How emerging technologies are driving circularity, electric transportation and more

This article originally appeared in GreenBiz and can be seen here

When I was a kid, my dad told me that his favorite technological advancements were the automatic garage door and the automatic ice maker. I didn’t fully understand why at the time. But I get it now.

When I leave my office today, I will pull out my mobile phone, order a Lyft and walk out to meet the driver within a minute. While in the car, I’ll use Seamless to have my dinner delivered at my exact arrival time, and the Nest thermostat in my apartment automatically will adjust to my desired temperature once I am within a mile.

Technology continues to make our lives easier. But, besides convenience, it has the incredible potential to reduce our day-to-day impact on the environment. And that’s why I look forward to the VERGE conference each year.

This year, VERGE is focusing on how technology is supercharging sustainability in three areas in particular: circularity; energy; and transportation.

In my role with EDF Climate Corps, I’m seeing greater interest from companies wanting to use innovative technologies to accelerate sustainability and scale solutions across nearly every sector. Here are some ways I’ve seen it happening across those three areas in particular.

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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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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

You’ve set your sustainability goals. Now what?

I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine it would be a very praise-worthy experience.

First, you sign up, feeling that initial rush of “wow, I’m actually doing this” adrenaline. That's followed by everyone's favorite part: telling people. You’re instantly flooded with responses like “Good for you!” and “You’re such an inspiration!”. But then, the glory starts to fade and you realize it’s time for the hard work. Months of training, time and dedication (and probably pain) are needed before you can cross the finish line.

We’re seeing a similar process happening in corporate sustainability around setting climate goals. It’s inspiring work to see companies set targets. Take for example evian, which announced its ambition to be Carbon Neutral globally by 2020 during the Paris Climate Summit in 2015.

But getting kudos for setting a goal is just the beginning. The rest of the story, often the most important and tricky step is figuring out those middle miles – determining how exactly these goals can be met. As consumers, it’s the hard work being done to deliver on a goal that we should be celebrating even more.

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Here’s what the last 5 years of corporate sustainability in China has looked like. What’s next?

As a kid, one of my favorite things was a Moon Cake, which I'd get to eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival in China (taking place next week). It's a day of celebrating family reunion and harvest, where the entire country throws parties, comes together and gives homage to the full moon. I’ll always jump at the opportunity to eat a Moon Cake, but this time there’s something else worth celebrating this year: the progress being made on corporate sustainability in China.

This year marks the 5th year anniversary of expanding EDF Climate Corps into China. What started as 6 fellows in 5 companies, has grown to nearly 60 fellows into over 20 companies. With that we’ve seen tens of millions of dollars in potential savings from energy efficiency improvements. But before I jump into how corporate sustainability in China has advanced, let me tell you why we made the decision to expand there.

EDF Climate Corps: welcome to China

As the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the U.S. are receiving increased attention on their cooperative efforts to save energy and curtail climate pollution. EDF has set a goal to help China with its rising CO2 emissions. So we thought: what better way to do this than enlisting the help of bright, young, talented graduate students?

Manager, EDF+Business

In the five years since we first brought EDF Climate Corps to China, I’ve watched as the scope and breadth of projects – by both multinational and Chinese-owned companies – has evolved alongside the nation’s sustainability efforts. I’ll show you how.

The evolution of corporate sustainability in China

In our first year, the companies we worked with were for the most part after one thing: energy audit projects in factory settings. It was about plucking the low-hanging energy fruit at one specific site (upgrading lighting or air compressor systems, etc.). And I should note, it was only multinational companies we were working with – headquartered in the U.S., with factories overseas.

Fast forward to today, while factory-based energy efficiency projects are still in our pipeline, they’re no longer the main focus. More companies are making larger sustainability goals, looking to pursue projects beyond energy efficiency.

I’ve identified a few trends in China’s corporate sustainability landscape:

