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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Pruitt Loophole Could Have Your Products Riding on a Super-Polluting Truck

In an affront to the health of all Americans, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is trying to reopen a loophole for super-polluting glider trucks. This action reflects the worst of Washington politics: a special deal for the benefit of a single company; a sloppy, industry-funded analysis; and a process that shuts out EPA’s own staff expertise.

It has the potential to add thousands of super-polluting trucks to our roads, spewing 40 times more pollution than new trucks and leading to more than 6,000 premature deaths by 2021.

The question every company in America that uses trucking services must ask is: Do you want these trucks backing up to your loading dock?

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Why businesses and state governments aren’t waiting for federal action on chemicals transparency

As a Trump Administration appointee tries to dismantle EPA’s credibility as a guardian of public health and the environment, other actors have been stepping up. We recently examined retailers leading the way on removing chemicals of concern from the marketplace – but there has also been significant activity from state governments and companies to increase transparency about the chemicals we are exposed to every day and to empower consumers to make informed decisions about their product purchases.

Regulatory steps in the right direction

Government activity has recently focused on cleaning products, for good reason as the contents of these products are typically the biggest mystery for consumers.

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What the sensor technology revolution means for businesses, the planet, and your lungs

A recent study from UPS and GreenBiz revealed that 95 percent of surveyed companies recognize the effect that urbanization – particularly air quality and traffic congestion – will have on business growth and sustainability.

Why? Because poor air quality costs the global economy $225 billion every year in lost labor income, according to the World Bank. Air quality also worsens with congestion, which will likely increase as 2.5 billion more people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050.

It’s no surprise then that less than half of the UPS/GreenBiz study participants feel prepared to address these challenges.

The good news is that cities and businesses can turn their anxiety into action by embracing and utilizing disruptive mobile sensor technologies that collect air quality data.

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Corporate leaders know a clean energy future is “True North”

EDF and Business driving a clean energy economy

With all economic and environmental indicators pointing towards a clean energy future … the Trump administration continues to move the U.S. backwards by repealing the Clean Power Plan.

While disheartening at a personal level, at a professional level I see no signs of the private sector retreating from the clean energy economy. Leading companies are zeroing in on the strategic moves that strengthen long-term business resilience.

Right now there is a broad and diverse coalition supporting the Clean Power Plan, including 18 states, 60 municipalities in red and blue states, some of the nation’s leading power companies, consumer and ratepayer advocates, faith organizations, public health associations, small business associations, iconic corporate leaders like Apple, Google, and Mars, and many others.

We’re too far down the road to a clean energy economy to turn back now. Read more

Leading methane commitment from Exxon’s U.S. driller: Why it matters

The degree to which the oil and gas industry can be trusted to play a constructive role in a low carbon future depends in no small measure on whether and how it reduces climate pollution today. That’s why company insiders, investors, and policy makers should take careful note of the sensible and innovative commitments announced by XTO Energy, the ExxonMobil subsidiary that leads the United States in natural gas production.

The industry’s many outside stakeholders both in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly calling for emission reductions and greater commitment to cleaner production. Companies that heed those calls, and advance new technologies, will be much better positioned to answer society's demands for responsibility. Read more

A path to prosperity that we can all embrace

Prosperity. We all want to attain it, yet the ways we each define it are as different as we are.

As President Trump charges through his first 100 days, there is a risky theme being pushed that a prosperous America comes with a choice between environmental protection and economic growth.

This concept is not only false, but dangerous and short sighted.

Just look at China. When I was there last year, I saw a country that, during its own industrial revolution, made decisions that had unfortunately sacrificed the environment for a short-term surge in economic prosperity. Those tradeoffs were made during a time when coal and oil provided over 90% of energy consumption, and as a result, air quality reached unhealthy standards. Now China, the world’s fastest-growing economy (IMF), is sprinting to play catch-up. In 2015, in fact, China invested $102.9 billion in renewables, making it the world’s largest investor in clean energy (the US, by contrast, invested $44.1 billion that same year). (IEEFA.org, 2017)  Earlier this year, as the Trump Administration ceded U.S. leadership, China continued to step up with a new commitment to invest over $350 billion in renewable power generation.

