Mothers and CEOs: Why Corporate Sustainability Reports Matter

Walmart has just released its report on Corporate Sustainability—the “Global Responsibility Report”.

Nicknamed the GRR, the joke around my office is that “GRR” sounds like a growl—GRRRR. But while its seventy-three dense pages might seem daunting, the GRR is anything but scary. In fact, from my perspective as both a mother and someone with unique access to the day-to-day workings of Walmart, I have to say that it’s a must-read.

Why? Because like all corporate sustainability reports, the GRR tells the story of how big business is—or is not—adjusting their operations to help the planet and its inhabitants.

And by inhabitants I mean you. And me. All of us.

Meet Super-Eco-Business-Mom When new mom JENNY AHLEN feeds her daughter, she may also be pondering this question: how do we feed a global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050? That’s because Jenny is also EDF’s team lead for their partnership with Walmart, which gives her both a unique perspective and a unique power. She knows the stakes are high for the world her daughter will grow up in. But Jenny is in a position to do something about it. Thus, she spends her days working with the world’s largest retailer trying to figure out the best approach to “fertilizer optimization”: the science behind increasing yields while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production. How did Jenny arrive at this nexus of the nursery and contemporary eco-business?

To all the mothers of the world: like you, I want the best for my child. While there are many things we can’t control about our kids’ world, we do have power over things like what goes in and on their bodies, which toys can help them learn, and how to create a safe and loving environment for them to grow. Knowing what’s in these sustainability reports means knowing whether the stores and brands we choose every day are working with us, or making our job harder.

To all the C-suite executives: See above. Mothers everywhere are starting to demand both transparency and action around creating a healthier world for our kids. We are your customers, and we’re sending you a demand signal to make us happy.  Coincidentally, it can make your business more efficient, more profitable and more resilient—all things that your shareholders will love to hear. Believe me, you want to be able to issue a sustainability report that’s both real and robust.

So if the GRR is Walmart’s report card on global responsibility, how did they do?

There’s a lot in the document, but after a quick scan of the sections that fall within my area of expertise, I’d have to say: they’re making a lot of progress—probably more than most of their peers.  Two areas that stand out are:

  1. Climate Change:
  • In their direct operations, Walmart reports that their U.S. truck fleet efficiency has doubled since 2005, eliminating 650,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases since 2015. Those numbers are impressive.
  • Outside of their own operations, it’s now fairly well known that six years ago Walmart set a goal of removing 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from their supply chain. They not only achieved but surpassed that goal—36.5 million metric tons have been removed to date. That’s the equivalent of over 39 billion pounds of coal left unburned, and that is amazing. It proves that setting audacious goals can deliver real results.
  1. Transparency and Quality of Products:
  • In 2013, Walmart committed to “reduce, restrict and remove use of high-priority chemicals using informed substitution principles”. The GRR reports that they’ve achieved a “95% reduction by weight in Walmart U.S.”. Translating that into plain English, that means a lot of things you didn't want to be in your products have been taken out. This is a big deal—and the first time that a major retailer has attempted something so daunting.

With each of these accomplishments come questions—and a realization that significant work remains.  Those fleet numbers, for example, are focused only on the trucks they own. As the mix of online versus bricks-and-mortar shopping continues to evolve, is enough being done throughout their entire transportation system to optimize efficiency?

And in terms of the chemicals: how did they arrive at that number, and where are the names of the offending chemicals? My inside sources expect that both will be released soon—to which I say “we expect nothing less”. Like any parent, I won’t think enough has been done on this issue until I can buy any product on the shelf and not worry that it could have an adverse effect on my child. When will that day come?

In any case, the few examples I’ve cited are just the tip of the GRR iceberg.  I encourage you to find yourself a comfy chair, settle in, and explore it for yourself.

But as you read, try to remember that, just as no parent is perfect, neither is any one company. My takeaway is that Walmart is sincere in its efforts to tackle the extremely complicated job of helping to make the world a better place for our children. And their approach—employing science-based processes that are scalable and focused on areas core to their business—is precisely why Walmart can lay claim to being a leader in their field.

Mothers and CEOs, take note.