  1. Improving energy efficiency and scaling solutions. Energy efficiency remains and important and effective way to reduce carbon footprints. But instead of one-off projects, it’s about scaling opportunities both across portfolios of factories and sharing with other companies in similar industries. The results bring enormous ROI, and give a competitive advantage to companies. Pacific Market International (PMI) hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to improve the energy efficiency of one of its glass suppliers. The fellow developed an energy management strategy, which included recommendations to reduce energy use, such as optimizing washing and dying processes, that can be scaled across the entire manufacturing industry.
  2. Setting ambitious targets. More companies are concentrating their efforts around data collection, analysis, verification, and reporting. More data is critical for identifying reduction opportunities, managing suppliers and communicating sustainability efforts. This year, MAHLE hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to build the framework for its first-ever sustainability report, which included specific energy reduction goals, covering categories such as: product innovation and development, energy saving and green production, employee care, and social responsibility.
  3. Complying with China’s environmental policies. In recent years, China’s political landscape around climate has become much more stringent, giving companies a choice: work with it, or be fined. Working with policies can reduce costs, avoid risk, demonstrate leadership, and attract stakeholders. This year, an EDF Climate Corps fellow recommended an environmental engagement plan for IKEA’s suppliers to mitigate regulatory risk – mainly around areas such as coal burning, GHG emissions, wastewater treatment, and solid waste – across its entire supply chain in China. We also hosted two webinars on environmental law interpretations and corporate compliance that garnered a lot of interest from our hosts (a recording for this year’s webinar can be found here for those that are interested in learning more).
  4. Adopting green supply chain initiatives. Companies are looking to reduce the emissions of their global supply chains, and they’re working with their suppliers to do so. This is true for both small and medium-sized manufactures, as well as multinationals. As part of its Project Gigaton (reducing GHG emissions in its supply chain by one gigaton), Walmart enlisted two EDF Climate Corps fellows in its Global Sourcing division to identify products that have the potential to reduce significant GHGs. Walmart now has a better understanding of what products need to be upgraded, how to reach its reduction goals and how to incentive more suppliers to participate in the effort.

As I enjoy my Moon Cake next week for this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, I'll be celebrating the long way we've come in corporate sustainability over these past five years. But, I'll also be thinking about the long road ahead of us.


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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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At GCAS, Walmart and Unilever show leadership on forests: 3 big reasons to join them

Walmart and Unilever made big news at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit. With forest loss still on the rise (the highest levels of tropical tree cover loss occurred in the last two years), these two consumer-product giants just committed to taking big, concrete steps toward addressing the complex reality of global deforestation.

At the center of their commitments are critical actions in support of jurisdictional approaches, which encourage companies that source deforestation-related agricultural commodities to collaborate with local governments, communities, and producers in their sourcing region. Through these collaborations, jurisdictional approaches ensure that local laws, regional efforts, and corporate policies work in concert to reduce deforestation across entire landscapes.

Companies with forest goals coming due – and there are hundreds of them – should take note, for three big reasons:

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How innovations can help your company meet Scope 3 emission targets

Recent research on corporate sustainability indicates that companies still have a long journey ahead in order to meet their sustainability goals. Only four percent of companies recently surveyed by Bain & Company feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47% feel that they’ve failed altogether.

Theresa Eberhardt, Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

These numbers might seem discouraging to some, but not to me. I’ve been in the sustainability space for over five years, working primarily in supply chains, and over this time, I’ve learned that the first step to success is acknowledging where you’re starting from. I’m also encouraged by EDF+Business, which has been helping companies meet their supply chain goals for over 25 years. These numbers show me that more and more companies are doing the hard work of evaluating and reporting on their own operations and supply chains. If you’re a sustainability officer at a large multinational corporation, we know that this can be a daunting task. However, you should relish the fact that you have the opportunity to make meaningful change on a huge scale. It just takes some focus, and the right business strategy.

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Food and agriculture companies: a challenge from a millennial mom

As a working mother, I often have to multi-task. Recently, as I watched my toddler push his food around his plate, I caught up on last week’s news that Fortune had released its annual “Change the World” list of top companies using the profit motive to help the planet and tackle social problems.

About 10 percent of this list consists of corporate leaders who are thinking critically about the challenge to feed our world in a sustainable way without destroying our planet, including companies like Kroger (#6), Walmart (#16), Tyson Foods (#44), McDonald’s (#50) and PepsiCo (#57). These companies know that a thriving community requires a fed community.

While I’m thankful to Fortune for sharing best practices from these incredible, game-changing companies, I’m also painfully aware that the corporate sector at large has a lot more work to do: a recent survey by Bain & Company found that only four percent of companies feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47 percent feel that they’ve failed altogether.

Speaking as both a mother and a sustainable supply chain specialist, that’s simply not good enough. We are already facing the massive challenge of producing even more food with fewer inputs. We are already facing increasingly variable weather.  And in just a few decades, our planet will be home to 2 billion more people to feed.

What’s my point? Next year, food and agriculture companies, I want to see more of you on Fortune’s list. So to help you on this quest, I’m officially issuing you a two-part challenge:

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New tactics to meet 2020 deforestation goals

Over the last 15 years, an impressive number of companies have set ambitious forest targets in their supply chains. As of September 2017, more than 470 companies in the food and agriculture sector have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. The Consumer Goods Forum – a group of 400 global companies with over $3.1 trillion in assets – for example, pledged to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

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