From row crops to rainforests: how agriculture affects us all

Happy Agriculture Day! Whether you have a special interest in agriculture or not, we’re guessing that—as a human being—you probably have an interest in food

But, on this Agriculture Day, we want to recognize and celebrate the farmers and ranchers while acknowledging the fact that we all play a part in the growing of food. In just a few decades, there will be two billion more people to feed on the planet. As a global community our challenge is to feed this growing population sustainably without depleting the soil, polluting our water and worsening global warming.

The statistics are eye opening. Global food production accounts for:

  • 33% of the world’s GHG emissions
  • 70% of the world’s water consumption
  • 80% of deforestation worldwide
  • 50% of global top soil loss

What’s behind these huge numbers? When we look deeper, the problem looks different depending upon which side of the equator you’re on. From row crops to rainforests, here’s a snapshot of what’s happening, both in terms of the problem and the solution:

Domestic Agriculture                         

When we think about how we will feed an additional 2 billion people, improving yields will be critical to meet demand. Fertilizer is an essential nutrient that will help to increase the yields we need. But with less than half of nutrients applied each season being actually absorbed by crops, the unused fertilizer is bad for the planet:

  • US food production accounts for 75% of nitrous oxide emissions and has contributed to the pollution of nearly 40% of US drinking water supply;
  • Excess fertilizer and pollution is washing off of farm fields and into water ways degrading coastal ecosystems and causing algae blooms.

At the same time, this also hurts farmers financially. Fertilizer represents their single biggest input cost, so when nearly $420 million in fertilizer washes off Midwestern farm fields and into the Gulf of Mexico every year, it’s tough to remain profitable.

EDF’s work* with  Walmart, Smithfield Foods, Campbell’s Soup, Land O’ Lakes and other food companies is proving that efficient fertilizer use reduces supply chain emissions and saves money. It just needs to happen more: when food companies, retailers, and other supply chain actors send the demand for scientifically based and economically viable strategies for using fertilizer more efficiently, sustainable practices will expand and far less impact will be placed on the environment.

Agriculture and Deforestation

Agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation. Everyday forest lands in Brazil and other tropical countries are burned down to grow crops or to create cattle pastures for beef production. The exploitation of the tropical forests for the big four agricultural commodities, palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper, contributes significantly to climate change.

Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global carbon emissions annually. Hundreds of major consumer goods companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains.

The challenge is twofold: how to increase agricultural production in these topical regions to support the livelihoods of local communities and growing global consumer needs, while fulfilling companies’ zero-deforestation commitments to reduce carbon emissions?

The solution lies in multi-stakeholder engagement. Brazil’s experience shows that collaboration between companies, government agencies and local communities within a region can successfully reduce deforestation while maintaining robust growth in production. The country successfully reduced Amazon deforestation by about 75% from 2005 to 2013.

Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

When executed properly, these jurisdictional approaches provide win-win-win opportunities. Companies have a new way to meet zero deforestation commitments in supply chains by sourcing from lower risk areas and reduce the risk that deforestation will spread to other suppliers. Governments have additional support to improve policies and productivity in their regions. Farmers have the needed incentives and assistance to increase sustainability and profitability on their lands.

Partnership is the key

So it’s clear: our food has costs beyond our wallets, in the form of greenhouse gases, water quality, water scarcity, biodiversity, and other important impacts that we don’t see each day when we sit down at the table.

But the good news is, there’s a lot of movement—or potential for movement— across the food supply chains, from retailers to growers to consumers, to promote sustainable practices on a multitude of food and agriculture issues.

Theresa Erhlich, Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

To tackle these costs, everyone along the food chain needs to realize that there is no free lunch (pun very much intended):

  • At EDF, we are working in collaboration with farmers, companies, governments, and other NGO’s to address these issues and reduce the impact of our food supply chains.
  • Companies (including: food companies, retailers and other supply chain actors) need to consistently send the demand signal to farmers that they want less deforestation and more efficient fertilizer use.
  • Consumers play an important role by sending our own demand signal for more sustainably produced food by thanking the companies leading the way in sustainability through shopping power.

