by Peter Sopher, Policy Analyst, Clean Energy
Apple and Google have changed our lives forever, both because of their technological innovations and sheer size as global corporations. Now, they’re aiming to reshape the energy landscape.
This month, Apple announced plans to spend nearly $2 billion on European data centers set to run entirely on renewable energy and invested $848 million to secure power from 130MW of First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project under a 25-year power purchase agreement. Google also agreed to replace 370 wind turbines installed in the 1980s with 24 new, more efficient and bird-friendly turbines at the Altamont Pass in the San Francisco Bay Area. Moreover, there has been recent speculation Apple may be working on an electric vehicle to challenge Tesla’s dominance in that market.
These developments are impressive on their own, but they are also part of a new trend among major corporations – whose primary focus is not energy generation – proactively pursuing clean energy projects. So, why are they doing this?
For corporations whose businesses do not rely on fossil fuels, aligning themselves with clean power is proving a prudent move both financially and for public relations. Read more
I recently read the inspiring story of how Farmers Electric Cooperative, one of the smallest utilities in the country, overcame some formidable financing challenges to develop the biggest commercial solar project in Iowa.
The example called to mind a comment made by Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple and former Administrator of the U.S. EPA, during the closing plenary of GreenBiz’s VERGE conference earlier this fall. She told the audience that, at Apple, the best way to get something done was to say “it can’t be done.”
This idea, of conquering seemingly impossible obstacles, is one I’ve seen reflected in a number of new advances in corporate sustainability, including many discussed at the conference and others from our own work. Each demonstrates how entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) are harnessing major environmental and social challenges to create real solutions: Read more
This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.
Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.
Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains
Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.
Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more
In our inaugural post on the business-policy nexus, Tom Murray highlighted the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan as an opportunity for companies to be leaders. Why should companies be motivated to get involved? Because they care about having access to competitive, clean energy and tools and incentives for smart energy management, which will help them meet their sustainability and carbon goals while cutting costs.
The decisions being made in the coming months on the Clean Power Plan proposal can help accelerate the transition to a cleaner energy economy for years to come, expanding the demand and market for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Any sustainability officer who has tried to price green power on the market or build the business case for an energy efficiency program has a stake in the outcome.
Last month, twelve major corporations announced a combined goal of buying 8.4 million megawatt hours of renewable energy each year and called for market changes to make these large-scale purchases possible. Their commitment shows that demand for renewables has reached the big time.
We're proud that eight of the twelve are EDF Climate Corps host organizations: Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Proctor & Gamble, REI, Sprint and Walmart. The coalition, brought together by the World Wildlife Fund and World Resources Institute, is demanding enough renewable energy to power 800,000 homes a year. And while it's great to see these big names in the headlines, they're not alone in calling for clean energy: 60 percent of the largest U.S. businesses have set public goals to increase their use of renewables, cut carbon pollution or both.
Companies want renewable energy because it makes good business sense: it’s clean, diversifies their energy supply, helps them hedge against fuel price volatility and furthers their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Renewables are now the fastest-growing power generation sector, and by 2018, they’re expected to make up almost a quarter of the global power mix. Prices of solar panels have dropped 75 percent since 2008, and in some parts of the country, wind is already cost-competitive with coal and gas.