Follow Jenny Ahlen on Twitter – @JennyKAhlen


 

 

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? The Clean Power Plan will provide:

  • Greater access to renewable energy sources. The Clean Power Plan will increase access to renewable energy by an estimated 30%. Google has already said the Clean Power Plan will help the company derive all electricity for its data centers from wind and solar.
  • Lower average electricity bills. In 2030, when the plan is fully implemented, electricity bills are expected to be about 8 percent lower than under business as usual.
  • Opportunity for job growth and investment. The CPP will drive investment in low cost clean energy technologies, creating quality jobs and positioning American business to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Longterm price stability on energy. Companies will be able to reduce risk from energy cost uncertainty, like volatile fossil fuel prices, and improve long-term forecasting and business strategy.

The 365 companies that have previously shown their commitment to the Clean Power Plan are a step ahead. But other businesses can still catch up. This is an unprecedented opportunity for companies to align their internal sustainability goals with climate policy.

Over the past week dozens of other private sector organizations have stepped forward to support the Clean Power Plan. Leading power generators, large electricity consumers and other iconic brands all recognize the broad, society-wide benefits of the flexible approach at the heart of the Clean Power Plan.

These companies have demonstrated that there is a new bar for corporate climate leadership: standing up for specific, impactful, cost-effective policy, and stating in the brief, “policies like those embodied in the Clean Power Plan—will create a virtuous cycle of accelerated innovation, further price declines, and additional [clean energy] deployment.”

What you can do

There is still time for your company to take this next leadership step. As the hearing on the merits of the Clean Power Plan moves forward this June, here’s what you can do:

  1. Call on your state to move forward with state planning efforts to advance rigorous analysis, climate protections and new economic incentives, pollution reduction progress, and regulatory stability.
  2. Follow the Clean Power Plan case and be ready to publicly join leaders like Google, Microsoft and others in the voicing your support
  3. Set public goals to shift your power consumption to renewable sources.
  4. Share best practices around corporate sustainability.

Private sector leadership can help shape the future of energy and benefit your company, the economy and environment. The Clean Power Plan helps assure that both business and the planet can thrive.

See all the briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan here.

The chorus of corporate voices supporting smart climate policy is getting larger and louder – it’s time to join in.

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.”

Dynamic power sector voices are supporting the rule as well. Three advanced energy associations, representing a $200 billion industry, have stepped up to intervene in defending the Clean Power Plan. Numerous major power companies are also defending the rule in court: Just today, Dominion Resources filed a brief endorsing the Plan's "flexible, accommodating" approach.

In fact, leading companies argue that inaction on climate will “subject companies to unacceptable risks” — risks that force businesses to bear economic and social disruptions to their operations due to the uncertainty of future energy resources. Companies who support the Clean Power Plan are major energy consumers and purchasers; planning for future energy resourcing is critical to their long-term business strategy.

Sixty percent of the largest U.S. businesses have established public sustainability and clean energy goals. That’s fantastic, but literally billions of kilowatt hours are still needed to meet renewable energy goals. Companies no longer want to rely on unstable fossil fuels. They are looking to the Clean Power Plan to spur investment and increase reliability, energy efficiency and low-cost clean energy options. Kudos to the industry leaders that are standing up to outdated views and the false choice between business and the environment.  Real corporate sustainability leadership takes courage and a willingness to support the smart policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people and the planet rely on.

I’m looking forward to seeing more businesses follow their lead.


EDF is tracking all Clean Power Plan case resources here.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @TPMurray


 

How 10 Years in the Trenches with Walmart Built an On-Ramp for the Future

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377I'm really proud of the tireless and innovative work that EDF's Corporate Partnership team has done with Walmart. It's been a successful 10-year journey  and I've done a lot of cheer leading over the last decade.

But now I'd like to look forward. Because we still have huge environmental challenges to tackle, and we're still looking to powerful businesses, like Walmart, to model the way toward a sustainable future.

Through our work with Walmart, McDonald's, FedEx and others over the past 25-years, we've seen a framework for corporate sustainability leadership emerge that other companies can use, across industries and around the world.

For EDF, this framework is critical to spreading environmental and business benefits throughout the corporate sector. By sharing best practices, EDF can have impact that extends far beyond the individual companies that are our partners. Read more

EDF Climate Corps fellows – right where they need to be

EDF Climate Corps on Years of Living Dangerously

Watch the episode featuring
EDF Climate Corps
Monday May 26th at 8 pm on Showtime

When the producers of Years of Living Dangerously – Showtime’s groundbreaking new series about climate change – were looking for a story of hope, they turned to EDF Climate Corps. The series, which brings the reality of climate change into your living room every Monday night, does not spare the viewer the devastating impact on people of wildfires, superstorms and droughts. But it also shows how people can be part of the solution to climate change. The three EDF Climate Corps fellows featured in this Monday’s (5/26) episode are protagonists in that story of hope. They show how saving energy benefits both the environment (by cutting carbon emissions) and the bottom line.