So today take a moment think about where our food is comes from, and the hard work and energy that went into its approaches to feed people and protect our planet.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership. 

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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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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The state of green business? Hopeful, puzzling… and pushing forward

I always look forward to the latest State of Green Business report from GreenBiz. It invigorates me and reminds me that there are a lot of talented people making sure that both business and the planet can thrive– a notion that I’m holding tight as the political atmosphere gets increasingly crazy.

I found two of the trends in the report of particular interest because they signal that smart business leaders are staying the course on climate.

Trend: Corporate Clean Energy Grows Up

The trend toward corporations transitioning to renewable energy has been gaining momentum for years. Today, twenty-two of the Fortune 100 have committed to procuring 100% of their energy from renewables, and 71 have a public target for sustainability or renewable energy.

“Business is a very important advocate for clean energy, because it speaks the language of hard economics,” points out Jim Walker, co-founder of The Climate Group. “It’s sending a strong signal to policymakers and the general public that this is the inevitable direction we’re going to move towards – a 100% clean energy economy.”

When innovative companies like Apple, Amazon, Unilever, and Google show leadership on renewable energy, their suppliers, customers, competitors, and the market respond. Microsoft, for example, is helping lead the way by purchasing 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas. And, Walmart, a long-time EDF partner, has also made a commitment to source 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. Currently at 25%, they’ve made significant progress on implementation.

With corporate leadership like this in place, it’s clear that business will continue to have an impact on the renewable energy revolution. The recent report from my EDF Climate Corps colleagues is proof of that: the solar power sector is growing quickly, and is a major source of jobs that are a.) impossible to outsource and, b.) available in all 50 states.

Trend – Companies Put Their Money Where Their Suppliers Are

According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, embedding sustainable business practices in the global food and agriculture industry could deliver $2.3 trillion annually.

“All stakeholders can share in the benefits: smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods; suppliers gain increased security of supply with improved quality; and we reduce volatility and uncertainty with a more secure and sustainable supply chain,” wrote Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

When a corporation commits to reduce emissions in their supply chain, the results can be powerful.  We’re seeing this firsthand with our work with Walmart. EDF spent 10 years with Walmart to help drive sustainability across its global supply chain. The result? By the end of 2015, through leadership, innovation and a diverse range of projects, Walmart had exceeded its goal to reduce supply chain emissions eliminated 36 MMT of greenhouse gas from its supply chain. Now, they’ve committed to removing 1 Gigaton of emissions by 2030 – the equivalent of the total annual emissions of Germany.

Smithfield Foods is another company that EDF collaborated with in setting a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain. EDF will continue to help Smithfield improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health, which will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from grain farms.

But to keep moving forward on these sustainability trends and others requires business to use its voice and influence to not backpedal on policies that are a win-win for our environment and our economy. We are at a crucial period where companies need to make the long-term economic case for policy, including the Clean Power Plan, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and ensuring the U.S remains part of the Paris Agreement.

Businesses will not go backwards on environmental protection. It’s bad for business and the environment. In fact, over 600 businesses have signed the Low Carbon USA letter calling on U.S. elected leaders to stay the course on environmental protection and climate leadership.  Now is the time for unlikely voices to step up and continue to press the case for action; the recent call for a carbon tax is probably most noteworthy because it was brought forth by Republican party faithfuls.

If there was one sentence in the State of Green Business report that captured the feeling of the moment it was this: “It’s hard to imagine a time more hopeful and horrifying for sustainable business.” At EDF, we’re not only hopeful but we’re committed: the economy and the planet can—and must–thrive together. Any conversation that suggests otherwise is a non-starter.

 

Now trending in global business: collective action on deforestation

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.

While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.

Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:

A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020. 

Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.

A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.

The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.

Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!

