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

Here's why EDF Climate Corps' network-based approach is a game-changer for corporate sustainability

You know that feeling when you’re cheering for your team to win, and they do? That’s the feeling I get to experience every day in my job as Manager of the EDF Climate Corps network (aren’t I lucky?!) Yesterday GreenBiz announced it’s “30 Under 30" – a global search for emerging leaders who are shaping the next generation of sustainable business. To my delight, I saw Kayla Fenton, a 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellow, included in this impressive group. This was exciting, but not surprising; the EDF Climate Corps network is filled with inspiring leaders, just like Kayla, who are tackling corporate sustainability issues every day.

I first met Kayla when she was preparing for her summer with Nestle Waters NA. In just ten weeks, she managed to surpass everyone's expectations. “Kayla’s detailed analysis and cross-company collaboration created the internal engagement and buy-in to move forward with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for my last company. Her great work inspired me to bring on an EDF Climate Corps fellow in my new role with Danone Waters of America to advance carbon reductions in North America for our carbon neutral brand, Evian." Recalled Debora Fillis-Ryba, Kayla's former supervisor at Nestle, now with Danone Waters of America. 

Now, with Amazon, Kayla manages programs to minimize the company’s footprint by eliminating packaging waste. Her efforts save the company money and energy, and optimize delivery by reducing material across the supply chain. It’s innovative, it’s sustainable and it’s economic – it’s winning!

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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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EPA SmartWay and Clean Truck Standards save U.S. businesses millions


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.

It’s safe to say that the EPA isn’t having the best week. Whether it was new administrator Scott Pruitt vowing to slash climate and water protections at CPAC or this week’s reveal that President Trump wants to slash a reported 24 percent of its budget, the EPA has taken a beating recently. However, what may not be as obvious is that slashing EPA’s budget and reducing funding to key programs actually hurts businesses that have greatly benefitted from EPA programs.

A key example of how the EPA bolsters business is freight. In the freight world, the EPA has done a lot for companies’ bottom lines while protecting human health and that of the planet. Companies seeking to

reduce freight costs and achieve sustainability goals across supply chains receive immense value from the EPA.  Two key programs that provide this value are the U.S. EPA SmartWay program and the Heavy-Duty Truck Greenhouse Gas Program.

A compelling value proposition for business

SmartWay was created in 2004 as a key part of the Bush Administration’s approach to addressing clean energy and climate change. The program has grown from fifteen companies at its start to nearly 4,000 companies today. The program attracts strong private sector participation because it offers a clear and compelling value proposition: freight shippers gain access to information that enables them todifferentiate between freight carriers on emissions performance.

Jason Mathers, Director, Supply Chain

This saves shippers money and cuts carbon emissions. Freight carriers participate in the program to gain access to large shippers, such as Apple, Colgate-Palmolive and Target.

The EPA SmartWay program is not only a popular program that is delivering billions of dollars of annual savings to the U.S. economy, it is also a core strategy for companies to reduce their freight emissions. The agency has calculated that since 2004, SmartWay partners have saved:

  • 72.8 million metric tons of carbon emissions
  • Over 7 billion gallons of fuel
  • $24.9 billion in fuel costs

To put it in perspective, the reduction of 72.8 million tons of emissions is roughly the equivalent to taking 15 million cars off the road annually. The $25 billion in aggregate savings from this one program is more than three times the annual budget of the entire EPA.

Given the strong value proposition of the program, it is no surprise that many companies with existing science-based targets on climate emission reductions participate in EPA SmartWay, including: Coca-Cola Enterprises, Dell, Diageo, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ingersoll-Rand, Kellogg Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble Company and Walmart.

Clean fuel driving a healthy U.S. economy

Another key program that is saving companies billions is the Heavy-Duty Truck Greenhouse Gas Program. This program supports long-term cost savings and emission reductions through clear, protective emission standards with significant lead time.

The first generation of this program, running from 2014 to 2017, was finalized in August 2011 and will cut oil consumption by more than 20 billion gallons, save a truck’s owner up to $73,000, deliver more than $50 billion in net benefits for the U.S. economy, and cut carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons.

The program was created with the broad support of the trucking industry and many other key stakeholders. Among the diverse groups that supported the standards were the American Trucking Association, Engine Manufacturers Association, Truck Manufacturers Association, and the United Auto Workers. The industry has embraced the new and improved trucks too.

The success of the first generation effort spurred the agency to launch a second phase that was finalized in August 2016. This effort stands to be a major success as well. The program is estimated to save:

  • 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon pollution
  • 550,000 tons of nitrous oxides and 32,000 tons of particulate matter (aka: harmful air pollutants)
  • 2 billion barrels of oil
  • $170 billion in fuel costs

This latest phase is also big hit with leading companies. More than 300 companies called for strong final standards during the rulemaking process, including PepsiCo and Walmart (two of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S.), mid-size trucking companies RFX Global and Dillon Transport, and large customers of trucking services General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, and IKEA. Innovative manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and freight shippers have also called for strong standards.

The corporate support for these standards was so impressive that the New York Times issued an editorial illustrating a rare agreement on climate rules.

Every company that sells goods in the market benefits immensely from these two programs and many others from the U.S. EPA. Programs like EPA SmartWay and the Heavy Truck Greenhouse Gas Standards are saving companies and consumers billions of dollars annually, and are integral to corporate efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Looking ahead

In his remarks to EPA employees on his first day on the job, Pruitt acknowledged that “we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment…we don’t have to choose”. My hope is that this is a signal of open mindedness to a path forward would allow further improvements to the environment and the economy rather than roll-backs on vital programs and protections.

Perpetuating the belief that the EPA and business are at odds will not only hurt the environment, but would endanger American prosperity.

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Follow Jason on Twitter, @jasonmathers

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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:

Securing Safer Chemicals in Food

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer products in the marketplaceIt seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and  flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.

What’s driving all this change?

It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.

According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 23% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.

woman reading labelAnother survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher  than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.

There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.

EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food.  We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food.  Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.