How emerging technologies are driving circularity, electric transportation and more

This article originally appeared in GreenBiz and can be seen here

When I was a kid, my dad told me that his favorite technological advancements were the automatic garage door and the automatic ice maker. I didn’t fully understand why at the time. But I get it now.

When I leave my office today, I will pull out my mobile phone, order a Lyft and walk out to meet the driver within a minute. While in the car, I’ll use Seamless to have my dinner delivered at my exact arrival time, and the Nest thermostat in my apartment automatically will adjust to my desired temperature once I am within a mile.

Technology continues to make our lives easier. But, besides convenience, it has the incredible potential to reduce our day-to-day impact on the environment. And that’s why I look forward to the VERGE conference each year.

This year, VERGE is focusing on how technology is supercharging sustainability in three areas in particular: circularity; energy; and transportation.

In my role with EDF Climate Corps, I’m seeing greater interest from companies wanting to use innovative technologies to accelerate sustainability and scale solutions across nearly every sector. Here are some ways I’ve seen it happening across those three areas in particular.

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Here’s what the last 5 years of corporate sustainability in China has looked like. What’s next?

As a kid, one of my favorite things was a Moon Cake, which I'd get to eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival in China (taking place next week). It's a day of celebrating family reunion and harvest, where the entire country throws parties, comes together and gives homage to the full moon. I’ll always jump at the opportunity to eat a Moon Cake, but this time there’s something else worth celebrating this year: the progress being made on corporate sustainability in China.

This year marks the 5th year anniversary of expanding EDF Climate Corps into China. What started as 6 fellows in 5 companies, has grown to nearly 60 fellows into over 20 companies. With that we’ve seen tens of millions of dollars in potential savings from energy efficiency improvements. But before I jump into how corporate sustainability in China has advanced, let me tell you why we made the decision to expand there.

EDF Climate Corps: welcome to China

As the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the U.S. are receiving increased attention on their cooperative efforts to save energy and curtail climate pollution. EDF has set a goal to help China with its rising CO2 emissions. So we thought: what better way to do this than enlisting the help of bright, young, talented graduate students?

Manager, EDF+Business

In the five years since we first brought EDF Climate Corps to China, I’ve watched as the scope and breadth of projects – by both multinational and Chinese-owned companies – has evolved alongside the nation’s sustainability efforts. I’ll show you how.

The evolution of corporate sustainability in China

In our first year, the companies we worked with were for the most part after one thing: energy audit projects in factory settings. It was about plucking the low-hanging energy fruit at one specific site (upgrading lighting or air compressor systems, etc.). And I should note, it was only multinational companies we were working with – headquartered in the U.S., with factories overseas.

Fast forward to today, while factory-based energy efficiency projects are still in our pipeline, they’re no longer the main focus. More companies are making larger sustainability goals, looking to pursue projects beyond energy efficiency.

I’ve identified a few trends in China’s corporate sustainability landscape:

  1. Improving energy efficiency and scaling solutions. Energy efficiency remains and important and effective way to reduce carbon footprints. But instead of one-off projects, it’s about scaling opportunities both across portfolios of factories and sharing with other companies in similar industries. The results bring enormous ROI, and give a competitive advantage to companies. Pacific Market International (PMI) hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to improve the energy efficiency of one of its glass suppliers. The fellow developed an energy management strategy, which included recommendations to reduce energy use, such as optimizing washing and dying processes, that can be scaled across the entire manufacturing industry.
  2. Setting ambitious targets. More companies are concentrating their efforts around data collection, analysis, verification, and reporting. More data is critical for identifying reduction opportunities, managing suppliers and communicating sustainability efforts. This year, MAHLE hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to build the framework for its first-ever sustainability report, which included specific energy reduction goals, covering categories such as: product innovation and development, energy saving and green production, employee care, and social responsibility.
  3. Complying with China’s environmental policies. In recent years, China’s political landscape around climate has become much more stringent, giving companies a choice: work with it, or be fined. Working with policies can reduce costs, avoid risk, demonstrate leadership, and attract stakeholders. This year, an EDF Climate Corps fellow recommended an environmental engagement plan for IKEA’s suppliers to mitigate regulatory risk – mainly around areas such as coal burning, GHG emissions, wastewater treatment, and solid waste – across its entire supply chain in China. We also hosted two webinars on environmental law interpretations and corporate compliance that garnered a lot of interest from our hosts (a recording for this year’s webinar can be found here for those that are interested in learning more).
  4. Adopting green supply chain initiatives. Companies are looking to reduce the emissions of their global supply chains, and they’re working with their suppliers to do so. This is true for both small and medium-sized manufactures, as well as multinationals. As part of its Project Gigaton (reducing GHG emissions in its supply chain by one gigaton), Walmart enlisted two EDF Climate Corps fellows in its Global Sourcing division to identify products that have the potential to reduce significant GHGs. Walmart now has a better understanding of what products need to be upgraded, how to reach its reduction goals and how to incentive more suppliers to participate in the effort.