Deforestation_in_Panama

Two initiatives… powerful trends

So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?

  1. Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Deforestation contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
  1. Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.

  1. There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.

But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.

Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.

 

 

As Trump signals a rollback on environmental regulations, a new jobs report indicates that may not be such a good idea

Jobs coverPresident Trump’s regulatory freeze that halted four rules designed to promote greater energy efficiency appears to be just the first salvo in an ongoing plan to roll back environmental protections and slash environmental budgets. While that is obviously foolish from an environmental perspective, it is also problematic from an economic/job creation standpoint.

As program director of EDF Climate Corps, I have daily insight into how businesses are accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy while hiring the next generation of talented, motivated leaders – which is a good thing, because they’re needed.

Our new report, Now Hiring: The Growth of America's Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs, underscores this trend. As the economy becomes more sustainable and energy efficient, a new market for clean energy and sustainability jobs is created. This market is large, growing and intrinsically local. Even better, these jobs span across economic sectors, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and other green goods and services, like local and state government, transportation and corporations.

The report revealed three key trends as sustainability jobs continue to grow across the country:

  1. Sustainability jobs represent a large and growing portion of the U.S. workforce across multiple sectors.

This isn’t a small, niche workforce. In fact, it’s outpacing the rest of the U.S. economy in growth and job creation. Solar employment opportunities alone are currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. And, they are generating more jobs per dollar invested–more than double the jobs created from investing in fossil fuels. Sustainability now collectively represents an estimated 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S., spanning energy efficiency and renewable energy, to waste reduction and environmental education.

  1. Due to the on-site nature of many renewable and energy efficiency jobs, these jobs cannot be outsourced, and can pay above average wages.

 These aren’t just any jobs; they are well-paying, local opportunities that bolster our domestic economy. Most renewable and energy efficiency jobs can be found in small businesses, requiring on-site installation, maintenance and construction, making them local by nature. And, many pay higher than average wages. For example, energy efficiency jobs pay almost $5,000 above the national median, providing rewarding employment options to all Americans–even those without college or advanced degrees.

  1. Clean energy and sustainability jobs are present in every state in America.

The entire country has benefitted from the boom in clean energy and sustainability jobs, which has employed workers in every state. Energy efficiency alone provides 2.2 million jobs, spreading out across the nation.

Continuing the Momentum

So how do we continue this momentum? Investments in clean energy and sustainability pay off in the long run and foster a stronger economy—that equals more jobs and a cleaner future. This is why businesses are increasing their investments in sustainability. A recent survey found that three quarters of firms now have dedicated sustainability budgets, and even more have hired additional sustainability staff. But that doesn’t surprise me. Corporate America understands that prosperity and a low-carbon economy go hand-in-hand, and should continue to support investment in this area.

Policy makers at the local, state and federal level must also recognize the positive economic impacts of this new job class and support the policies and programs that encourage growth and investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, green transportation and more. Efforts to roll back or weaken environmental and energy policies will negatively impact current and future U.S. jobs, while slowing clean energy innovation.

If the question is how to help both the environment and the economy, we don’t have to search for the answer: it’s already here. America is transitioning to a clean energy future—we can’t afford to stand in its way.


Additional Reading:

Will the new President flunk the climate business test?

China is going all-in on clean energy while the U.S. waffles. How is that making America great again?


Follow Liz Delaney on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo


 

Business won’t back down on clean energy future

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFMore than 530 companies and 100 investors signed the Low Carbon USA letter to President-elect Trump and other U.S. and global leaders to support policies to curb climate change, invest in the low carbon economy, and continue U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.  It’s a powerful message from business leaders connecting the dots between prosperity and a low-carbon economy and confirming their commitment to continue to lead the way.

The private sector call for continued leadership on climate cannot be ignored. 

“All parts of society have a role to play in tackling climate change, but policy and business leadership is crucial,” said Lars Petersson, president of IKEA U.S. “The Paris Agreement was a bold step towards a cleaner, brighter future, and must be protected. IKEA will continue to work together with other businesses and policymakers to build a low-carbon economy, because we know that together, we can build a better future.”

