Their vote and their jobs: Millennials’ new tools for climate advocacy

A new poll by CNN shows that climate change now ranks as the very top issue among Democratic voters – beating out historically popular issues like healthcare.

Engaging in climate advocacy is growing globally. And what I find to be especially interesting is the innovative approaches that people are taking to make their voices heard.

Climate change’s time could be now, and people are seizing the opportunity. People like Summer Sandoval.

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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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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  


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WAYB car seats designed by former Patagonia CEO put safety – and sustainability – first

In July, I’ll become a first-time mom, which means the next four months of my life are going to be spent preparing for what’s to come. In my attempt to navigate the baby-care industry, I’ve started researching the options for toxic-free, eco-friendly, safe and affordable products. To say the process is ‘overwhelming’ is an understatement.

Lucky for me, I’m not alone in asking for products that are good for the health of my kids and the planet, and companies are starting to meet this demand.

I recently spoke with Tracy Liu, the Chief Operating Officer of WAYB, a new company co-founded by former Patagonia CEO Michael Crooke alongside manufacturing experts Tio Jung and his father I.S. Jung that aims to deliver safe, well-designed and sustainable products to families with young children.  Tracy (who’s also expecting) shares how the company is bringing its experience in the outdoor gear industry to design its first product, a next generation car seat. Tracy is also an EDF Climate Corps alumna.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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How Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is furnishing a better planet

Pottery Barn Kids / west elm Greenguard certified and Fair Trade crib

Furnishing a new home is a big job. I know because I recently went through the process myself. You need to purchase the big ticket items, maybe a new bed from Pottery Barn, down to the nitty-gritty items, possibly a nice west elm throw for the couch. It’s taxing work – for you and the planet.

Danielle Jezienicki, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. works across the company’s eight brands, including Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn Kids and PBTeen, west elm, Rejuvenation and Mark & Graham, to ensure that products are made with the environment in mind.

I recently spoke with Danielle, an EDF Climate Corps and Presidio Graduate School alumna, to learn how Williams-Sonoma, Inc. works with stakeholders – from customers, employees and vendors – to engrain sustainability into its values.

Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

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The secret behind Iron Mountain’s long-term strategy for setting a Science-Based Target? A phase-based approach.

Last week, Iron Mountain publicly shared its approved Science-Based Target (SBT) after committing to the SBT initiative in June of last year.

Setting SBTs has transitioned from a trend to an industry best practice. Last April, 250 companies committed to set or received approval for a SBT. That number today is now 515 companies. More than double in less than a year.

As more companies explore SBTs, it’s important to call out those that have reached that target-setting milestone so that others can learn from them.

Effective targets are aspirational, yet attainable. It’s not enough just to set one. There needs to be a strategy in place to meet it – which is what Iron Mountain did.

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Bevi CEO explains how an idea for a product grew into a sustainable startup

Reducing impact on the planet isn’t an afterthought at Bevi – it’s the startup’s core business.

Co-founder and CEO of Bevi, Sean Grundy, wanted to work for a company where sustainability was woven into the business model from the start, and shareholder and environmental values were one in the same. So, Sean chose to start fresh and build that very company.

Today, Bevi’s smart water dispensers, which provide customizable flavors using filtered tap water and natural ingredients, have saved the waste generated by over 65 million plastic bottles.

I recently chatted with Sean to learn about how he wound up co-founding Bevi, and how the startup has created an efficient, customizable and environmentally friendly alternative to canned and bottled beverages. Sean was also an EDF Climate Corps fellow with Hilex Poly back in 2012.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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