made in this arena. But I think this past year was likely the busiest ever for Stewart and his team at Smithfield after they made an industry-leading commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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COP 23 caps off a milestone year of corporate climate leadership

Photo credit: Rhys Gerholdt (WRI)

After the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) in 2015, where the historic climate accord was established, it was near impossible to imagine a future COP where the US federal government wouldn’t play a central role. Yet now, at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, the US government doesn’t have an official presence at the event – for the first time ever.

To fill the void of federal policy action, companies and organizations from across the US are voicing their support for the Paris agreement at the U.S. Climate Action Center, a pavilion sponsored exclusively by non-federal US stakeholders.

The Climate Action Center is an initiative of the We Are Still In coalition of cities, states, tribes, universities, and businesses that are committed to the Paris Agreement. Thus far over 1,700 businesses including Apple, Amazon, Campbell Soup, Nike, NRG Energy and Target have signed the We Are Still In declaration – evidence that public climate commitments are quickly becoming the norm.

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Corporate leaders know a clean energy future is “True North”

EDF and Business driving a clean energy economy

With all economic and environmental indicators pointing towards a clean energy future … the Trump administration continues to move the U.S. backwards by repealing the Clean Power Plan.

While disheartening at a personal level, at a professional level I see no signs of the private sector retreating from the clean energy economy. Leading companies are zeroing in on the strategic moves that strengthen long-term business resilience.

Right now there is a broad and diverse coalition supporting the Clean Power Plan, including 18 states, 60 municipalities in red and blue states, some of the nation’s leading power companies, consumer and ratepayer advocates, faith organizations, public health associations, small business associations, iconic corporate leaders like Apple, Google, and Mars, and many others.

We’re too far down the road to a clean energy economy to turn back now. Read more

One-on-One with EDF+Business: Former DuPont CSO Linda Fisher on sustainability leadership

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 aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the first 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.

Linda Fisher is one of corporate sustainability’s trailblazers. In fact, she was named the first chief sustainability officer of a publicly traded company (DuPont) in 2004.

Over the next decade, Linda led DuPont’s efforts to establish the company’s first set of market-facing sustainability goals, which included a strong emphasis on innovation. Read more

ROE (Return on Environment) is the new ROI: how sustainability drives business success

Comparing the themes of Climate Week 2016 versus 2017 provides a telling picture of the state of climate affairs. “America Means Business: US Leadership in a post-Paris World” was last year’s focus, while this year is all about three words: “Innovation. Jobs. Prosperity.”

It has been a remarkable year for climate action – in the absence of federal oversight and leadership, we’ve seen a major shift towards city, state and business leaders becoming the standard-bearers for the environment and the economy. With the release of Fortune’s Change the World list, it is obvious that the bar for corporate leadership has been raised even further. Companies that previously stayed mute on environmental and social issues now speak out; not as an anomaly but as a defining factor of their business.

The expectations of today’s stakeholders – investors, employees, consumers, communities – demand a higher, more visionary level of sustainability leadership. Corporate leaders who put their money, and actions, where their mouth is on environmental and social issues are driving innovation, creating jobs, and gaining a new competitive edge for their businesses. Read more

Your business legacy must now include the planet

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

You will.

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

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

Tom Murray, VP EDF+Business, Environmental Defense Fund

Tom Murray, VP EDF+Business

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

Set big goals

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

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

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

Collaborate for scale

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

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

Get started with EDF’s supply chain solutions center.

Shape future safeguards

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

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

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

How you can get involved:

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

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


Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray


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Business will not walk backward on climate

Our businessman president just flunked one of the most important tests of his presidency: failing to listen to business leaders on the Paris climate agreement.

Despite the hundreds of companies and corporate CEOs calling for continued U.S. leadership on climate – in full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, on the Low Carbon USA website, and in direct outreach to the administration – Trump chose to side with the laggards. This is deeply disappointing and will harm American workers and business by undermining our competitiveness in the global clean energy economy.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, however, will not stem the tide of American businesses taking action to stabilize the climate and safeguard our planet. Private sector leaders, unlike our president, have moved beyond the false choice of a healthy economy or a healthy environment; we need both. Which is why leading companies and investors are poised to deliver clean air, clean water and clean energy in ways that increase jobs, incomes and competitiveness.

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF

While the Trump administration has ceded global leadership on climate, corporate America is moving ahead with plans to invest in clean energy and cut emissions. Long-term, global competitiveness demands it.

Leadership on climate and energy is driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics.