As I enjoy my Moon Cake next week for this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, I'll be celebrating the long way we've come in corporate sustainability over these past five years. But, I'll also be thinking about the long road ahead of us.


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How Google, BlackRock, Hilton are doubling down on sustainable business

If you were asked five years ago "What types of companies are thinking about – and acting on –sustainability?" you would likely answer with the usual suspects: Patagonia, REI, etc. Less likely on your radar, I’d venture to guess, were players like TPG Capital, Novartis or Caterpillar. Today, companies across all sectors are re-envisioning what it means to be sustainable, and EDF Climate Corps is helping them do so.

Last week I attended my 7th EDF Climate Corps training – the annual kick-off to the summer fellowship. I left the reception with the feeling that this year would be different than previous; partly due to my new role as manager of the program, but more so from the conversations I had with this year’s cohort of 115 EDF Climate Corps fellows. There was a shared feeling that the mindset around corporate sustainability has changed from a nice-to-have to a must-have. And it was inspiring to hear how this group of determined, talented individuals plans on helping some of our country’s largest businesses meet and strengthen their climate goals.

It’s inspiring people like these – coupled with the broader trends at play – which give me so much confidence in the EDF Climate Corps model to help more companies tackle larger, more impactful and more innovative energy-related projects. Here’s why:

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Breathless in China: Walmart, sustainability and why you should care

Photo: Walmart China

I am just back from a week in Beijing, where Environmental Defense Fund was part of Walmart’s announcement of a new goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its China supply chain. Had I not been there in person, I’m not sure I could have accurately comprehended how essential that this goal – a 50 million metric ton (MMT) reduction by 2030 – must be followed by swift implementation.

That’s because every day in Beijing felt like the worst day in San Francisco, my home, when last year’s horrific wildfires made our eyes and lungs burn. “Normal” in Beijing means not being able to see down to the end of the block, and sharing the crowded streets with commuters, parents and children all covered by facemasks.

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IKEA assembles a cleaner planet

Two years ago I had my first conversation with Stefan Karlsson, the Sustainability Compliance Manager for IKEA Purchasing Service (China) Co., Ltd. We talked about how IKEA was rethinking its business operations in order to green its global supply chain – and as the world’s largest go-to for affordable furniture – you can imagine how big a job that is. Right away, I could tell Stefan, and IKEA, was on to something big: encouraging hundreds of their suppliers to drive innovation and promote sustainability.

A goal, an opportunity and a partnership

IKEA isn’t unique in that it strives to provide affordable furniture. However, it is unique in that it strives to make products in ways that are good for people and the planet. That’s why in 2016, the company set a goal of encouraging its direct suppliers to become 20 percent more energy efficient by August 2017. As part of this target, IKEA initiated the Coal Removal Project – reducing coal use as a direct source from the energy portfolios of over 300 local supplier factories in China.

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

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

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

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

Happy Cyber Monday everyone.

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

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

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

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Big brands drive change in China’s manufacturing hub

In just a few days I, along with EDF+Business’ Xixi Chen, will be traveling across China to talk with companies and students about corporate energy management. The trip comes one week after China’s “Golden Week”—the country’s eight-day-long national celebration. Each year, the holiday marks the largest week for tourism, bringing in over 700 million tourists at home and abroad to the nation’s streets and roughly $87 billion in revenue.

But while the streets are bustling, China’s industrial and manufacturing powerhouse comes to a standstill. This is a mandatory national holiday for all citizens, which means, for the entire week, almost everyone is off of work, businesses and factories are shut down, shipping lines are put on pause, and companies with suppliers in China are busy preparing for a week of silence.

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China: the new leading voice on climate change?

This is the first of a three-part blog series covering corporate sustainability in China. Experts from EDF Climate Corps examine how businesses are shifting the ways they approach energy management in response to increasing climate commitments.

This past June, 197 countries reaffirmed their commitments to reduce GHG emissions in an effort to curb global climate change. The U.S. was not one of them. This decision, a major backpedal for America, made room for a new frontrunner to take the reins on global climate leadership. And that’s exactly what has happened.

After President Trump backed away, China, the largest GHG emitter and coal consumer, recommitted to forge ahead with the Paris agreement. The nation recognizes climate change as a major challenge faced by all mankind and a threat to national security, which is why Beijing has deemed the Paris agreement its “highest political commitment”. China’s participation in any international agreement on climate is not only critical, it’s an opportunity to dominate the clean energy sector and inspire others to take action.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

Here are three ways China is positioning itself to meet its targets (America, take note):

1. Enforce goals at every policy level.

China has set aggressive targets aimed at reducing the nation’s greenhouse gases that are supported and enforced by climate policies at the international, national and local level. This alignment allows for greater consistency and cooperation between the private and public sectors, enabling greater efficiency in working towards these common goals.

