Climbing Toward Corporate Sustainability, Even Walmart Can’t Do It Alone

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377Ten years ago, the CEO of Walmart and the president of Environmental Defense Fund hiked together on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Along the way, Lee Scott of Walmart (now retired) and Fred Krupp of EDF talked about climate change and the environmental challenges of our time. They also talked about ways that Walmart could drive positive environmental change in its product lines and operations.

The hike turned out to be the start of a ten-year journey of collaboration between Walmart and EDF, one that has helped define a new model of corporate sustainability.

In a speech that year, Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals:

“Our environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

These goals are both ambitious and aspirational, and I’m not sure how to achieve them… least not yet. This obviously will take some time…”

Lee Scott, Oct. 23, 2005

Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the 21st Century Leadership speech, EDF is taking a moment to take stock of how far this journey has taken us and the distance left to travel.

First, what have we achieved? Here are three of our proudest accomplishments:

EDF and Walmart - removing 20MMT of GHG from its global supply chain

Click to enlarge

1. Today, Walmart is announcing that it will surpass its aggressive goal of reducing 20 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain. In total, Walmart will reduce 28 MMT of GHG from its supply chain by the end of 2015. To achieve this goal, Walmart tackled a diverse range of projects: from helping end consumers through improving products like LED light bulbs; to creating a Closed Loop Recycling fund, and changing food date labeling to reduce waste; and working with EDF to conserve fertilizer use on over 20 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Overall, the 20 MMT reduction of GHG from Walmart’s supply chain is the equivalent of getting almost six million cars off the road.

Yes, EDF pushed Walmart to set this goal; but we also worked side by side with them to achieve it. It is this type of long-term collaboration that drives results at scale, an achievement foreshadowed by EDF president Fred Krupp when he said, "When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world."

2. In 2013, Walmart put a chemicals policy in place that is phasing out chemicals of concern in over 100,000 home and personal care products like laundry soap and shampoo. Private brand products now list all of their ingredients online so consumers have more transparency into what chemicals they are using in their home and on their bodies.

3. EDF and Walmart helped create the Sustainability Index, a tool powered by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) that has evaluated billions of dollars of products on Walmart shelves. To date, 70% of Walmart suppliers have filled out the Index. Read more

5 Energy Trends Driving Climate Progress in 2015

Tech installing solar panels

John Rae

What a difference a year can make. Even before the last weeks tick away, 2015 stands out as a remarkable and dynamic year for climate and energy in the United States.

Read on for five bold trends that are beginning to reshape our economy – and our national discourse on climate change.

1. Investments in renewables soar

I admit it: For years, I thought renewable energy was more hype than reality. I’m happy to report that recent data proves me wrong.

In just five years, solar panel prices have fallen 80 percent, and solar capacity installed worldwide grew more than six-fold. The overall cost of solar per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, plummeted 50 percent.

For the first time in history, energy from the sun is as cheap as traditional energy in states such as Arizona, California and Texas.

The proof is in the pudding. Apple, for example, recently signed an $848-million power agreement with a solar provider – bypassing the electric grid. A deal of this magnitude shows where solar is today, and where it is headed. Read more

Leadership + Collaboration = Impact: The Equation That Will Lead to Climate Solutions

Hand of a student pointing at green chalk board2015 has been an exciting year for action on climate and energy management. In the EDF Climate Corps network, there is a strong feeling of momentum, as company after company steps up to answer the call on climate action and demonstrates concrete ways that they are greening their energy programs. Looking around at last week’s Energy Solutions Exchange (ESE), which brought together 150 people from top organizations to share stories and insights, I was struck by all of the connections and interactions taking place in the room.

But if I learned anything from this year’s event, it’s that in order to continue this momentum and create lasting impact, we need to form a new equation: leadership + collaboration = impact. Leadership and collaboration are essential as there is a limit to how far we can get by ourselves – to get the big stuff done, we have to work together.