American business won’t back down from this latest challenge. In fact, it seems the business community is more motivated on climate than ever before. Cargill CEO David MacLennan summed it up best: “Cargill has no intention of backing away from our efforts to address climate change in our supply chains around the world and in fact this would inspire us to work even harder.”

Companies need to forge ahead by pursing aggressive science-based, emissions reduction targets and expanding their efforts to slash emissions throughout their operations and supply chains. Take PepsiCo, which recently announced that its climate goal to reduce absolute GHG emissions across its value chain by at least 20% by 2030 has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.

Business leaders can use Hewlett Packard Enterprises as a model. The information technology company created the world’s first comprehensive supply chain management program based on climate science and requires 80% of manufacturing suppliers to set science-based emissions reduction targets by 2025.

And just last week – despite the unsettled future of U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement – Tyson Foods announced it will develop science-based greenhouse gas and outcome-based water conservation targets for their entire supply chain.

These high-impact corporate initiatives need to be applauded, and the tools and resources used to achieve these goals should be replicated across industries.

Business will not allow positive climate momentum to come to a halt

The clean energy momentum generated by business over the last decade will not come to an abrupt halt. Companies like Apple, AB InBev and Walmart will not turn their back on the clean energy commitments they’ve made to customers, employees and the planet. Investors, like we saw with ExxonMobil, will keep pressure on companies to clearly report how climate change is affecting business.  And CEOs like General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt or Tesla's Elon Musk, who have been outspoken about remaining in the Paris agreement, will not back away from their company’s climate efforts because they understand how leaving Paris will make it harder to do business around the world. These voices need to keep encouraging others in the business community to join their efforts.

What is the plan? Inaction is unacceptable.

In this new post-Paris world, companies must now demand that the Trump administration and Congress deliver a plan to address climate change. Leading cities, states and companies will continue to move forward, but won’t be enough to deliver the reductions required from the world’s second largest emitter.  Smart climate and energy policy is required to provide the deep emission reductions the world needs and the certainty that business needs for planning, investment decisions, and job growth.

Unfortunately, the president failed to listen to the business community he was once a proud part of for so many years. With the President lagging behind, real business leaders will continue to step up lead the way to a thriving clean energy economy; EDF will have their back. We will continue to engage with business in this time of uncertainty to help shape a future where both business and nature prosper.

If the president won’t listen to business leaders in the future on climate, I hope he will follow the words of one of his favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”


Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray


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There’s no avoiding it, business must lead on climate

A few weeks ago, I attended the Earth Day Network’s Climate Leadership Gala in Washington, DC.  Each year the event brings together more than 300 leaders from business, government and the NGO community to celebrate achievements in working towards a clean energy future. This year’s top honor, the Climate Visionary Award, was presented to Unilever CEO Paul Polman for his commitment to fighting climate change.

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFBold, passionate leadership like Polman’s is essential to tackling climate change while helping to create an economy that benefits us all. He understands that it’s not a choice between business and the environment. In fact, a thriving economy depends on a thriving environment.

Corporate sustainability leadership is now more important than ever. It’s clear that the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll-back environmental protections have thrust U.S. businesses into a critical leadership role on clean energy and climate change. (In fact, I’ll be talking with business leaders later today about how they are “responding to the new norm” at the Sustainable Brands Conference.)

Over the past 25 years at EDF we’ve seen corporate sustainability go from simple operational efficiencies to global supply chain collaborations; now it’s time to go further. Business must continue to raise the bar for sustainability leadership.

How?

  1. Set big goals, then tell the world

Thinking big and setting big goals, are required to drive big innovation and big results.  Many large companies have demonstrated that if you commit to aggressive, science-based, sustainability goals, you can deliver meaningful business and environmental results. For example, Walmart, a longtime EDF partner with a track record of setting aggressive yet achievable climate goals, has recently set its sights even higher by setting a goal to source half of the company’s energy from renewable sources by 2025 and by launching Project Gigaton, a cumulative one gigaton emissions reduction in its supply chain by 2030.

And Walmart is not the only one. Other companies are stepping up as well – especially around commitments to go 100 percent renewable. Whether its online marketplace eBay committing to 100 percent renewable power in all data centers & offices by 2025, Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers, announcing science-based targets and committing to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 or AB InBev committing to 100 percent renewable power, companies from diverse industries are taking a positive step forward.

While setting goals is a great first step, companies also need to communicate about the goals and progress. Not only does this increase transparency into a business’ sustainability efforts, it lets the world know that sustainability is core to its business. Publicly committing to sustainability goals sends a strong signal to suppliers, shareholders and customers.

