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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Super Bowl ad shows Anheuser-Busch InBev’s global leadership on renewable energy

While Tom Brady was chasing his 6th Super Bowl Victory, something big happened during the game. Budweiser aired an ad celebrating the link between business and sustainability – a message that reached at least an average of 100 million viewers.

The 45 second video combined Budweiser’s brand icons, Dalmatians and Clydesdales, with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, to tout the company’s renewable energy commitments, particularly around wind generation.

For someone who tries to follow sports, but remains “passive” as my husband would put it, this ad won my attention for the night. It was a mixing pot of nature, technology and business that shared a singular, important message – companies are proudly investing in our planet’s future.

The truth is, this ad shared only part of the work Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, is doing to make its global operations more sustainable. I know this because I recently chatted with Jess Newman, Director of U.S. Agronomy at Anheuser-Busch – one of many employees working to meet the company’s sustainability goals.

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Why TD executives are banking on sustainability

Nicole Vadori remembers being in grade school and watching the news about a fire at a tire warehouse with big plumes of black smoke that would inevitably cause environmental damage and thinking at that moment, “how can adults let this happen?”

Today Nicole is associate vice president and head of environment at TD Bank Group, where she spends her days finding ways to help reduce the bank’s carbon footprint, mitigating climate risk in its investment activities, and helping to drive business initiatives that can create positive environmental and social impacts.

I recently caught up with Nicole to talk about what TD is doing to help support the transition to a low-carbon economy, how the company analyzes climate risk, and to hear about her favorite Toronto restaurants.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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How New Jersey can finance its bold new clean energy targets

This blog was co-authored with Mary Barber, Director of Strategic Alignment and Performance and State Implementation at Environmental Defense Fund

On May 23, New Jerseyans scored a major economic and environmental victory when Governor Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking law that will soon make the Garden State an even greener one. The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has initiated a proceeding that will establish a community solar pilot program within one year of the bill’s signing. Low-income and multifamily households will be able to earn credits on their electric bills for purchasing power from a shared solar array. In just ten years, half the state’s power will come from emissions-free renewable resources, and New Jersey will boast the highest amounts of energy storage and offshore wind in the United States. New Jerseyans can expect clean air, electric bill savings, and the creation of many local and lucrative job openings.

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Grad student helps Blue Shield of California cross the finish line on solar project

Yesterday afternoon, local officials and Blue Shield of California employees gathered in El Dorado Hills as CEO Paul Markovich cut the ribbon on the healthcare company’s newest solar power installation. I’m always excited to see companies breaking ground on clean energy projects, but I’m particularly thrilled about this one. That’s because three years ago, I met Radhika Lalit – the grad student who laid the foundation for this project.

Investing in clean energy is a smart decision for business, but it’s not always an easy path. It takes time, money and bandwidth, to move projects from an idea to reality. So in 2015 when Blue Shield of California partnered with EDF Climate Corps for help with developing its renewable energy strategy, I was hopeful that Radhika, a grad student at Stanford at the time, could give Blue Shield what they needed – an extra set of hands and dedicated project management.

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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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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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Six months into the presidency, where are all the jobs?

We’re halfway through “Energy Week” at the White House–a series of events promoting President Trump’s energy policies. These are policies the administration claims will boost the economy and grow America’s energy dominance (note the change from “energy interdependence” to “energy dominance”), while creating jobs by reviving America’s declining coal industry.

It’s the same plan we’ve heard since Trump’s first day as President. So let’s ask ourselves, is it working?

Slashing climate policies

In March, Trump signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and on June 1st, he followed through on his promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. These reckless decisions were a major setback to both our nation’s economy and our job market.

The decision to withdraw from Paris was justified by the “economic unfairness” that it would bring upon the country, citing negative effects on jobs. The administration claimed they would continue to be the “cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth”, but not at the expense of our businesses and jobs. After business and world leaders criticized his actions, Trump defended his decision by stating he was simply fulfilling a campaign promise.

This was a campaign promise to bring back [coal] jobs. It’s time we check whether Trump has delivered.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

America’s job board: where does coal fall on the list?

In addition to his actions on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris agreement, Trump has focused on weakening health protections that reduce the impacts associated with the production of fossil fuels, like coal. Since then, the coal mining industry has added a mere 1,000 jobs, bringing us to a total of just 51,000 coal mining jobs nationwide—keep in mind that’s roughly only .03 percent of the more than 150,000,000 jobs in the U.S—as of May 2017. And of those industry workers, only roughly one-fifth actually mine the coal. These numbers fall far behind the 50,000 coal jobs that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed have been created in just the time since Trump became president.

[Tweet “Coal represents .03% of total US jobs. If Trump wants to deliver on jobs, he should look to clean energy.”]

It’s time we look at the long-term picture. The economic realities of the past few decades haven’t favored coal power and this isn’t going to change. The decline of coal-related jobs is partly due to the rise in cheap natural gas, combined with increased continuous automation, and the industry is forecasted to see an additional 51% reduction in generation by 2040. We’re heading in a new direction. The U.S. power sector—as states and power companies reaffirm their commitments to de-carbonization—is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution.

Meanwhile, despite Trump’s best efforts to dismantle their progress, renewables are on track to see a 169 percent increase in generation by 2040, bringing with them clean, local and well-paying jobs. There are an estimated 4-4.5 million clean and sustainability jobs in the U.S. today according to this Now Hiring report. Solar and wind alone account for close to half a million jobs, and energy efficiency makes up another 2.2 million more jobs. The rest are in fields such as natural resources conservation, corporate sustainability and environmental education.

The future of clean jobs only looks more promising. Wind turbine technicians are the fastest-growing occupations in America, adding jobs over nine times faster than the overall economy, just behind solar jobs, which are growing at a rate 17 times faster than the rest of the economy. And, investing in renewables or energy efficiency results in about 5 more jobs than the same investment in fossil fuels. That’s an opportunity we can’t afford to turn our backs on.

Moving the needle in the right direction

If Trump wants to fulfill his campaign promises of creating jobs, then he should redirect his attention from the dying coal industry to the booming clean energy sector. Why? Because it makes economic sense. That’s why business leaders, investors and politicians are demanding that the Trump administration deliver a plan to address climate change with smart policies.

There’s a way for Trump to make good on his campaign promises to bring back America’s jobs and lead us closer to becoming energy “dominant”. The answer is to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.


Follow Liz on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo


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