Despite the climate uncertainty represented in President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks and campaign rhetoric, business is moving forward, actively building a clean energy future. In recent months, Google, Microsoft, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and others have continued to prove what’s possible through bold, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains. Adding to the mounting evidence that corporate America gets it and that momentum for business leadership is here to stay.

  • Google has pledged to operate on 100% renewable energy in 2017.
  • Microsoft recently announced the largest wind power purchase agreement to date with a deal to buy 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas.
  • Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the world, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025.
  • Walmart has committed to removing a gigaton of emissions from its global supply chain by 2030.

US investment in solar is on the riseAnd clean energy investment is on the rise:

  • U.S. investment in clean energy soared from an impressive $10 billion to $56 billion between 2004 and 2015.
  • Microsoft-founder Bill Gates and nearly two dozen other business leaders launched a $1-billion fund that will finance emerging energy innovations.
  • A new report shows investors controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have committed to dropping some or all fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios.

These efforts are focused on accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. This might be surprising given the current political climate, but smart business leaders understand that decisions must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics. A thriving economy depends on a thriving environment.

"With tens of billions of dollars of U.S. renewable energy investment in the works this year alone, and far more globally, the question for American political leadership is whether they want to harness this momentum and potential for economic growth," said Jonas Kron, senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management.

“Creating jobs, and establishing the United States as an innovative world leader in creating a clean energy economy is a no brainer for the Trump administration,” said Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan.

The list of signatories to the Low Carbon USA letter has doubled since November, and includes some of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies, including DuPont, General Mills, HP Enterprises, Pacific Gas & Electric, Salesforce.com, Unilever, and more. These business leaders and many others know that accelerating climate policy and innovations is a pathway to creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

Solar jobs in the U.S. on the rise

A growing low carbon economy already has created jobs and driven economic growth across the U.S. In fact, over 2.5 million Americans now work in the clean energy industry, making above average wages. With China investing over $360 billion in renewables, the U.S. simply cannot afford to change course on this powerful opportunity for environmental protection and economic growth while other countries capitalize.

Business is ready to lead the way and accelerate the path towards a low carbon economy. Business has spoken. Will the President-elect and his new administration listen?


Additional reading:

China Is Going All In On Clean Energy As The U.S. Waffles. How Is That Making America Great Again?

With a record $1.4 trillion in sustainability assets, investors bail on fossil fuels


Follow Tom Murray on Twitter, @TPMurray


Three Ways Trump’s EPA Pick is Bad for Business

President-Elect Trump’s selection of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn swift criticism from environmental and health advocates. Passing the nation’s environmental agency to one of its staunchest opponents risks upending the clean air and clean water that Americans of both parties demand. And looking deeper, Pruitt’s track record suggests he will harm the American economy while increasing pollution.

Here are three ways the Pruitt choice isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s bad for business:

1. Blocking federal methane rules means more wasted American energy
Protecting common sense standards to reduce oil and gas methane emissions is a winning opportunity for American business, but that did not stop Pruitt from suing EPA on its proposed methane rules earlier this year.

Methane is a natural resource, and cutting methane emissions means cutting economic waste. A recent study from ICF International found that drilling on federal and tribal lands – mostly in the rural West -leaked, vented, and flared natural gas worth about $330 million in 2013. Across the U.S., the market value of wasted natural gas is estimated at $2 billion.

Furthermore, there are good jobs at stake keeping methane and other air pollutants in the pipes and out of the air communities breathe. A report by Datu Research identified over 75 firms with over 500 locations across the country putting people to work in the methane mitigation industry. These include well-paying jobs in manufacturing, plus leak detection service jobs that offer technical training and are inherently offshore-proof. With nearly 60% of methane mitigation firms being small businesses, including in states like Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, national efforts to support methane reductions are a job creator at just the right time.