One exchange that Showtime caught on camera goes something like this:

Jessica Alba:  “Can you can walk into any organization and tell them how to save energy and money?”

Climate Corps fellow:  “Yes.”

EDF Climate Corps fellows are turning up in all kinds of interesting places this year. In January, Tyrone Davis joined the first lady to watch the State of the Union address. This month, fellows will appear on television to give people hope about solutions to climate change. And this week, we announced the 2014 class of Climate Corps fellows – 117 top grad students chosen from close to 700 applications – all going to where the biggest opportunities are to save energy.

EDF Climate Corps Working in Key Geographies

This year, we’ll have six Climate Corps fellows in China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas. About two-thirds of our 117 engagements will be in the nine U.S. states that consume over 50% of the nation’s energy. And 16 of those will be in Chicago accelerating progress toward the city’s 20% energy reduction goal.

EDF Climate Corps Helping Key Sectors 

Climate Corps fellows continue to work in large commercial buildings like the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. But we’ve also expanded the sectors in which we work to include manufacturing (with Legrand, Lockheed Martin and Owens Corning), cities (Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles) universities (Clark Atlanta and the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center), data centers (RBS Citizens and Comcast), utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric), and even military bases (US Army at Fort Bragg).

EDF Climate Corps Tackling Diverse Projects

The 2014 class of Climate Corps fellows are working on a wider range of projects than ever before. About half will be working on building energy efficiency. The rest of the projects include:

  • Energy strategy, data management and employee engagement
  • Water efficiency – implementing the unique toolkit that EDF developed with AT&T
  • Supply chain logistics – integrating our expertise in green freight and operating more efficient warehouses

EDF Climate Corps is recruiting, training and deploying the sustainability leaders of tomorrow; a viral solution that gives us hope that we can bend the curve on carbon emissions and avoid the worst impacts of a warming world. But don’t just take my word for it. Tune into “Years of Living Dangerously” on Monday May 26th at 8pm on Showtime. See for yourselves how our fellows helped Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Texas Southern University and Office Depot scale their energy management efforts.

 

Also of interest:

Years of Living Dangerously: Two producers, coffee and a vision for climate action

Behind the Showtime cameras with EDF Climate Corps fellows

EDF Climate Corps, creating a new generation of leaders

 

Start Me Up: The first Climate Corps fellow takes his knowledge to a startup

By: Jeff Crystal, COO of Voltaic Systems

In 2007, EDF Climate Corps helped launch me into my career at the intersection of business and the environment. When the opportunity came to work with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on an innovative new program called Climate Corps, I jumped at the chance. The team at the time was small, and the program wasn’t yet clearly defined yet, just filled with unknowns. Having been at four startups prior, this felt just like home to me.

As the unofficial first Climate Corps fellow, I spent that summer working on a financial model, while running EDF’s own energy audit and implementing changes to reduce the NGO’s energy consumption.

The next summer, EDF brought 7 official Climate Corps fellows on board to search for energy efficiency opportunities at leading companies on the West coast. Now here we are, three years later, and the program has expanded seven-fold – with more than 80 total Climate Corps fellows working at Fortune 1000’s around the country to identify projects that could avoid more than 557,000 metric tons of GHG emissions. Though it’s seen its share of tweaks, the financial model I developed that first summer has been used to analyze all of these projects along the way.

Climate Corps confirmed my love for “hands dirty” operational work, and almost immediately after I completed my fellowship, I joined a startup that focuses on producing small scale energy systems, Voltaic Systems. Voltaic designs solar chargers and solar backpacks for powering electronics from cell phones to laptops and will soon introduce solar lighting.

Longer term, the Climate Corps experience has opened up a network of technical resources, a framework for thinking about sustainability and the knowledge to talk intelligently about this topic with a broad range of people in the industry. This fellowship has also given me a whole new vocabulary supported by a background of training and hands-on experience. I love being able to talk about the need for proper ballast settings on a T5 bulb or about the payback period of an HVAC tuning session.

The appreciation I maintain for sustainability is evident, not only in my company’s end-products but in all aspects of our business. Voltaic is constantly looking at ways to make our products more environmental friendly. We try to use fabrics and materials that use less energy to produce and require fewer (or no) toxic materials in their production process. I’ve kept in touch with former colleagues at EDF who have advised me on packaging providers that are doing interesting things with recycled PET, the limits of a Material Safety Data Sheet and emerging standards on phthalates.

