Why Disney World is betting on clean energy

“Environmental stewardship and conservation were engrained in The Walt Disney Company from the beginning,” Angie Renner recently told me. Angie is an Environmental Integration Director at Walt Disney World Resort, and today she says the company is investing in new technologies and renewable energy projects that have thus far cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half. Why? Because as a Bloomberg story just noted, warmer temperatures are already impacting the “the comfort and health and well being of [the resort’s] customers.”

In other words, climate change is bad for business. But as I’ve seen firsthand, companies that invest in clean energy, engage customers in sustainability efforts and leverage their influence to drive smart policies can turn a downside risk into tangible cost-savings, customer retention and global leadership.

I recently caught up with Angie to learn more about the company’s sustainability initiatives and successes and its efforts to provide environmental education to the hundreds of thousands of guests who visit the iconic Disney resorts each day.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Hurricane Michael highlights urgent need for more solar opportunities in Florida

Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm to hit the Florida panhandle on record, caused loss of life and rampant destruction, flattening entire towns and leaving more than 1.3 million people without power across five southeastern states.

Rising temperatures and warmer waters are making this and other recent mega hurricanes like Florence stronger and more devastating for coastal states like Florida and the Carolinas. Unfortunately, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report provides little encouragement and instead conveys dire warnings that unless measures such as massive new investment in clean and renewable energy occurs over the coming decade, we will have little chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, including continuously worsening hurricanes.

Yet renewable energy installments aren’t just beneficial for the climate – they’re also proving more resilient than traditional electricity infrastructure, which is more susceptible to disruptions from severe weather. This suggests that investment in clean energy infrastructure could help businesses bounce back faster from hurricanes, keep communities and employees safe, and avoid the worst economic impacts.

In a state regularly impacted by natural disasters, it’s all the more significant that a diverse array of Florida business voices are now calling for action to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, and particularly solar power, in the Sunshine State. They’re sharing their stories through a new portal that showcases business and municipal leaders from across Florida that have invested in and are supportive of solar, efficiency and other clean energy projects within their companies and cities.

Here are three key takeaways from hearing their stories. Read more

Why 2017 was the worst and best year of my entire sustainability career

Of my 20 years in the corporate sustainability world, I’ve never seen a year like 2017.

Like many of you, I watched in shock as we inaugurated a reality TV personality as our 45th President. Since then this Administration has rolled back critical environmental and health protections and ceded U.S. government leadership on climate change and clean energy. Issues that I am passionate about and have devoted my career to advancing. Issues that affect kids like my son, who turned 6 this week, and the over 6 million other children across the country that suffer from asthma.

At the same time, our family members, friends, and colleagues from coast to coast have been impacted by heart-wrenching extreme weather events – made stronger by climate change. In the past 12 months alone, we experienced the country’s most devastating hurricane season (with damage estimates ranging to $475 billion), record breaking temperatures that grounded airlines to a halt, freezing temperatures in the Southeast that caused over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires that continue to blaze across the state of California.

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How to make Thomas Friedman’s climate optimism a reality

Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.

Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.

The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.

Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.

Here’s how to address both challenges.

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Why the world’s largest pork producer is breaking new sustainability barriers

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the second in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

As head of the Smithfield Foods’ sustainability program, Stewart Leeth focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development.

EDF has been collaborating with Smithfield for several years now to help farmers optimize fertilizer applications to grow grain for animal feed – and I’m inspired to see the progress that has been made in this arena. But I think this past year was likely the busiest ever for Stewart and his team at Smithfield after they made an industry-leading commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Three reasons for companies to defend the Clean Power Plan

US businesses turned out in force at COP 23 in Bonn, demonstrating to the rest of the world that they are committed to action on climate change, despite the US government’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In fact, 2017 has been a banner year for corporate climate leadership: over 1700 businesses signed the We Are Still In declaration, and nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies now have climate and clean energy goals.

Now, there’s an immediate opportunity for companies to show leadership on climate change here at home: speaking up in defense of the Clean Power Plan, which the current Administration wants to eliminate but is still very much in play.

Here are three reasons for your business to publicly defend the Clean Power Plan before the EPA comment period ends on April 26, 2018.

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Wholesale renewable energy procurement: what you need to know.

Clean energy is on the rise in America, and there’s no denying it. Each year, investments in renewable sources of power continue to increase, bringing with it economic and job growth. In fact, it’s on track to deliver an increasing share of total energy supply, putting traditional energy sources to the side. That’s why organizations across the country are turning to renewable energy as a way to meet their sustainability goals and cut energy costs.

We’re at a time when corporate America is stepping up to the plate on climate leadership. Bigger, more ambitious commitments are being set and bolder targets announced. And renewable energy can be the tool to meet them. But it means the scale and sophistication of clean energy projects must grow. Small-scale, on-site solar installations are not always large enough to generate the quantity of power necessary. So businesses are turning to another route: wholesale renewable energy procurement.

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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.

[Tweet “China takes the lead on climate change action w/ plans to invest $360bil in clean energy development. Where’s the US?”]

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 EDF 

Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

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

 

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.


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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

[Tweet “The EPA is good for business, consumers & health – let’s think before we gut a valuable resource.”]

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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