The businesses that are – and are not – leading on climate change

When President Trump announced his plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017, businesses spoke out en masse in opposition to this plan – conveying that long-term, global competitiveness demands climate action. Soon after, the We Are Still In Coalition was born to showcase widespread commitment to the Paris Accord.

This week, as the Trump administration cedes global leadership on climate by formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, We Are Still In membership now stands at more than 2,200 businesses and investors – including big names like Walmart, Hewlett Packard, Dropbox, and Apple.

Continued commitment to the Paris Accord is critical – but it’s also only one part of what is needed to fill the climate leadership void, build the clean energy economy, and remain “in.”

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What presidential hopefuls can learn from the original “Climate Corps”

The 2020 presidential candidates are starting to introduce an array of proposals to fight climate change. Included in the mix are multiple calls for creating a “Climate Corps” – a national service initiative designed to engage America’s youth to advance climate solutions.

I’m excited by the increased attention on climate change and about the debate on how best to involve the next generation in solving the climate crisis. As candidates and public officials look to develop their policy ideas, they might look to lessons learned from the original Climate Corps – Environmental Defense Fund’s fellowship program that empowers the next generation of sustainability leaders to help major companies, organizations and industries to take action on clean energy and climate.

Here are four considerations to help inform the effective design of any national climate-related service initiative.

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Best Buy’s new Science-Based Target helps customers reduce energy use in their homes

In a world where big-box retailers are falling to online giants, Best Buy has managed to thrive.

Earlier this week, Best Buy announced a Science-Based Target (SBT) to help consumers reduce their carbon emissions by 20 percent and save $5 billion on utility costs. In its own operations, Best Buy will reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent.

To date, 567 companies have set or committed to set SBTs. But what makes Best Buy’s story unique is its strategy to make customers part of the equation: Reduce the company’s total carbon footprint by selling more energy efficient products to customers.

Here’s how this goal was set

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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 secret behind Iron Mountain’s long-term strategy for setting a Science-Based Target? A phase-based approach.

Last week, Iron Mountain publicly shared its approved Science-Based Target (SBT) after committing to the SBT initiative in June of last year.

Setting SBTs has transitioned from a trend to an industry best practice. Last April, 250 companies committed to set or received approval for a SBT. That number today is now 515 companies. More than double in less than a year.

As more companies explore SBTs, it’s important to call out those that have reached that target-setting milestone so that others can learn from them.

Effective targets are aspirational, yet attainable. It’s not enough just to set one. There needs to be a strategy in place to meet it – which is what Iron Mountain did.

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4 ways collaboration can get companies on CDP’s “A List”

Last week, CDP recognized companies for leading on climate change. Around 127 brands received an “A” grade – 2% of reporting companies – while the others were stamped with B’s, C’s and D’s.

We should certainly celebrate the companies that made it to the A List. These companies have proven leadership in corporate climate action and should be recognized.

But if we neglect the B’s, C’s and D’s, we all lose.

True cohesive climate action requires elevating the environmental performance of all companies – not just one-by-one. And the best way to do that is through collaboration.

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Hershey aims to cut the carbon footprint of its chocolate with new Science-Based Target commitment

Photo credit: Wendy Palmer

One of the world’s top chocolate companies shared new plans for reducing its impact on the planet – including committing to set Science-Based Targets. But what sets Hershey apart from its peers is not this commitment. It’s the journey behind how it got here.

Leading up to today’s announcement, a lot happened behind the scenes – data was collected, numbers were crunched and methodologies chosen. It required time, human capital and expertise.

But Hershey didn’t do it alone. The company hired a graduate student to help with the heavy-lifting that comes before a target can be set.

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3 inspirational examples of sustainability leadership to ring in the New Year

A lot happened in 2018. The U.S. made some notable progress with the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress, and and SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket. (I also became a first-time dad! And remember Yanny vs. Laurel?). And we experienced some major lows, with hundreds of innocent lives lost to multiple mass shootings and families torn apart due to the current administration’s troubling immigration policies. Now, with 2018 coming to a close, attention is being redirected to the year ahead.

But before I begin anticipating what’s to come in 2019, I want to step back and celebrate a few big corporate sustainability accomplishments from 2018 that I’m particularly encouraged by.

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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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