And, many investors recognize that achieving methane reductions is vital if natural gas is to play a constructive role in the transition to a low carbon energy economy. In fact, investors representing over $3.6 trillion in assets under management praised the North American agreement to reduce oil and gas methane emissions 45%. Public pension fund CEO Jack Ehnes wrote that as a large investor with a financial stake in the long term performance of the natural gas industry, CalSTRS sees that “methane emissions — which literally leak away the potential climate benefits of natural gas over other fossil fuels — must be actively managed.”

Most recently, seven in ten Colorado oil and gas operators interviewed about that state’s experience implementing methane rules reported that the benefits of compliance outweighed the costs.

In spite of the jobs and other business benefits of regulating methane emissions, as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt took a page – literally – from a large oil company and sued EPA on its proposed methane rule. This approach may have appeased a big oil backer, but is short-sighted for the industry’s own long-term good, and hurts the American workers whose paycheck comes from preventing and fixing natural gas leaks.

2. Undermining the Clean Power Plan will slow economic growth in clean energy
The Clean Power Plan helps continue the trend of generating even more jobs in fast-growing segments of the American economy, including wind and solar energy, and energy efficiency. Third party estimates suggest that the plan will create 74,000 to 273,000 new jobs in those and related industries, on top of the hundreds of thousands of already existing clean energy jobs. Unfortunately, Pruitt joined a lawsuit against the plan, parroting scare tactic claims that the rule would increase electricity prices.

In reality, the Clean Power plan capitalizes on economic progress many states are already making, such as the rise of solar energy in North Carolina and California. With costs plummeting in solar energy, renewable energy last year accounted for the majority of new installed power capacity.

And because wind and solar are generally more labor-intensive than older energy forms, we can expect a windfall of well-paying, sustainable American jobs in tomorrow’s clean energy economy if we stay the course.

These positive trends are part of why American businesses like Google have committed to sourcing 100% renewable energy. Google and other leading technology companies defended the Clean Power Plan in court because they see that market-oriented government support for clean energy will help their businesses gain access to cheap, clean, stably priced energy for years to come.

In attacking the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt raised the specter of shuttering coal fired plants. However, as a fossil-fuel backer, he should know what experts believe and even natural gas industry insiders privately admit: it is cheap natural gas, not environmental rules, that is mainly responsible for driving coal plants out of business. As CEO of Appalachian Power, a West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee utility said, “You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time. It is just not economically feasible to do so.”

3. Denying climate is denying a great threat – and opportunity – for business
The days of seeing global climate change as only an environmental issue are over. But while many business leaders acknowledge climate change as the fundamental threat that it is – to infrastructure, supply chains, and national security to name a few – Pruitt says the “debate” on climate change is “far from over”.

The doubt seeded by climate denialism may be fake, but it can inflict business consequences that are real. In a globalized economy, American businesses benefit from our standing in the world and the goodwill we have achieved. With the world marching toward a cleaner energy future, propelled by the climate agreement of nearly 200 nations last year in Paris, American businesses have an interest in standing with the international community and competing on a level playing field.

We have an opportunity to win the next frontier of entrepreneurship and innovation in the clean energy products and ideas demanded the world over. Yet, Pruitt would likely become the only environmental chief in the world who doubts climate change. This anomaly would isolate and embarrass America. In short, the opposite of what businesses need to hear as America competes with China and others to seize the mantle of leadership on a global economic opportunity.

There are many capable environmental leaders from across the political and philosophical spectrum. America needs leaders to chart a path of environmental stewardship and economic prosperity. Mr. Pruitt’s record suggests he would do neither.

Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?