So I reject the idea that people have to choose between a thriving economy and clean air and water. Or that we need to choose prosperity in the short-term, but an unstable and unhealthy climate in the long-term. We should not be forced into believing false choices. Instead, we demand and deserve a healthy future where both the economy and the environment can prosper.

Protecting the environment is being positioned by President Trump as something that stifles U.S. businesses with over-regulation. And while not all regulation is perfect, sometimes policy is necessary to round out the sharp edges of capitalism. We must ensure that we’re not just eradicating environmental regulation, but instead making informed improvements with both business and the environment in mind. Just look at California as a case in point. The state’s clean energy standards for cars, buildings and electric utilities are some of the strictest in the U.S., yet California’s jobs and overall economy continue to grow steadily.

And on a national scale, a new report from Environmental Defense Fund shows that our best line to job creation lies in the sustainability and clean energy market. Addressing climate change isn’t hampering growth, it’s driving it. Sustainability now collectively represents an estimated 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S.  The solar industry alone is currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Clean energy and sustainability is feeding a burgeoning pipeline of well-paying jobs across all 50 states. Jobs that cannot be outsourced I might add.

The Republican’s choice for Secretary of Energy, oil industry ally Rick Perry, said during his confirmation hearing, “the question is how we address (climate change) in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth.”  It’s a good question, and one that must be very thoughtfully considered by Mr. Perry. When it comes to the environment and public health, we cannot repeal safeguards without devising safer, smarter replacements that diminish economic burdens while maintaining, or even increasing, protection. We need to envision prosperity through a lens where both the environment and the economy can thrive.

Our path to prosperity must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics.

Rolling back environmental safeguards, pausing innovation on fuel efficiency and clean energy, and reigniting a U.S. reliance on coal and oil is short-term thinking that puts us on a dangerous path.

Business prosperity in the long-term relies on resource availability. By 2050 the world will be home to 9.5 billion consumers, all looking toward business to provide the products and services they need. This consumption drives our economy—but puts a massive burden on our planet’s resources.

This is why Google, Microsoft, Nike, Nestlé, Walmart and many others are committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewable energy. This is why PepsiCo is focused on improving water use efficiency, reducing food waste and eliminating emissions from its supply chain as part of its 2025 goals. And despite the threat of environmental rollbacks and noise about pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, 1000 companies and investors have signed on to the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement, which reiterated support and intent to implement the historic Agreement to address climate change. Not because regulation demands this, but because long term prosperity requires it.

If America is to continue our longstanding tradition and commitment of leaving a better future for the next generation, we must continue making decisions that align economic prosperity with environmental protection and human health. This, to me, is the most important test of business leadership.  It’s time for committed sustainability leaders to live those values, speak truth to power, and move the dialog beyond transactional, and short term campaign promises to long-term health for the economy and the planet.

Follow Tom on Twitter, @tpmurray

When the EPA is under threat, so is business: 2 key examples

American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks.  In the coming weeks and months, the experts at EDF+Business will examine what a weakened EPA means for business. 

While some politicians may question the reality of climate change, most CEOs do not. So it’s no surprise that while Congress has been stuck, business has been busy addressing the problem. Luckily, they’ve had a helpful partner by their side: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Contrary to now head of the EPA Scott Pruitt’s claim that business has been subjected to "regulatory uncertainty"—stated during this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference—the Agency has administered a number of voluntary and regulatory programs that help corporations respond to the challenge of climate change. For companies, future planning is simply good business. This is why many in  Corporate America—having long accepted that climate change is real— are continuing to transition towards low-carbon energy options and work with the EPA to move forward in a sensible, cost-effective manner.

But with the recent announcement on Pruitt’s plans to cut the EPA’s budget by a reported 24 percent—to roughly $6 billion, its lowest since the mid-1980's–it may be up to the business community to defend the instrumental role of the Agency in helping business thrive while protecting the environment.

