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.

Read more

Walmart, Target and McDonald’s Catalyze Sustainability. Join them.

Source: Walmart Sustainability Hub

By: Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business Supply Chain, Environmental Defense Fund and Sheila Bonini, Senior Vice President, Private Sector Engagement, WWF – ‎World Wildlife Fund

Imagine, for a moment, what it would mean if the world’s biggest brands couldn’t access the key ingredients for their products. What if Starbucks had trouble sourcing coffee? What if Coca-Cola couldn’t access water? As the predicted effects of a changing climate such as droughts and rising temperatures become a reality, these “what if” questions raise serious concerns for global supply chains.

Such issues were foundational for last week’s Walmart Milestone sustainability summit at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Our two NGOs work with Walmart as it pushes to fulfill its ambitious climate commitments.

One of those is Project Gigaton, which in its two-year lifespan has avoided 93 million metric tons of emissions toward the one billion ton goal. It may be the company’s most ambitious sustainability initiative, and we — along with dozens of other advocacy groups — have taken a keen interest in this initiative.

Read more

Top 3 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2019

Credit: Wendy Palmer

Last year, I identified the top corporate sustainability trends of 2018. Six months later, I revisited those trends and shared company-specific examples that pointed to their growing traction.

I decided to repeat this process again for this year. But, before I share the top trends for 2019, let me first explain how they are identified.

The growing and changing field of corporate sustainability

I work with hundreds of companies each year to help them determine sustainability projects that make the most sense for their unique business and goals. Through one-on-one conversations with companies participating in EDF Climate Corps, which hit a record high for the second consecutive year, I get a close up look at how businesses across industries – from big tech companies like Google and Amazon, to food and beverage giants like McDonald’s and Danone Waters North America – plan to reduce their environmental impact.

Here are the top trends in corporate sustainability for 2019 that I’ve identified by analyzing the data from this year’s EDF Climate Corps host applications:

  1. Mobility projects will gain popularity as a strategy to reduce emissions. Transportation is the leading cause of U.S. emissions. So it’s understandable why mobility-focused projects are everywhere right now – from transitioning corporate fleets into EVs to reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles thanks to ridesharing and micro-mobility alternatives, like e-scooters. Companies are looking to mobility-related projects as a solution to reduce their operational, supply chain, and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, planned IPOs from Lyft and Uber have made headlines recently with some believing that this could lead to more aggressive actions on carbon emission reductions from ride-hailing apps, due to shareholder pressure.

What the data shows: This year, 15% of EDF Climate Corps projects are related to mobility issues, two times as many as last year.

  1. Longstanding sustainability champions will be joined by the majority. We’re in an exciting transition period: Sustainability is no longer being championed by only the early adopters, but rather the majority. Companies, from well-established corporations to growing medium-sized enterprises, are formally establishing sustainability programs and climate strategies for the very first time. For example, in Barron’s second annual ranking of the 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies, one-third of the companies were ranked for the first time this year.

What the data shows: This year, one out of six new EDF Climate Corps hosts are establishing their first-ever official sustainability program.

Project Manager, EDF Climate Corps

  1. Science-Based Targets will see greater diversity from industries. Last year, I identified the rapid growth of companies setting Science-Based Targets (SBTs) as a trend. Since then, the number of companies that have publically committed or already set a SBT – including Hershey and Iron Mountain – has more than doubled. There are a number of public, voluntary commitments to initiatives around GHG emissions (We Are Still In, RE100), but the SBT Initiative has become an industry best practice. In the year ahead, we will see more industry diversity in SBT commitments, and more collaboration between companies to tailor and adapt methodologies to their specific industry.

What the data shows: Companies participating in this year’s EDF Climate Corps program with a focus on Science-Based Target projects have tripled compared to last year’s cohort.

Congratulations to all of the companies that are redefining what it means to be a corporate sustainability leader this year.

Stay tuned for an update on these trends this fall using real-world projects from this summer.

* Infographic: see what this year’s EDF Climate Corps hosts are tackling  


Connect with Daniel on LinkedIn

Follow EDF+Business on Twitter


Stay on top of the latest facts, information and resources aimed at the intersection of business and the environment. Sign up for the EDF+Business blog.

Your Name

Your Email

The Good, The Bad and The Blind Spot of Corporate Sustainability Rankings

No matter the industry, business stakeholders care about lists – who’s on them and who’s on top. Consider this small sampling: Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies” list, Fortune’s “Change the World” list, Forbes’ “The World’s Most Reputable Companies” list, or Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work.