Walmart’s 2025 Sustainability Goals: My Three Takeaways

Amidst the noise in the run-up to the election, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon will map out the company’s sustainability goals for the year 2025 later today. As a keynote speaker at this year’s Net Impact Conference, he'll be delivering a fairly lengthy, aspiration list; here are a few highlights of what the world’s largest retailer has planned:ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377

  • 50% renewable Energy
  • 18% absolute emissions reduction Scopes 1+2
  • 1 Gigaton emissions reduction Scope 3
  • Zero waste to landfill by 2025
  • Zero net deforestation in key commodities
  • 100% recyclable packaging in private brands

As a director of the NGO that has worked closely* with Walmart on their sustainability journey over the last ten years, here are my initial, big takeaways:

Walmart can’t accomplish such ambitious goals alone. Which is good.

Getting to 50% renewables, reducing absolute emissions from their stores and trucks, and removing a gigaton of GHG emissions from their supply chain are exactly the kinds of leadership goals Walmart should be putting forth to help meet the challenge of climate change.

But, actually delivering on these goals will be no joke. Luckily, our 25 years of working with companies has consistently revealed two, important guideposts:

  • specific, ambitious goals are vital for driving innovation and progress;
  • achieving real, science-based results truly takes a village of collaborators.

To give just one example, three years ago Walmart set a policy to eliminate eight of the most prevalent and concerning chemicals in their home and personal care products. With no clear path forward, Walmart engaged thousands of suppliers, requiring them to submit full product formulations to a 3rd-party database, then replace those eight ingredients with safer substitutes.

The result? A 95% reduction in chemicals of concern, adding up to 23 million pounds.  This affects 90,000 products that are sold everywhere, not just on the shelves at Walmart. At the same time, this work also helped to set the stage for this year’s passage of The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, the first piece of environmental legislation in a generation aimed at fixing our broken system of regulating toxic chemicals.

By aiming big and bringing on strategic partners, Walmart was able to go further, faster than they’d ever dreamed. The same holds true now.

Corporate sustainability is officially a trend.

Walmart’s announcement is just the latest in a string of other companies—PepsiCo, Kellogg, General Mills—who have also put forth ambitious sustainability goals. What this tells us is that companies are proving, over and over again, that this is not about “doing the right thing,” it’s about doing what creates business value and environmental progress.

As if to prove this point, last month Doug McMillon talked publicly about how sustainability is a core part of their business strategy during an investor call. In this first-time-event-for-a-Walmart-CEO, he emphasized to Wall Street that one of the four ways that Walmart will win in the 21st century: lead on sustainability by being “the most trusted retailer” and call out progress on making products like shampoo and lotion safer, healthier and better for the planet**, increasing renewables and reducing waste.

Sustainability is finally being seen for what it is: a smart business strategy. In a world of decreasing resources and consumers that want better products, there’s no other path forward in the long term.  And, looking around at what’s happening, the long term is here!

The election is finally (almost) over. Now let’s get back to work.

This election has shown that people want change.  It’s been scary and unsettling but it’s a challenge we can’t shrink from. We have healing to do as a country, which can only begin if we engage with each other. Climate change and its effects are going to get worse before they get better.  Just look at this summer’s fires in California, the hurricane in Haiti, the floods in Louisiana and North Carolina…

I know there’s another path forward.

Having worked with companies over the last 25 years doing what many thought was impossible, I have hope.  These corporate leaders aren’t waiting for regulation to force them to act, but are choosing to consciously, aggressively become more sustainable. And, I’m inspired by companies doing the hard work to think beyond their corporate walls and take ownership for the impact of the products they make and sell in the world.

The scary truth is,  business won’t know exactly how to achieve the aspirational goals we need for our planet and for long-term business viability mean that.  That forces an openness to innovation and requires bringing suppliers and customers in as partners to achieve those goals.

So congratulations, Walmart, on setting aggressive yet achievable goals for 2025—and doing what the science tells us needs to get done for a stable and healthy planet. You have a proven track record of meeting and exceeding big sustainability goals. We expect the same here.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership.  We like to say we get paid in environmental results.

** I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that while Walmart is committing to healthy products in their 2025 goals, we are disappointed to not see further goals on the path to becoming a “toxic free” store.