Here’s a look at just two of the many EPA programs that have helped business transition to a clean energy future.

Forging a smart economic future with the Clean Power Plan

Many in the business community strongly supported the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP)—the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The argument? Dirty sources of energy generation are becoming a growing concern for corporate America. These energy sources are increasingly uneconomic. Fortune 500 companies routinely set renewable energy and emissions reduction goals, but find roadblocks in many energy markets around the country.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

Fortunately, the CPP can open new opportunities for businesses interested in operating in a clean energy economy. The rule’s flexible framework puts states in the driver’s seat to set plans that call for the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for meeting pollution reduction targets while spurring innovation. If you ask me, this satisfies Pruitt’s call to "restore federalism" by giving states more of a say in regulations. The plans provide clarity on the energy options available to businesses in different regions, helping to inform their long-term carbon reduction strategies and eventually increase access to cost-effective low-carbon energy.

This explains why last year major innovators including Mars, IKEA, Apple, Google, and Microsoft filed legal briefs in federal court supporting the EPA’s Plan. And more recently, leading executives from over 760 companies and investors—many of them Fortune 500 firms—called upon the new Administration to move ahead with policies to address climate change, like the Clean Power Plan.

The CPP is positioned to:

  • Generate $155 billion in consumer savings between 2020-2030
  • Create 3x as many jobs per $1 invested in clean energy as compared to $1 invested in fossil fuels
  • Lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $54 billion, including avoiding 3,600 premature deaths in 2030

The Green Power Partnership

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program launched by the EPA to increase the use of renewable electricity in the U.S. Under the program, businesses are armed with resources and provided technical support to identify the types of green power products that best meet their goals. Since its inception, the Partnership has made notable progress in addressing market barriers to green power procurement.

Through the Partnership, companies can reduce their carbon footprints, increase cost savings, and demonstrate civic leadership, which further drives customer, investor and stakeholder loyalty. Take Colgate-Palmolive for example: as one of the Green Power Partnership’s national top 100, the consumer products giant has generated close to 2 billion kWh of annual green power through wind power alone. This represents 80% of the company’s total electricity use.

Today, hundreds of Partner organizations rely on billions of kWh of green power annually. At the end of 2015, over 1,300 Partners were collectively using more than 30 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, equivalent to the electricity use of more than three million average American homes.

Pruitt has ratified the belief that we can “grow jobs, grow the economy while being good stewards of the environment”–and he’s right. The renewable energy industry is now outpacing the rest of the U.S. in job creation; which is good news for business and the economy at large. American wind power now supports more than 100,000 jobs—an increase of 32% in just one year—and solar employs more people in U.S. electricity generation than oil, coal and gas combined.

Long-term economics versus short-term politics

We don’t know what will happen in Washington over the next few years. But many businesses are moving forward. Rather than shift course, corporations are increasing investments in clean, reliable power, a move that is consistent with sound business practices.

But business can’t do it alone. The EPA supports responsible companies who have committed to reducing their carbon footprints while safeguarding our planet. It’s time for business to not just leverage their scale and buying power to help accelerate the transition to a clean energy future, but to speak up in favor of maintaining a well-funded agency that continues to make decisions based on sound science and the law.

In his first address to the EPA, Scott Pruitt said, “you can’t lead unless you listen.” Let’s make sure he hears from the businesses that are focused on a future where both the economy and the environment can thrive.

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Follow Liz on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo



EPA SmartWay and Clean Truck Standards save U.S. businesses millions

American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks.  In the coming weeks and months, the experts at EDF+Business will examine what a weakened EPA means for business.

It’s safe to say that the EPA isn’t having the best week. Whether it was new administrator Scott Pruitt vowing to slash climate and water protections at CPAC or this week’s reveal that President Trump wants to slash a reported 24 percent of its budget, the EPA has taken a beating recently. However, what may not be as obvious is that slashing EPA’s budget and reducing funding to key programs actually hurts businesses that have greatly benefitted from EPA programs.

