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.

 

Companies know reducing their carbon footprints makes good business sense—and that’s why they support the Clean Power Plan

Companies across the country are tackling climate change in their individual portfolios—reducing their carbon footprints by harnessing cost-effective investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. These companies are taking actions all across our nation, driving major investment in low-carbon energy resources at the local level through individual projects and investments.

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Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

These leading companies want well designed national-scale policy that complements their own efforts to mitigate climate change. The Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, is a crucial opportunity to align national policy with this increasing demand for low-carbon energy. The rule provides investment certainty, while incorporating a flexible framework that ensures that its pollution reduction targets can be met in the most cost-effective manner available.

 That’s why major innovators like Google, Microsoft, and Apple—companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans across the country—are reducing their contributions to carbon pollution and supporting the Clean Power Plan. As a Google official put it, with the Clean Power Plan it’s possible to drive “innovation and growth while tackling climate change.”

 There is robust demand for clean energy solutions

Each year, EDF Climate Corps works with approximately 100 large organizations to lower energy costs and reduce carbon footprints through strategic energy management. Since 2008, we have deployed over 700 Climate Corps fellows to leading organizations to build the business case for investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, identifying cost effective ways for companies to save money while mitigating climate change.

A recent analysis of our work demonstrates several interesting trends in emissions management, many of which can be advanced by implementation of the Clean Power Plan. We are seeing companies embrace energy efficiency and deploy it at scale. Companies are taking responsibility for their environmental impact and are investing in broad solutions. For example, the report describes how Comcast identified ways to cost effectively eliminate more than 6,000 metric tons of annual carbon pollution by scaling its investments in energy efficiency over three years.

More and more corporations are also demonstrating a significant interest in zero-carbon energy. Over 80 companies, including General Motors, P&G and Walmart, have made bold and public commitments to use 100% renewable energy in their operations.

Mainstream companies are embracing the economic opportunity and societal imperative to clean up their emissions profiles, and are willing to invest in zero-carbon energy resources. In fact, in 2015, one in three Climate Corps host organizations worked with a fellow to build the business case for investment in clean energy.

Leading companies are taking individual action and supporting national scale policy solutions

By greening the nation’s power supply, we can mitigate climate change by harnessing a transition and an evolution that has already begun.

But companies are increasingly recognizing that they need to do even more than just mitigate their own pollution and procure clean energy to supply their needs. They need to advocate for smart policies too.

This is why over 100 companies, including DuPont, General Mills and Starbucks have urged “swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan” and why Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe and others are standing up to defend the Clean Power Plan in court.

The Clean Power Plan establishes common sense national targets for reducing carbon pollution

The Clean Power Plan is an important component of a cost-effective, strategic approach to tackling climate change. It will complement and harness individual efforts to address climate change by companies across the country.

But don’t take my word for it—major businesses that are supporting the Clean Power Plan said so themselves.

Take Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. In their amicus brief filed in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

By limiting emissions of carbon dioxide from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, the Plan will help address climate change by reinforcing current trends that are making renewable energy supplies more robust, more reliable, and more affordable. Tech Amici welcome these developments. (Tech Amici brief at 2-3.)

Or IKEA, Mars, Adobe, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. In their submission in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

The Amici Companies have a salient interest in the development of sound policy and economically responsible environmental regulations because, as electricity consumers and purchasers, planning strategically and financially for their energy resources needs is critical to business success. (Consumer Brands Amici brief at 3.)

The way forward

Through public commitments to clean energy and through their collaborations with EDF, we know that major companies want access to clean, affordable, low-carbon energy.

It’s time we tackle climate change with federal climate policy that reflects and harnesses these powerful trends.

 

Old Excuses on Policy Advocacy Don’t Work Anymore

I admire corporate sustainability leaders who, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, know how to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I’m optimistic about our future when I see courageous leaders at companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Mars and others lead the way by looking beyond short-term profits for long-term success and publicly advocating for the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Yet, there are too many companies that still rely on old excuses when asked to take a public stand on energy and environmental policy.

To be a bold leader in the 21st century requires a strong voice on the most pressing environmental issues of the day. It’s no longer good enough to put a green label on a product or declare in an annual report that your company is making the world a better place. It’s time to take the next leadership step.

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At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we like to call the next step of sustainability leadership the business policy nexus. It simply means that your company has aligned your sustainability goals and strategies with your external engagement on policy.

If your company isn’t operating in the business policy nexus, it’s time to retire the following excuses and go public in support of forward-facing environmental policies:

Excuse #1 "We're not political."

Companies can no longer be silent on issues like the environment. Customers expect the brands and companies they love to stand for something and to show leadership on issues that matter to them.

In previous decades, this excuse might have sounded more like, “we want Democrats and Republican to buy our products.” However, this recent working paper by researchers at Duke and Harvard suggests that C.E.O. activism can sway public opinion — and even increase interest in buying a company’s products.

Corporate neutrality on the issues that matter may be outdated. If you don’t believe me, maybe ask Paul Polman of Unilever or Indra Nooyi of Pepsi or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Their corporate voices ring loud and clear when it comes time to stand up for the environment.

Excuse #2 "It's not part of our core business."

In a 2015 article the head of government relations for one of the world’s biggest companies told the Guardian: “There’s a reluctance if a regulation doesn’t get into your core competency to get into somebody else’s backyard. It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that you stick to your knitting.”

The earth is everyone’s backyard. And the state of our environment affects every business.

