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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Environmental innovation will transform business as usual

As the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections that could harm human health for decades, it’s increasingly up to businesses to lead the way, charting the course to a future that includes both a thriving economy and a thriving planet.

Leading the way requires first setting ambitious, public targets like the over 340 companies taking science-based climate action and 90 that have approved science-based targets; collaborating with partners across the value chain for maximum scale and impact – Walmart’s Project Gigaton, a collaborative effort to reduce 1 billion tons for emissions, is a powerful example; and, supporting smart climate and energy policy

BSR’s new sustainability framework closely echoes these leadership approaches and recommends that companies create resilient business strategies that align with sustainability goals. GreenBiz’s 2018 State of Green Business report further supports these and other requirements for sustainability leadership, adding that businesses need to improve reporting on climate risk, impact, and progress towards goals. The We Mean Business coalition adds further calls to action for companies: join the low carbon technology partnerships initiative, grow the market for sustainable fuels and electric vehicles, and take proactive steps to end deforestation by 2020.

Yet currently missing from all of this corporate sustainability leadership guidance is a call for companies to accelerate environmental innovation and deployment of next generation technology – sensors, AI, data analytics and visualization, and digital collaboration – to solve our most pressing environmental challenges.

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IKEA assembles a cleaner planet

Two years ago I had my first conversation with Stefan Karlsson, the Sustainability Compliance Manager for IKEA Purchasing Service (China) Co., Ltd. We talked about how IKEA was rethinking its business operations in order to green its global supply chain – and as the world’s largest go-to for affordable furniture – you can imagine how big a job that is. Right away, I could tell Stefan, and IKEA, was on to something big: encouraging hundreds of their suppliers to drive innovation and promote sustainability.

A goal, an opportunity and a partnership

IKEA isn’t unique in that it strives to provide affordable furniture. However, it is unique in that it strives to make products in ways that are good for people and the planet. That’s why in 2016, the company set a goal of encouraging its direct suppliers to become 20 percent more energy efficient by August 2017. As part of this target, IKEA initiated the Coal Removal Project – reducing coal use as a direct source from the energy portfolios of over 300 local supplier factories in China.

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Talking sustainability, soup and stout with Campbell’s Dave Stangis

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; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the fourth 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.

Dave Stangis has dedicated over three decades of his career to steering sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts at two iconic American companies, Intel and Campbell Soup Company. As Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell, Dave has built the company’s reputation for setting a high bar on sustainability and corporate responsibility in the food industry. Case in point: Campbell was recognized as a top corporate citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine for the eighth consecutive year.

Campbell set an ambitious goal to cut the environmental footprint of its product portfolio in half by 2020, which entails reducing energy use by 35 percent, recycling 95 percent of its global waste stream, and sourcing 40 percent of the company’s electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.

I recently spoke with Dave to learn about his approach to setting big sustainability goals, the role of technology and innovation in building a more sustainable food system, and which kind of beer goes best with a bowl of soup. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

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Our president promised jobs. Instead, he’s slashing them.

Earlier this week, Trump announced his decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. A tariff will have a negative impact on solar – one of the fastest growing industries in the entire country.

Environmental Defense Fund released its second annual jobs report yesterday, In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce, following Trump’s decision. The report shows that solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry 1.6 to 1, with coal employing only 160,000. Even better, these jobs are local, well-paying and available to individuals from all types of educational backgrounds and career history.

But now, solar jobs are at risk. Yesterday, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated as many as 23,000 jobs would be lost under Trump’s tariff. The supportive policy environment that encouraged this growth is no longer in place. Let me explain.

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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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Why 2017 was the worst and best year of my entire sustainability career

Of my 20 years in the corporate sustainability world, I’ve never seen a year like 2017.

Like many of you, I watched in shock as we inaugurated a reality TV personality as our 45th President. Since then this Administration has rolled back critical environmental and health protections and ceded U.S. government leadership on climate change and clean energy. Issues that I am passionate about and have devoted my career to advancing. Issues that affect kids like my son, who turned 6 this week, and the over 6 million other children across the country that suffer from asthma.

At the same time, our family members, friends, and colleagues from coast to coast have been impacted by heart-wrenching extreme weather events – made stronger by climate change. In the past 12 months alone, we experienced the country’s most devastating hurricane season (with damage estimates ranging to $475 billion), record breaking temperatures that grounded airlines to a halt, freezing temperatures in the Southeast that caused over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires that continue to blaze across the state of California.

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How to make Thomas Friedman’s climate optimism a reality

Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.

Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.

The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.

Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.

Here’s how to address both challenges.

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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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