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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How an Indonesian coconut plantation inspired Mars’ “aha moment” on sustainability

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; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the seventh 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.

You likely know Mars as the company behind leading brands like M&M’s®, PEDIGREE® pet food, and UNCLE BEN’S® rice. For those of us in the field of corporate social responsibility, Mars is also well-known for its environmental leadership.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation plan lays out the company’s commitment to procure 100 percent renewable energy, reduce 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its direct operations by 2040, and reduce indirect emissions throughout the value chain by one-third by 2030 – and two-thirds by 2050.

As Mars’ chairman Stephen Badger wrote in a Washington Post editorial last year, the company’s carbon footprint is the size of a small country. The company’s goals are therefore nothing short of ambitious.

But if anyone can help the company meet those targets, it is chief procurement and sustainability officer Barry Parkin, who believes that big goals drive big innovation.

I recently spoke with Barry about how Mars plans to tackle its climate goals, how being a family-owned business shapes its approach to sustainability, and how his time on the British Olympic sailing team influences his day-to-day job. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Business leadership on climate and clean energy is blooming this spring

The momentum driving companies to cut carbon emissions shows no signs of slowing down, despite the lack of leadership from Washington, D.C.:

Most important, businesses increasingly see public policy as critical to achieving their climate and clean energy goals. Last month, leading companies including Apple, Google, Mars, Danone, Nestle, Unilever and American Eagle Outfitters filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and affirming their support for policies that drive down emissions and increase access to renewable energy.

Here are three key takeaways from these developments.

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Amazon’s big opportunity: Transparency in sustainability

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; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the fifth 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.

Over the past few years, Amazon’s sustainability team has been busy setting ambitious goals on renewable energy, making their voice heard on smart environmental policies, and leveraging their expertise in technology to drive innovation that can benefit the planet – and boost profits.

I recently chatted with Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon and former CEO of The Sustainability Consortium, about how innovation and environmental goals intersect at Amazon, the launch of the new Amazon Sustainability Question Bank, and how sustainability issues could play a role in deciding the next Amazon headquarters (HQ2).

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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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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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Corporate leaders know a clean energy future is “True North”

EDF and Business driving a clean energy economy

With all economic and environmental indicators pointing towards a clean energy future … the Trump administration continues to move the U.S. backwards by repealing the Clean Power Plan.

While disheartening at a personal level, at a professional level I see no signs of the private sector retreating from the clean energy economy. Leading companies are zeroing in on the strategic moves that strengthen long-term business resilience.

Right now there is a broad and diverse coalition supporting the Clean Power Plan, including 18 states, 60 municipalities in red and blue states, some of the nation’s leading power companies, consumer and ratepayer advocates, faith organizations, public health associations, small business associations, iconic corporate leaders like Apple, Google, and Mars, and many others.

We’re too far down the road to a clean energy economy to turn back now. Read more

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:

It's Earth Week: Make Your (Corporate) Voices Heard

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFThis Earth Week, I want to continue the call for a new type of corporate leadership – one that allows both the planet and business to thrive.

It’s time for corporate leaders to ramp up their sustainability goals, embed sustainability across their business strategy, and most importantly, look at the positive momentum they can drive beyond the walls of their own operations. What lies beyond those walls? Their supply chain, their partners, their competitors, their consumers, and yes, even policy.

And it’s time, this Earth Day, for corporate leaders to use their voices to amplify support for smart climate and energy policy.

Today 110 companies came together to to celebrate the historic Paris Agreement, encourage investment in the low-carbon economy, and reinforce support for the Clean Power Plan. These companies know that U.S leadership is critical to making the pledges of Paris a reality and to enable the transition to a thriving, clean energy economy.

I’m encouraged by the commitments that these and other corporations have made so far this year, but also recognize the need for more private sector leadership to make progress on climate action.

Now is the perfect opportunity to step forward and align your internal sustainability strategy with your external engagement in policy, and there are many key areas that need your support. Read more