Just take a look at the companies who have backed the Clean Power Plan. “Clean energy” isn’t the core competency of global giants like Amazon, General Mills, Nestle, or Levis, but these companies and many others made their corporate voices heard for the good of business and society.

Excuse #3 “Our government affairs team deals with policy.”

Some corporate leaders have been passing the buck to other departments, other industries and other leaders for too long.

You have a responsibility to inspire everyone in your organization to maximize the triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.

Leaders find it easy to measure profit; measuring social and environmental impact is a little harder. Without good data, no one in a company feels comfortable taking the lead on policy.

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This is where an NGO like EDF can help make a difference. EDF has built a framework for corporate sustainability success that encompasses science, strategy, and systems to create measurable environmental and business benefits. Your organization can use this framework to become a sustainability leader and confidently stand up for smart climate policy that addresses your future business risks.

The old excuses don’t work anymore. So stand up for change and advocate for policies that will help us overcome the most serious environmental challenges we face. The issues are too important; the consequences for little or no action are too serious.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @tpmurray

Further reading:

Why Google and the Rest of Corporate America Needs the Clean Power Plan

victoriaThe Clean Power Plan  (CPP) is topping the news as major coalitions of supporters have filed amicus briefs with the D.C. Circuit Court. With leading brands like Google, Apple, Adobe, Amazon, IKEA, Mars and Microsoft all stepping up and voicing support, you might wonder – what’s in it for them?

The plan, which will lower the carbon emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is a practical, flexible way for the U.S. to cut climate pollution and protect public health. President Obama has called it "the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”

It’s encouraging to see many states, cities, power companies, public health and medical associations, and environmental organizations continue to push for smart environmental policy. The full list of Clean Power Plan supporters is here.

We are particularly excited about the range of private sector support for the Clean Power Plan.

When it’s fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will create $155 billion in consumer savings—putting more money back into the pockets of customers. And, a successful Clean Power Plan will help companies meet their renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

What’s in it for Companies? Here's what the Clean Power Plan will provide: Read more

The Bar for Corporate Leadership on Climate Has Been Raised

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFAs the legal briefings pile up over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), I’m inspired by the growing number of companies and business organizations standing up for the most significant step in U.S. history toward reducing climate pollution.

The bar continues to rise for companies that want to lead on sustainability, and it’s great to see companies aligning their corporate sustainability strategy and policy advocacy. Today’s corporate-led amicus briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan and smart climate policy are the latest example.

IKEA, Mars, Blue Cross Blue Shield MA and Adobe (collectively called Amici Companies) praised the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as a viable solution that will create market certainty and directly benefit their organizations. “It is important to the Amici Companies that they reduce their carbon footprints by procuring their electricity from zero- and low-emitting greenhouse gas (GHG) sources, not only to be good stewards of the environment, but to also because it preserves their economic interests.”

Tech industry leaders Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft (collectively called Tech Amici) also threw their weight behind the plan, saying, “delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.”

These leading companies represent half a trillion dollars in revenue, demonstrating robust business sector support for the Clean Power Plan. Their filings continue the important momentum started in July 2015 by 365 companies and investors that sent letters to governors across the U.S. stating their support as being “firmly grounded in economic reality.” Read more

A strong climate deal makes dollars and sense for American business

VictoriaMills_287x377_1The chorus of business voices calling for climate action has grown steadily in size and strength in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks. Now that COP 21 is finally here, companies have pumped up the volume even more, with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a wave of new commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Championing a Low-Carbon USA

In today’s Wall Street Journal, over a hundred U.S. companies placed a full-page advertisement calling for a shift to a low-carbon economy. The ad’s message is simple: failure to act on climate change puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right action now will create jobs and boost competitiveness.

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Click for full ad in PDF

Companies as diverse as Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont, eBay, General Mills, Ingersoll-Rand, Microsoft, Owens Corning and Pacific Gas & Electric signed on to the ad, which encourages the U.S. government to:

  1. Seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
  2. Support action to reduce U.S. emissions that achieves or exceeds national commitments and increases ambition in the future
  3. Support investment in a low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors

These companies recognize that their efforts alone can’t solve an issue like climate change. Businesses need governments around the world to act as well. By setting ambitious goals and providing regulatory certainty, governments can unleash the power of the marketplace to deliver the necessary reductions in emissions, while also boosting competitiveness and economic growth. Read more

Corporate America Steps Up During Climate Week

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The combination of the Pope’s visit, Climate Week NYC and news of China planning a national cap and trade program has made last week huge in terms of support for climate action. But it’s also been a week of great sustainability news coming out of corporate America, and I’m excited to see the momentum building.

  • Companies publicly stating aggressive, science-based sustainability goals? Check.
  • Big brands supporting the Clean Power Plan? Check.
  • Business committing to set an internal price on carbon? Check.
  • Increasing commitment to sourcing 100% of energy from renewables? Check.

Like I said, it’s been a really good week. After 18 years as a sustainability advocate, I’m encouraged to see companies continuing to step up their leadership on climate— making public, science-based commitments and increasingly creating an environment where denial and delay by private and public sector leaders is no longer acceptable. Many of the companies who have made commitments, (this week, before this week, and hopefully leading into COP21), are demonstrating that tending one’s own sustainability garden is necessary but no longer sufficient—corporate leaders of today and tomorrow need to collaborate with each other for greater impact and assert public policy leadership as well. Read more