A company’s public statements matter– they can influence consumer choice, sway public policy decisions and demonstrate leadership on important issues. But in terms of actual change, it’s where a company puts its money that really matters. This week, Bank of America spoke with both its voice and wallet: At its shareholder meeting last week, the bank announced a new coal policy that continues the company's commitment to reducing its exposure to coal extraction companies and accelerating the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy.
According to BoA, its portfolio has grown to favor renewable energy over coal by a ratio of more than three-to-one. That’s an important step forward toward a clean, low-carbon energy future. And, it’s one that builds on moves by other institutions, like the recent news from Goldman Sachs about how the company is looking to divest some of its mining interests and Citi’s recent 10-year, $100-billion commitment towards investments in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy, green affordable housing and climate change resiliency projects.
Investors are seeing the terrain change beneath them – from upcoming regulations like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and federal regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, to consistently lower natural gas prices, which undercut coal’s prior price advantage over other power sources – and beginning to bet on a future that’s powered by lower-carbon options.
More of this type of corporate leadership, including metrics and timelines, is what's needed to help make the leap from today’s polluting energy system to tomorrow’s thriving, clean energy future.
Spring is high season for corporate responsibility reports, with some of the world’s most recognizable brands — including Kellogg’s, Walmart, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Adidas, General Mills, H&M, Lowes, CVS and Hershey’s — releasing their latest updates. While each company has its own unique sustainability challenges and priorities, every one of them has a global supply chain that requires an extensive logistics network to move goods from manufacturing facilities to end customers.
What reading these reports told me is that greening freight operations is becoming a key priority for these companies, with three trends in particular standing out to me:
1. Tracking logistics emissions is a standard practice. Seven out of the ten recently released reports included data on fuel use or greenhouse gas emissions associated with freight transportation. Several companies were tracking only emissions from outbound freight transportation, presumably because of a lack of visibility into inbound moves. Adidas, one of the three that did not include information on emissions or fuel use from freight movement, did include a detailed breakdown of moves by transport modes and emissions from distribution centers and other facilities.
2. Setting performance goals is a well-accepted practice. Four of the ten companies have performance-based goals to improve environmental impact associated with freight transportation. For example:
- Walmart is seeking to double its fleet efficiency compared to 2005, and is currently 87% of the way to meeting this impressive goal.
- General Mills has a goal to reduce fuel use for its outbound moves by 35% compared to its 2005 consumption. The company has made considerable progress too, reducing fuel use by 22% compared to 2005.
- Anheuser-Busch set a goal in 2014 to reduce greenhouse gases from its global logistics operations by 15% per hectoliter sold. Its goal has a broad scope too, including inbound and outbound transportation as well as warehousing.
3. Seeking to shape external factors is a leadership practice. Much of the impact of moving freight is beyond the operational control of these companies. They have limited influence on the availability of low-impact fuels, the efficiency of freight equipment or the capacity of intermodal systems. In addition to focusing on the factors freight shippers can control, leading companies are trying to shape the overall system to provide more low-impact choices. Read more
"Kenworth truck" by Lisa M. Macias, U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia
A pair of critical analyses were just released that, together, make clear the need for a strong second generation heavy truck fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standard.
The first piece is the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) preliminary Annual Energy Outlook for 2015. I went right to the projection of fuel efficiency for new heavy trucks in 2020, which is 7.0 miles per gallon, and compared that to the projection for 2030, which is 7.2 miles per gallon. A three percent increase in efficiency for a decade is not too impressive.
As a result of this lack of projected progress on fuel efficiency and other factors, EIA expects that greenhouse gas emissions from heavy trucks will increase more than any other single end-use source by 2040 – an additional 120 million metric tons a year.
The other recent analysis is from The International Council on Clean Transportation, which released two papers on heavy truck fuel efficiency: one reviewing the potential of current and emerging efficiency technology, and the other examining the cost-effectiveness of these technologies.
Just in time for Earth Day, McDonald’s has released a new global deforestation commitment. While this policy is new, the company is no stranger to the issue. In fact, McDonald’s was one of the first companies to be confronted in the 1980s as consumers began to recognize the “Hamburger Connection” between beef production and tropical forests. In response, the company established its Amazon Policy, which prohibited the sourcing of beef from the Amazon. Seventeen years later, McDonald’s was instrumental in creating the Soy Moratorium, an industry-wide effort which has effectively halted soy expansion on native vegetation in the Amazon Biome. (Soy is a major source of feed for chickens and other livestock).
Now, following a wave of commitments from agricultural giants such as Cargill and ADM, the new global policy is a first-of-its-kind in the fast food sector and, if executed correctly, could stand as a shining example for other companies in the food business to follow. As one of the world’s most recognized brands, McDonald’s knows any commitment with such a large impact on the planet – tropical forests are one of the largest contributors to, and buffers against, climate change – will be heavily scrutinized. So, what do we need to know as we watch this journey unfold? To radically simplify, four things come to mind:
by Peter Sopher, Policy Analyst, Clean Energy
Apple and Google have changed our lives forever, both because of their technological innovations and sheer size as global corporations. Now, they’re aiming to reshape the energy landscape.