A key example of how the EPA bolsters business is freight. In the freight world, the EPA has done a lot for companies’ bottom lines while protecting human health and that of the planet. Companies seeking to

reduce freight costs and achieve sustainability goals across supply chains receive immense value from the EPA.  Two key programs that provide this value are the U.S. EPA SmartWay program and the Heavy-Duty Truck Greenhouse Gas Program.

A compelling value proposition for business

SmartWay was created in 2004 as a key part of the Bush Administration’s approach to addressing clean energy and climate change. The program has grown from fifteen companies at its start to nearly 4,000 companies today. The program attracts strong private sector participation because it offers a clear and compelling value proposition: freight shippers gain access to information that enables them todifferentiate between freight carriers on emissions performance.

Jason Mathers, Director, Supply Chain

This saves shippers money and cuts carbon emissions. Freight carriers participate in the program to gain access to large shippers, such as Apple, Colgate-Palmolive and Target.

The EPA SmartWay program is not only a popular program that is delivering billions of dollars of annual savings to the U.S. economy, it is also a core strategy for companies to reduce their freight emissions. The agency has calculated that since 2004, SmartWay partners have saved:

  • 72.8 million metric tons of carbon emissions
  • Over 7 billion gallons of fuel
  • $24.9 billion in fuel costs

To put it in perspective, the reduction of 72.8 million tons of emissions is roughly the equivalent to taking 15 million cars off the road annually. The $25 billion in aggregate savings from this one program is more than three times the annual budget of the entire EPA.

Given the strong value proposition of the program, it is no surprise that many companies with existing science-based targets on climate emission reductions participate in EPA SmartWay, including: Coca-Cola Enterprises, Dell, Diageo, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ingersoll-Rand, Kellogg Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble Company and Walmart.

Clean fuel driving a healthy U.S. economy

Another key program that is saving companies billions is the Heavy-Duty Truck Greenhouse Gas Program. This program supports long-term cost savings and emission reductions through clear, protective emission standards with significant lead time.

The first generation of this program, running from 2014 to 2017, was finalized in August 2011 and will cut oil consumption by more than 20 billion gallons, save a truck’s owner up to $73,000, deliver more than $50 billion in net benefits for the U.S. economy, and cut carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons.

The program was created with the broad support of the trucking industry and many other key stakeholders. Among the diverse groups that supported the standards were the American Trucking Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, and the United Auto Workers. The industry has embraced the new and improved trucks too.

The success of the first generation effort spurred the agency to launch a second phase that was finalized in August 2016. This effort stands to be a major success as well. The program is estimated to save:

  • 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon pollution
  • 550,000 tons of nitrous oxides and 32,000 tons of particulate matter (aka: harmful air pollutants)
  • 2 billion barrels of oil
  • $170 billion in fuel costs

This latest phase is also big hit with leading companies. More than 300 companies called for strong final standards during the rulemaking process, including PepsiCo and Walmart (two of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S.), mid-size trucking companies RFX Global and Dillon Transport, and large customers of trucking services General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, and IKEA. Innovative manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and freight shippers have also called for strong standards.

The corporate support for these standards was so impressive that the New York Times issued an editorial illustrating a rare agreement on climate rules.

Every company that sells goods in the market benefits immensely from these two programs and many others from the U.S. EPA. Programs like EPA SmartWay and the Heavy Truck Greenhouse Gas Standards are saving companies and consumers billions of dollars annually, and are integral to corporate efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Looking ahead

In his remarks to EPA employees on his first day on the job, Pruitt acknowledged that “we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment…we don’t have to choose”. My hope is that this is a signal of open mindedness to a path forward would allow further improvements to the environment and the economy rather than roll-backs on vital programs and protections.

Perpetuating the belief that the EPA and business are at odds will not only hurt the environment, but would endanger American prosperity.

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Follow Jason on Twitter, @jasonmathers