  1. Collaborate for scale

In December 2016 I wrote about Smithfield Foods, the world’s number one pork producer, and its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2025. The commitment was important both because Smithfield was the first major protein company to adopt a greenhouse gas reduction goal but also because the reductions would come from across Smithfield's supply chain, on company-owned farms, at processing facilities and throughout its transportation network.

Smithfield understands that some environmental challenges are too big to handle on their own, and they know collaboration is the key to deliver impact at scale.

Other companies are also looking beyond their own supply chain and forming mutually beneficial partnerships. Take the recent partnership between UPS and Sealed Air Corporation, for example. The two companies have announced the opening of a Packaging Innovation Center in Louisville, Kentucky where they will solve the packaging and shipping challenges of e-commerce retailers but also drive new efficiencies while minimizing waste. This is a critical issue that is material to both their businesses, and by joining forces, are finding ways to solve an environmental challenge while improving their bottom lines.

  1. Publicly support smart climate policy

I can’t stress how critical it is right now for business leaders to move beyond their comfort zones and make their voices heard on smart climate and environmental policy. If you want to be a sustainability leader, continuing to hoe your own garden is no longer enough.  You need to align your strategy, operations, AND advocacy.  We know that environmental safeguards drive innovation, create jobs, and support long-term strategic planning.

The good news is leading voices are chiming in, from CEOs signing an open letter to Trump to more than 1,000 companies signing the Low-Carbon USA letter, in favor of environmental policies.

Some companies like Tiffany & Co. are also taking a public stand on their own. The company used its usual ad position in the New York Times to tell President Trump directly that Tiffany is backing policies that will lead us to a clean energy future.

The Way Forward

Taking the leadership mantle is never easy, but now is the time for every corporate leader to get off the sidelines and into the game. There’s plenty of room for more leaders like Polman who are ready to address climate change head-on, creating opportunities for economic growth, new jobs, and a cleaner future.  Will your company be next?

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @TPMurray

A path to prosperity that we can all embrace

Prosperity. We all want to attain it, yet the ways we each define it are as different as we are.

As President Trump charges through his first 100 days, there is a risky theme being pushed that a prosperous America comes with a choice between environmental protection and economic growth.

This concept is not only false, but dangerous and short sighted.

Just look at China. When I was there last year, I saw a country that, during its own industrial revolution, made decisions that had unfortunately sacrificed the environment for a short-term surge in economic prosperity. Those tradeoffs were made during a time when coal and oil provided over 90% of energy consumption, and as a result, air quality reached unhealthy standards. Now China, the world’s fastest-growing economy (IMF), is sprinting to play catch-up. In 2015, in fact, China invested $102.9 billion in renewables, making it the world’s largest investor in clean energy (the US, by contrast, invested $44.1 billion that same year). (IEEFA.org, 2017)  Earlier this year, as the Trump Administration ceded U.S. leadership, China continued to step up with a new commitment to invest over $350 billion in renewable power generation.

So I reject the idea that people have to choose between a thriving economy and clean air and water. Or that we need to choose prosperity in the short-term, but an unstable and unhealthy climate in the long-term. We should not be forced into believing false choices. Instead, we demand and deserve a healthy future where both the economy and the environment can prosper.

Protecting the environment is being positioned by President Trump as something that stifles U.S. businesses with over-regulation. And while not all regulation is perfect, sometimes policy is necessary to round out the sharp edges of capitalism. We must ensure that we’re not just eradicating environmental regulation, but instead making informed improvements with both business and the environment in mind. Just look at California as a case in point. The state’s clean energy standards for cars, buildings and electric utilities are some of the strictest in the U.S., yet California’s jobs and overall economy continue to grow steadily.

And on a national scale, a new report from Environmental Defense Fund shows that our best line to job creation lies in the sustainability and clean energy market. Addressing climate change isn’t hampering growth, it’s driving it. Sustainability now collectively represents an estimated 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S.  The solar industry alone is currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Clean energy and sustainability is feeding a burgeoning pipeline of well-paying jobs across all 50 states. Jobs that cannot be outsourced I might add.

The Republican’s choice for Secretary of Energy, oil industry ally Rick Perry, said during his confirmation hearing, “the question is how we address (climate change) in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth.”  It’s a good question, and one that must be very thoughtfully considered by Mr. Perry. When it comes to the environment and public health, we cannot repeal safeguards without devising safer, smarter replacements that diminish economic burdens while maintaining, or even increasing, protection. We need to envision prosperity through a lens where both the environment and the economy can thrive.