When discussing my job opportunity with Voltaic, one question  that came up was whether that team could have a big enough environmental impact. EDF’s staff tends to think in terms of policies and programs that can remove millions of tons of carbon. Could a startup producing solar products make a dent? When we think about introducing new products that could have a negative carbon impact and potential ways to pressure our suppliers to use more recycled materials, EDF is in the back of my head, urging me to do more.

Hunting for environmental hotspots in Walmart products

At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), our work with Walmart focuses on leveraging the company’s buying power to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer goods. One of the clearest points of leverage is Walmart’s own store brands—Great Value, Sam’s Choice, Equate, and others that account for a sizable and growing percentage of the company’s sales. An internal team in Bentonville, where Walmart is headquartered – is responsible for designing private brand products, making sourcing decisions, and overall wielding substantial control over products from manufacture to the retail shelf.

In recent months, EDF has been working with the Walmart team responsible for the food and consumables division of Private Brands—the grocery side of Walmart—to assess seven private label products.

Our goal was to understand the environmental and social impacts across the life cycle of the following products:

  • Sour cream
  • Dish soap
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Cereal
  • Sliced turkey breast
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Cashews Read more

EDFix Call #10 Afterthoughts: Developing a Vision for Greener Fleets

EDFix Call #10 – Summary (11 min.)
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EDFix Call #10 – Full (52 min.)
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We hit the road April 12 with a series of open conference calls regarding a pressing matter in greening business – truck fleets and logistics in general. We had a fodder-filled discussion on the issue co-hosted by Jason Mathers, who leads Environmental Defense Fund’s work to promote greenhouse gas management in corporate fleets. We talked through two particular sectors of interest for fleets – light-to-medium-duty vehicles and heavy-duty on-road tractor trailer vehicles.

Already having conducted a considerable amount of work in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from light-to-medium-duty fleets, our current challenge is to maintain the momentum EDF has created in this area while shifting our focus to heavy-duty fleets. On the lighter side of fleet vehicles we have found a number of opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases including right-sizing vehicles, but are faced with the challenge that these options do not work for the heavy-duty vehicles which are responsible for 80 percent of emissions from corporate owned-vehicles. Read more

What Should the Innovation Exchange Do?

No, really, we're asking you – what should the EDF Innovation Exchange do? We're going through a strategy and planning exercise that will guide our work for the next few years and we'd like your input.

The objective of this effort is to"grow and strengthen a 'problem solving' network that can generate rapid and widespread adoption of environmental innovation in business." The bottom line is to help make sure that both the economy and the environment are sustainable. Of course, the devil is in the details.

Over the past two decades EDF has worked directly with a number of large corporations including McDonald's, FedEx, and now others like Wegmans, KKR, and PHH Arval. We've had great success with these engagements and are proud of our work, but think we need to do more. As Joel Makower said in a recent post, "The point is that time is short, and getting shorter. In that light, where's the urgency? Where's the audaciously big thinking? Where's the scale?"

So, for Innovation Exchange planning, what are the big opportunities we should jump on? Do we need new software infrastructure, bigger online communities, better training, closer partnerships, more conferences? Should we share patents, share data, share lessons, share ideas? Are there weaknesses in our knowledge base or our networks that EDF can help solve? What sectors are most critical and which are most open to our engagement? We know lots of other individuals and groups are working on related problems. Who, in particular, should we partner with? Are there specific contributions we can make that will have broad impact? What special value can we create?

I hope that you will join us in thinking about and discussing this problem. Our draft planning materials are online for your review and comment (you have to sign-in to comment). If you prefer, send your thoughts directly to me or post comments below.

Thanks in advance for your help.

And We're Off: Launch of the EDF Innovation Exchange

I confess, it was the title in the job posting that caught my eye first – Director, Innovation Exchange for Environmental Defense Fund. I wanted a business card that said that.

Reading the actual job description didn't hurt either. I'm a "big thinker with a solid track record" who can "build a new initiative that will inspire, inform and engage Fortune 1000 companies in reducing their environmental footprint" right? What could be better than spending my days building a human network, thinking about "innovation," focusing on environment issues, working with influential businesses and doing it for a well respected non-profit?

However, the real clincher has been getting to know the Corporate Partnerships team inside of EDF, the group I work most closely with. These folks are good. Of course, they are smart, dedicated, imaginative and (bonus!) fun to work with. But even better, they've been producing solid results for years. Read more