4 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2018

Today marks my one year anniversary of joining EDF Climate Corps, where I’ve spent the last 12 months helping companies think through the strategies for meeting – or setting – their climate goals. What I’ve learned in this short time is that companies are going beyond the “safe bet” to tackling bigger and more impactful projects. In doing so, I’ve identified four important trends in corporate sustainability this year that all business leaders should be watching.

But before we get into these trends, let’s step back and look at how corporate sustainability has evolved. In my previous role as president of Green Impact Campaign, I helped thousands of small businesses get their foot into the sustainability door by investing in energy efficiency. It was a low-risk, reliable way to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Now, with EDF Climate Corps, I’m working with businesses to go beyond implementing the already-proven strategies – like energy efficiency – to setting new trends that others will follow.

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Meet the women of the clean energy and sustainability workforce

I remember some of the first interactions I had with companies working in the clean energy industry. I was an analyst at the time, which meant the conversations were more often than not, very technical, wonky and with men. At first, this was overwhelming. But my all-women MBA program prepared me for the male-dominated business world. I turned these initial concerns into motivation, and I built my technical expertise so that I could hold my own in conversations. If my knowledge was questioned, I was ready with an answer.

I’m not alone in this experience. Like many other STEM industries, women are underrepresented in the energy workforce, counting for only roughly 20-35 percent. The good news is that this trend is changing, and clean energy is leading the way. The clean energy sector is the farthest along in closing this gender gap compared to other energy sectors, opening up numerous opportunities for women looking to start their careers in this field, and I’m proud to be helping to make this possible.

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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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Trump's energy policy: is China the real winner?

Just yesterday, the administration announced plans to cut the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable energy and energy efficiency program budgets by 72 percent according to a leaked draft of the DOE budget for fiscal year 2019. This is the second major blow to the renewable energy industry, coming only days after Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar imports.

I find this ironic. On Tuesday, Trump stood before our country to deliver his first State of the Union address. It was a story on “America First” and domestic policy took the center stage – tax cuts, trade, the economy, jobs…and more jobs. But as he praised the accomplishments in these issues over the past year, I couldn’t help but see the other side: the opportunities we’re missing and the jobs we’re giving up (now even more so).

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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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Cyber Monday you’ve met your match. What China’s consumerism means for our planet.

Happy Cyber Monday everyone.

For those of us who didn’t break the bank on Black Friday, we’re filling up our online shopping carts with Cyber Monday sales – seeing if we can break new records of consumerism. I know I am.

Last year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest day in the history of U.S. e-commerce, totaling $3.45 billion in online purchases. That’s an enormous amount of money. But it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion spent on China’s Singles Day – a recording-breaking day for sales.

What started as an anti-Valentine’s day holiday for single Chinese people, Singles Day makes our Black Friday and Cyber Monday look like any ordinary day of shopping. Singles Day has become the world’s largest online shopping holiday. When you look at China’s population, it’s no surprise they out-shopped us. The economy will be made up of 500 million middle class consumers in the next five years – an exploding population – all of which are embracing the convenience and material abundance of consumerism.

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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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Superstorms: America’s new normal?

This year, the Atlantic basin had eight consecutive storms develop—the first time in 124 years. The storms—and by storms I mean big storms—have had catastrophic effects on families, communities and the economy at large. Millions of people were left powerless, access to clean drinking water was compromised and homes were destroyed. It will take decades for the country to recover from this devastation, and hurricane season is only halfway over.

And as the intensity of these storms increases, so do their price tags. Together, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit the U.S. earlier this fall, are estimated to cost $150-$200 billion in combined destruction. This is an enormous blow to the economy and to tax payers’ wallets.

To those of us on the east coast, this sounds awfully similar to destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City and New Jersey hard this time five years ago. That’s why it’s important to ask: could the devastation have been avoided, or at least reduced?

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Scope 3… the serious path towards sustainability

More and more companies are making public commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions outside of their own operations. Why? Because compared to scope 1 and 2 emissions (from direct activities), avoiding scope 3 emissions can have the greatest impact on a corporate footprint.

The numbers are clear: the majority of GHG emissions come from indirect activities, both upstream and downstream, in the supply chain. In fact, for most of consumer goods products manufacturing, scope 3 emissions account for over 70% of overall GHG emissions. Included is everything from purchasing raw materials to end of life treatment.

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Wholesale renewable energy procurement: what you need to know.

Clean energy is on the rise in America, and there’s no denying it. Each year, investments in renewable sources of power continue to increase, bringing with it economic and job growth. In fact, it’s on track to deliver an increasing share of total energy supply, putting traditional energy sources to the side. That’s why organizations across the country are turning to renewable energy as a way to meet their sustainability goals and cut energy costs.

We’re at a time when corporate America is stepping up to the plate on climate leadership. Bigger, more ambitious commitments are being set and bolder targets announced. And renewable energy can be the tool to meet them. But it means the scale and sophistication of clean energy projects must grow. Small-scale, on-site solar installations are not always large enough to generate the quantity of power necessary. So businesses are turning to another route: wholesale renewable energy procurement.

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