At the international level, China reaffirmed its promise to meet the commitments (working closely alongside the EU) outlined in the Paris agreement, including peaking CO2 emissions by 2030. Domestically, China has both short-and long-term plans to help ensure their energy goals are met. The Strategic National Energy Plan was completed this past April and China is on track to achieve its energy goals outlined in the 13th Five-year plan.

At the local level, cities have their own carbon-cutting plans. Shenzhen, one of China’s manufacturing hubs, aims to peak the city’s carbon emissions by 2022—eight years ahead of the national target. Companies, too, are ramping up their efforts.  For the past two years, EDF Climate Corps has placed four fellows in IKEA’s Shenzhen offices to help meet these targets by focusing on increasing the sustainability of the company’s supply chain (Stay tuned for more on this kind of corporate engagement in the next post of this series).

2. Invest in clean energy.

China continues to expand its dominance in renewable energy. Recently, they committed to investing $360 billion in clean energy development. According to China’s National Energy Administration, renewable energy already employs 3.5 million people in China (compared with less than a million in the US) and this new investment is expected to create 13 million more jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020. That’s enormous growth.  

The private sector is tapping into this market as well. Chinese companies already dominate among the most profitable clean energy companies in the world with 35% of the top 200 publicly traded corporations earning significant revenue from renewable energy being Chinese. Simply put, in China, clean energy is viewed as smart business and smart economics.

3. Use a multi-faceted approach:

Manager, EDF+Business

China is coming at climate change from all angles. In addition to the policy mechanisms and promotion of clean energy mentioned above, China is securing long-term investment and sustained financing to encourage innovation and the adoption of new technologies. For example, this year China launched five pilot zones to promote “Green Finance”, a vehicle aimed at raising funds for pollution clean-up.

Also this year, President Xi Jinping pledged to launch the world’s largest national carbon market; a decision EDF played an important role in by providing the Chinese government with critical technical support and consultation. The market will hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy and send a message to the world that China is serious about finding solutions. Additionally, this presents an enormous opportunity for the private sector to curb emissions. Companies are incentivized to innovate and reduce their emissions, selling excess allowances and opening up new revenue streams.

The road forward for China

The momentum we’re seeing in China is in sharp contrast to Trump’s America. It’s this strong leadership and creativity that is needed to address GHG emissions within China. And it sets an example for others to follow. Delivering on its many commitments and aspirations won’t be easy, but for China to declare them as necessary is a big step in the right direction–one that has the potential to create massive positive change.

In our next blog post, we’ll take a closer look into how companies are already making and delivering on plans to do their part in helping China achieve its climate commitments.


Follow Scott and Xixi on Twitter, @scottwood_, @Talk2Xixi


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From energy efficiency to clean energy: 10 years of EDF Climate Corps

 

Ten years ago, EDF found itself head-on with a challenge: how to effectively jump-start corporate energy efficiency initiatives. We started EDF Climate Corps, a summer fellowship program, with the theory that a small, intense injection of effort could catalyze investment in energy efficiency, giving companies the opportunity to capitalize on the associated cost and energy savings. That was ten years ago.

Since then, more than 800 fellows have been placed in over 430 organizations to advance corporate energy management.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

We have seen companies use their help to go beyond single-site projects and scale energy efficiency across their entire portfolios of facilities. This growth is representative of a vibrant and growing industry. Deploying energy efficiency has become a mainstream practice, and an entire ecosystem of service providers has cropped up to support these efforts. Employment in this market has skyrocketed and energy efficiency now represents the largest source of clean energy jobs in the country.

But the corporate energy challenge doesn’t stop there.

While energy efficiency continues to be an important way for companies to reduce carbon emissions from electricity, it can only get them so far. Alongside scaled-up efficiency efforts, holistic, strategic energy management plans that include clean energy generation (onsite and offsite) must be developed–and many companies are stepping up to the plate to do so.

Today we observe companies asking fellows to explore clean energy procurement options, dig through various state and federal incentive structures and effectively build the business case for investing in new, clean generation sources.

Today, clean energy is where energy efficiency was for companies a decade ago.

Building on the success of 10 years of fellowships, we are excited to announce that this summer over 100 new EDF Climate Corps fellows from top universities in the U.S. and China will help companies such as McDonald’s, Boston Scientific, JPMorgan Chase and Walmart meet their carbon and energy reduction goals. Fellows will scale energy efficiency, deploy clean energy technologies (1/3 of our class of over 100 fellows will work on clean energy solutions!), help companies set strategies to achieve science-based GHG goals, and even dig into carbon reductions in supply chains. They’ll also set themselves up for lasting careers in clean energy, energy efficiency and sustainability, alongside four million other Americans. We know that our network of over 1500 sustainability-focused professionals will help them along the way.

Corporate commitments for reducing carbon emissions are only getting stronger. Despite federal rollbacks in environmental protections, companies are continuing to navigate clean energy innovation, and we’re excited to see how the next 1o years of EDF Climate Corps will help drive this momentum.


Follow Liz on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo


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