This month, Apple announced plans to spend nearly $2 billion on European data centers set to run entirely on renewable energy and invested $848 million to secure power from 130MW of First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project under a 25-year power purchase agreement. Google also agreed to replace 370 wind turbines installed in the 1980s with 24 new, more efficient and bird-friendly turbines at the Altamont Pass in the San Francisco Bay Area. Moreover, there has been recent speculation Apple may be working on an electric vehicle to challenge Tesla’s dominance in that market.
These developments are impressive on their own, but they are also part of a new trend among major corporations – whose primary focus is not energy generation – proactively pursuing clean energy projects. So, why are they doing this?
For corporations whose businesses do not rely on fossil fuels, aligning themselves with clean power is proving a prudent move both financially and for public relations. Read more
As noted in my last post on green bonds, there has been a recent dramatic growth in green bond issuance. Supply is responding to a burgeoning demand. Quite simply, investors are snapping up these debt instruments that are linked to an environmental benefit. Three recent transactions highlight this seemingly insatiable appetite:
- Massachusetts’ sale of $350 million in green bonds in September attracted more than $1 billion in demand from retail investors and institutions. This — the state’s second green bond issuance — will fund clean water, energy efficiency, open space protection and river preservation projects.
- The order book for the Nordic Investment Bank’s $500 million green bond issue quickly climbed to $800 million, with more than a third of investors being new to NIB. This bond will funnel proceeds to climate-friendly projects in Nordic countries, such as renewables, energy efficiency, green transportation and wastewater treatment.
- In September, the World Bank tripled the size of its planned structured green bond to $30 million in response to investor demand, raising more than expected for climate projects, such as energy and forestry initiatives. Since its first green issuance in 2008, the World Bank reports raising more than $7 billion from 77 bonds in 17 currencies.
These data points back up the buzz I’ve heard among market players. At the recent Associated Grant Makers fossil fuel divestment panel, Sonia Kowal of Zevin Asset Management talked about the tremendous interest Zevin has seen from clients for buying green bonds. Read more
Directing capital toward better results for the planet requires that companies and investors have clear information about how environmental, social and governance issues translate to real business risks and opportunities. Of the many groups today that are looking to standardize how companies report on sustainability issues, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) takes a distinct approach by zeroing in on what publically traded U.S. companies should disclose in their filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). When I attended a recent workshop the organization hosted in Boston as part of Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics conference, I learned more about what SASB is up to and what impact the group’s work could have.
There is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.
But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.
At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more
As we approach the 25-year anniversary of EDF’s work with the corporate sector, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our successes and plan for the work ahead.
Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to integrate sustainability into their operations, strategy, and supply chain management. Together, we have kick-started market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency. While we’ve made great strides, there remains a huge distance to go in order to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our dirty energy system, and turn the corner on global greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Looking ahead, the opportunity and need for more aggressive private sector leadership has never been greater. Moving from environmental progress today to full scale solutions tomorrow will require a new type of corporate leadership. This next step will require a willingness to align corporate sustainability operations, strategy AND policy.
Voluntary corporate efforts have made a difference and will continue to be a critical pathway for innovation. But this is not sufficient to meet the size and scale of the challenges we face. Businesses must take the next leadership step – helping to shape and support the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.
Simply put, the bar is now higher for companies that want to lead on sustainability.
Prior to joining EDF, I worked in a variety of finance-related roles, from building the alternative energy franchise at an investment bank to pioneering investment in rural communities in the developing world at Root Capital. As part of my work at EDF, I’m investigating what financing mechanisms can drive investment in projects with big environmental returns, as well as financial ones. This post is the start of a new series looking at the green bond market, and in the future, I’ll be delving into other areas of impact investing.
Eighteen months ago, you might have never heard of a green bond. The market averaged less than $3 billion per year, but that is quickly changing. $14 billion in green bonds were issued in 2013 and Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects as much as $45 billion to be issued this year. One expert even sees the market climbing to $100 billion in 2015.
Flexible financing for sustainability projects
So what are green bonds, and what is driving this market growth? Simply put, they’re a debt instrument that can be linked to an environmental benefit. One compelling aspect of green bonds is their flexibility. While some may be tied to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, others are used for projects around climate resiliency, water infrastructure and a growing list of other high-priority sustainability areas.
As countries experience the mounting impacts of climate change, there is an increasing global demand for capital in these critical infrastructure categories. At the same time, funds that are integrating environmental, social and governance criteria in their investment decisions are looking for these types of instruments to add to their portfolios.