Our path to prosperity must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics.

Rolling back environmental safeguards, pausing innovation on fuel efficiency and clean energy, and reigniting a U.S. reliance on coal and oil is short-term thinking that puts us on a dangerous path.

Business prosperity in the long-term relies on resource availability. By 2050 the world will be home to 9.5 billion consumers, all looking toward business to provide the products and services they need. This consumption drives our economy—but puts a massive burden on our planet’s resources.

This is why Google, Microsoft, Nike, Nestlé, Walmart and many others are committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable energy. This is why PepsiCo is focused on improving water use efficiency, reducing food waste and eliminating emissions from its supply chain as part of its 2025 goals. And despite the threat of environmental rollbacks and noise about pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, 1000 companies and investors have signed on to the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement, which reiterated support and intent to implement the historic Agreement to address climate change. Not because regulation demands this, but because long term prosperity requires it.

If America is to continue our longstanding tradition and commitment of leaving a better future for the next generation, we must continue making decisions that align economic prosperity with environmental protection and human health. This, to me, is the most important test of business leadership.  It’s time for committed sustainability leaders to live those values, speak truth to power, and move the dialog beyond transactional, and short term campaign promises to long-term health for the economy and the planet.


Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray


Business won’t back down on clean energy future

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFMore than 530 companies and 100 investors signed the Low Carbon USA letter to President-elect Trump and other U.S. and global leaders to support policies to curb climate change, invest in the low carbon economy, and continue U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.  It’s a powerful message from business leaders connecting the dots between prosperity and a low-carbon economy and confirming their commitment to continue to lead the way.

The private sector call for continued leadership on climate cannot be ignored. 

“All parts of society have a role to play in tackling climate change, but policy and business leadership is crucial,” said Lars Petersson, president of IKEA U.S. “The Paris Agreement was a bold step towards a cleaner, brighter future, and must be protected. IKEA will continue to work together with other businesses and policymakers to build a low-carbon economy, because we know that together, we can build a better future.”

Despite the climate uncertainty represented in President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks and campaign rhetoric, business is moving forward, actively building a clean energy future. In recent months, Google, Microsoft, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and others have continued to prove what’s possible through bold, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains. Adding to the mounting evidence that corporate America gets it and that momentum for business leadership is here to stay.

  • Google has pledged to operate on 100% renewable energy in 2017.
  • Microsoft recently announced the largest wind power purchase agreement to date with a deal to buy 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas.
  • Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the world, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025.
  • Walmart has committed to removing a gigaton of emissions from its global supply chain by 2030.

US investment in solar is on the riseAnd clean energy investment is on the rise:

  • U.S. investment in clean energy soared from an impressive $10 billion to $56 billion between 2004 and 2015.
  • Microsoft-founder Bill Gates and nearly two dozen other business leaders launched a $1-billion fund that will finance emerging energy innovations.
  • A new report shows investors controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have committed to dropping some or all fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios.

These efforts are focused on accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. This might be surprising given the current political climate, but smart business leaders understand that decisions must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics. A thriving economy depends on a thriving environment.

"With tens of billions of dollars of U.S. renewable energy investment in the works this year alone, and far more globally, the question for American political leadership is whether they want to harness this momentum and potential for economic growth," said Jonas Kron, senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management.

“Creating jobs, and establishing the United States as an innovative world leader in creating a clean energy economy is a no brainer for the Trump administration,” said Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan.

The list of signatories to the Low Carbon USA letter has doubled since November, and includes some of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies, including DuPont, General Mills, HP Enterprises, Pacific Gas & Electric, Salesforce.com, Unilever, and more. These business leaders and many others know that accelerating climate policy and innovations is a pathway to creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

Solar jobs in the U.S. on the rise

A growing low carbon economy already has created jobs and driven economic growth across the U.S. In fact, over 2.5 million Americans now work in the clean energy industry, making above average wages. With China investing over $360 billion in renewables, the U.S. simply cannot afford to change course on this powerful opportunity for environmental protection and economic growth while other countries capitalize.

Business is ready to lead the way and accelerate the path towards a low carbon economy. Business has spoken. Will the President-elect and his new administration listen?


Additional reading:

China Is Going All In On Clean Energy As The U.S. Waffles. How Is That Making America Great Again?

With a record $1.4 trillion in sustainability assets, investors bail on fossil fuels


Follow Tom Murray on Twitter, @TPMurray