Can Facebook, Google and Microsoft inspire data center innovation at Climate Week?

One focus area at this week’s UN Climate Action Summit is Energy Transition, where one of the expected outcomes is bold new “commitments from the IT sector (individually or collectively) on energy efficiency and the leveraging of technology.”

I’m excited to see what new commitments and momentum arise from Climate Week because emerging technologies like sensors, analytics, and AI can play an important role in the transition to a 100% clean economy – which means that by 2050, we can’t produce any more climate pollution than we can pull out of the air. Getting there will involve shifting our entire economy – power plants, transportation, factories, and more – as well as developing and deploying new technology that can make 100% clean a reality.

The good news for businesses is that investing in and developing cutting-edge technologies also boosts the bottom line. Read more

Top 3 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2019

Credit: Wendy Palmer

Last year, I identified the top corporate sustainability trends of 2018. Six months later, I revisited those trends and shared company-specific examples that pointed to their growing traction.

I decided to repeat this process again for this year. But, before I share the top trends for 2019, let me first explain how they are identified.

The growing and changing field of corporate sustainability

I work with hundreds of companies each year to help them determine sustainability projects that make the most sense for their unique business and goals. Through one-on-one conversations with companies participating in EDF Climate Corps, which hit a record high for the second consecutive year, I get a close up look at how businesses across industries – from big tech companies like Google and Amazon, to food and beverage giants like McDonald’s and Danone Waters North America – plan to reduce their environmental impact.

Here are the top trends in corporate sustainability for 2019 that I’ve identified by analyzing the data from this year’s EDF Climate Corps host applications:

  1. Mobility projects will gain popularity as a strategy to reduce emissions. Transportation is the leading cause of U.S. emissions. So it’s understandable why mobility-focused projects are everywhere right now – from transitioning corporate fleets into EVs to reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles thanks to ridesharing and micro-mobility alternatives, like e-scooters. Companies are looking to mobility-related projects as a solution to reduce their operational, supply chain, and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, planned IPOs from Lyft and Uber have made headlines recently with some believing that this could lead to more aggressive actions on carbon emission reductions from ride-hailing apps, due to shareholder pressure.

What the data shows: This year, 15% of EDF Climate Corps projects are related to mobility issues, two times as many as last year.

  1. Longstanding sustainability champions will be joined by the majority. We’re in an exciting transition period: Sustainability is no longer being championed by only the early adopters, but rather the majority. Companies, from well-established corporations to growing medium-sized enterprises, are formally establishing sustainability programs and climate strategies for the very first time. For example, in Barron’s second annual ranking of the 100 Most Sustainable U.S. Companies, one-third of the companies were ranked for the first time this year.

What the data shows: This year, one out of six new EDF Climate Corps hosts are establishing their first-ever official sustainability program.

Project Manager, EDF Climate Corps

  1. Science-Based Targets will see greater diversity from industries. Last year, I identified the rapid growth of companies setting Science-Based Targets (SBTs) as a trend. Since then, the number of companies that have publically committed or already set a SBT – including Hershey and Iron Mountain – has more than doubled. There are a number of public, voluntary commitments to initiatives around GHG emissions (We Are Still In, RE100), but the SBT Initiative has become an industry best practice. In the year ahead, we will see more industry diversity in SBT commitments, and more collaboration between companies to tailor and adapt methodologies to their specific industry.

What the data shows: Companies participating in this year’s EDF Climate Corps program with a focus on Science-Based Target projects have tripled compared to last year’s cohort.

Congratulations to all of the companies that are redefining what it means to be a corporate sustainability leader this year.

Stay tuned for an update on these trends this fall using real-world projects from this summer.

* Infographic: see what this year’s EDF Climate Corps hosts are tackling  


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The new rules of business leadership

The job of a CEO has always been challenging. Today it is tougher than ever, because the pressure to deliver rising valuations and ROI is matched by a new set of demands as investors, customers, employees and other business leaders call for profits to be balanced with social purpose.

After 20,000 of Google’s employees staged a walkout last November, the company overhauled its sexual harassment policies. Amazon was pulled into the spotlight late last year, when employees leveraged their stock options to submit petitions asking the company to create a plan to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. And when high school survivors of the Parkland massacre helped make gun control a subject of national debate, Kroger, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and LL Bean put new restrictions on their retail firearm sales.

As BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote recently in his annual letter to executives, “contentious town halls” where employees speak up for “the importance of corporate purpose” are becoming a fact of life. “This phenomenon will only grow as millennials and even younger generations occupy increasingly senior positions in business. In a recent survey by Deloitte, millennial workers were asked what the primary purpose of businesses should be – 63 percent more of them said ‘improving society’ than said ‘generating profit.’”

It’s no longer enough to post your values on the company intranet. You need to publicly and visibly put them to work.

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The 4 critical steps to climate leadership

Business leaders can no longer afford to look the other way on climate change. The recent National Climate Assessment revealed that regional economies and industries dependent on natural resources are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – as are energy systems. Warmer climates will increasingly disrupt international trade, prices, and supply chains, and costs could reach hundreds of billion dollars per year by the end of the century. Climate change doesn’t just threaten ecological balance, it threatens corporate balance sheets.

In light of these findings I’m encouraged by a recent survey of corporate leaders, 82 percent of whom said companies need to advocate for or take a stand on environmental, social and governance issues and that “climate and environment” was one of the three highest priorities for their organizations.

Knowing that a company should take action, however, is a long way from actually taking action on climate. While there are a growing number of cases where leading companies and major investors are ahead of the federal government on climate action, it’s simply not enough, and many more U.S. businesses need to step up.

The role that CEOs and companies play in global governance is changing. Leaders and laggards, winners and losers, will all be defined by how they respond to climate change. The leaders will surface based on their ability to take these four critical steps. Read more

4 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2018 – Part II

This blog is a follow up to an earlier blog published: 4 Trends in Corporate Sustainability for 2018.

Earlier this year, I identified 4 corporate sustainability trends that all business leaders should be watching in 2018. Those trends were: growth in companies setting Science-Based Targets, greater attention towards reducing supply chain emissions, tech and internet companies stepping up on sustainability, and increased innovation.

I’m revisiting those trends to give an update on where they stand six months later, using real-world examples of how this is playing out by highlighting projects from this past summer’s cohort of nearly 100 EDF Climate Corps host companies.

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Future fleets: how clean air innovations are driving smarter, healthier cities


When you picture a city bus, an animal control van or a waste management truck, you’re probably not thinking about a high-tech, mobile urban sensing platform, about saving millions of lives, or about the smart city of the future. At least not yet. But a new initiative in Houston is turning public fleets into the rolling eyes and ears of the city, and enabling these vehicles to revolutionize the way air pollution is monitored, measured – and ultimately addressed across the United States.

The information generated by these IoT-enabled “future fleets” is also a key tool in the transformation to fully connected, smarter cities, where hyperlocal data makes streets safer and less congested and where market forces reward urban efficiency, decarbonized electricity, and clean transportation. Picture using connected, clean fleets to improve delivery times, bring residents to work, school and doctor’s appointments, and even pinpoint the location of toxic air pollution threats – all at the same time.

These vehicles are enabling a future where air pollution forecasts eliminate hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, tens of thousands of hospital and ER visits, and an even larger number of missed school and workdays that are caused annually by air pollution. Air pollution also costs the global economy $225 billion dollars every year in lost labor income, but recent studies show that improving air quality – both indoors and outside – could improve worker productivity. Read more

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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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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Environmental innovation is thriving in corporate America, despite the leadership vacuum in DC

Last week hundreds of representatives from global companies and leading NGOs met in Bentonville, AR for Walmart’s annual Sustainability Milestone Summit. The theme of the meeting was Project Gigaton, the most ambitious and collaborative effort ever to reduce a billion tons of emissions from the global supply chain over the next 15 years. At the meeting Walmart announced 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions reductions from suppliers, and noted that 400 suppliers with operations in more than 30 countries have now joined Project Gigaton by setting ambitious climate targets.  

One powerful theme that emerged from the meeting was the importance of technology. Project Gigaton is inspiring targets that raise our ambition, but increasingly technology is how we will deliver on these commitments and measure progress.

A new EDF survey of more than 500 executives confirms that game changing technology innovations are empowering private sector leaders to improve business and environmental performance – and to accelerate sustainability efforts across global supply chains.

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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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