Companies spend countless hours every year applying to appear on these lists, vying for the top spot and the ability to market that recognition to customers, investors, and employees. Just think, how many email signatures have you seen that end with “voted the best/most [fill in the blank] company for three years in a row”?

There are myriad psychological reasons why lists are so effective, popular and valuable. In the sustainability field, numerous rankings have emerged to help stakeholders assess corporate environmental performance and identify leaders from among the hundreds that have made environmental commitments.

Beyond bragging rights, sustainability rankings can also provide an essential service to companies by helping them define internal performance measures, attract top talent and link executive compensation to corporate sustainability.

Unfortunately, there’s a significant problem with these sustainability lists.

Read more

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.

Read more

2020 commodity sourcing goals? These tools can help with supply chain traceability

Amidst rising deforestation rates, many companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from key commodity supply chains. As of June 2018, 473 companies globally committed to curbing deforestation in supply chains linked to palm oil, soy, timber and pulp, and cattle.

Many of these companies have set 2020 goals, and are doubling down efforts to meet these goals as the deadline fast approaches. Companies now find themselves in a position in which they know where they want to go, but do not always know how to get there.

Identifying deforestation risks in supply chains by using monitoring and traceability tools is one key step to achieving corporate goals related to fighting deforestation. Being able to monitor full supply chains, from the production of raw materials to retail or consumption, will enable companies to locate and address deforestation risks. Read more

Super Bowl ad shows Anheuser-Busch InBev’s global leadership on renewable energy

While Tom Brady was chasing his 6th Super Bowl Victory, something big happened during the game. Budweiser aired an ad celebrating the link between business and sustainability – a message that reached at least an average of 100 million viewers.

The 45 second video combined Budweiser’s brand icons, Dalmatians and Clydesdales, with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, to tout the company’s renewable energy commitments, particularly around wind generation.

For someone who tries to follow sports, but remains “passive” as my husband would put it, this ad won my attention for the night. It was a mixing pot of nature, technology and business that shared a singular, important message – companies are proudly investing in our planet’s future.

The truth is, this ad shared only part of the work Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, is doing to make its global operations more sustainable. I know this because I recently chatted with Jess Newman, Director of U.S. Agronomy at Anheuser-Busch – one of many employees working to meet the company’s sustainability goals.

Read more

4 ways collaboration can get companies on CDP’s “A List”

Last week, CDP recognized companies for leading on climate change. Around 127 brands received an “A” grade – 2% of reporting companies – while the others were stamped with B’s, C’s and D’s.

We should certainly celebrate the companies that made it to the A List. These companies have proven leadership in corporate climate action and should be recognized.

But if we neglect the B’s, C’s and D’s, we all lose.

True cohesive climate action requires elevating the environmental performance of all companies – not just one-by-one. And the best way to do that is through collaboration.

Read more

Hershey aims to cut the carbon footprint of its chocolate with new Science-Based Target commitment

Photo credit: Wendy Palmer

One of the world’s top chocolate companies shared new plans for reducing its impact on the planet – including committing to set Science-Based Targets. But what sets Hershey apart from its peers is not this commitment. It’s the journey behind how it got here.

Leading up to today’s announcement, a lot happened behind the scenes – data was collected, numbers were crunched and methodologies chosen. It required time, human capital and expertise.

But Hershey didn’t do it alone. The company hired a graduate student to help with the heavy-lifting that comes before a target can be set.

Read more

How The World’s Largest Crowdfunder For Creativity Is Kickstarting Sustainability

Bureo makes the first skateboard deck made out of recycled fishnets. KICKSTARTER

Where else can you bring creative projects, like a handheld printer that can imprint on any surface or soap that smells like bacon, to life? I’m a big fan of Kickstarter. So when I heard the company was inspiring its creators to make environmentally conscious decisions, I immediately wanted to learn more.

As the world’s largest crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter has built a global community that aims to bring creative ideas to life. Since its launch in 2009, more than 155,000 creative projects have been successfully funded, and over $4.1 billion dollars pledged.

I recently spoke with Heather Corcoran, outreach lead at Kickstarter, to find out more about the company’s sustainability philosophy, its recent environmental features, and her favorite Kickstarter product to date.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Read more