Companies are leading, but they need to talk about it more

I learned from our dynamic speakers that organizations are doing amazing things in energy management: like pioneering microgrid installations, scoping out solar PPA agreements, and scaling LED and VFD retrofits across their operations, yet many more are doing things that we don’t even know about.  To truly lead in this space, we need companies to start talking about their concrete energy solutions. Read more

Corporate America Steps Up During Climate Week

The combination of the Pope’s visit, Climate Week NYC and news of China planning a national cap and trade program has made last week huge in terms of support for climate action. But it’s also been a week of great sustainability news coming out of corporate America, and I’m excited to see the momentum building.

  • Companies publicly stating aggressive, science-based sustainability goals? Check.
  • Big brands supporting the Clean Power Plan? Check.
  • Business committing to set an internal price on carbon? Check.
  • Increasing commitment to sourcing 100% of energy from renewables? Check.

Like I said, it’s been a really good week. After 18 years as a sustainability advocate, I’m encouraged to see companies continuing to step up their leadership on climate— making public, science-based commitments and increasingly creating an environment where denial and delay by private and public sector leaders is no longer acceptable. Many of the companies who have made commitments, (this week, before this week, and hopefully leading into COP21), are demonstrating that tending one’s own sustainability garden is necessary but no longer sufficient—corporate leaders of today and tomorrow need to collaborate with each other for greater impact and assert public policy leadership as well. Read more

Want Climate Action? Time to Pick Up Your Megaphones

victoriaExperts are saying 2015 may turn out to be the hottest year on record. But thankfully, as my colleague Tom Murray predicted earlier this year, 2015 is also shaping up to be a year for action – by businesses and governments alike – to bend the curve on the emissions that cause climate change.

This year, the Obama administration introduced important new regulations to cut GHG emissions from the electric power, oil and gas and transportation sectors. And businesses are standing behind them. Investors representing $1.5 trillion in managed assets supported federal limits on methane emissions. PepsiCo, Ben & Jerry’s and other companies called for stronger fuel economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks. And 365 companies and investors wrote to state governors urging timely implementation of the Clean Power Plan, our nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

four-people-speaking-megaphonesA watershed moment for climate action is approaching in December, when the United States and other nations gather in Paris for the COP21 climate negotiations. A strong agreement in Paris could put the world on a path towards greenhouse gas reductions that science tells us are necessary for a stable climate. Business leadership will be critical, both to embolden the negotiators to reach a strong deal, and to ensure that the U.S. delivers on the commitments made in Paris.

Amplifying business support for climate action

Right now, there is a wealth of opportunities for businesses to voice their support for a strong outcome in Paris, and showcase their own efforts to cut climate pollution. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) recently organized a webinar to present those opportunities and clarify how companies can get involved. Read more

Denver Housing Authority Sets Bar for Municipalities Nationwide

To many, it may seem that pursuing environmental sustainability would fall relatively low on a municipal housing authority’s goals.  After all, providing moderate and low-income families with clean, stable homes in the face of uncertain federal subsidies and increasing taxpayer scrutiny is challenge enough.

North Lincoln Homes - PV SystemsThe Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (DHA), therefore, deserves praise for its innovative solar power program that not only provides renewable energy, but creates revenue for the housing authority, creates green jobs in the region, and saves taxpayers’ money – all the while reflecting the spirit of the federal Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, which looks to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. DHA serves as a model for municipalities across the country.

Andrea Davis of the DHA’s Real Estate Department and Chris Jedd, portfolio energy manager, showed the creativity and sheer will to make a lofty renewable energy goal affordable, manageable and successful, while providing their communities with empowerment, economic opportunity, and a vibrant living environment. Read more

Clean Energy is Just Smart Business for Leaders like Apple, Google

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.

apple-google againThis 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

It Can(‘t) Be Done

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.

Rock-uphillThe 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

Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

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 shopper

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

The Business-Policy Nexus: Clean Power Plan Offers Opportunity for Companies

Namrita Kapur

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.

Read more