Climate Compass Blog

There's growing business momentum for climate action

Can you feel the momentum?

With negotiators meeting in Bonn this week and only six weeks to go until Paris, the business community is not only stepping up to the plate, but is swinging for the fences on its support climate action (Yes, it’s playoff season, so baseball is also on my mind).

This week’s announcement that 69 companies have joined the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge brings the total to 81. Many of these companies pledging to reduce their emissions, take other actions to tackle climate change and support a strong international agreement include a number of members of our own Business Environmental Leadership Council: Alcoa, Bank of America, GE, General Motors, HP, IBM, Intel and PG&E. Together the 81 companies represent a combined $3 trillion in revenue and 9 million employees.

And last week, 14 companies with a combined revenue of $1.1 trillion and 1.5 million employees signed a statement organized by C2ES in support of a Paris climate agreement, that began “Paris presents a critical opportunity to strengthen efforts globally addressing the causes and consequences of climate change, and to demonstrate action by businesses and other non-state actors. ”

But these companies aren’t just talking about climate change; they’re doing something about it. They’re making commitments to reduce their own emissions, and some are even committing to use 100% renewable energy through the RE100 campaign.  They are also working both internally and with communities and cities to increase climate resilience.

Now it’s time to take this enthusiasm and put it to work. We know there is growing support for a strong agreement in Paris, and hopefully that’s what we’ll get in December.  But that’s just the first step—we’ll need to ensure that countries live up to their commitments, and back here in the United States, we’ll be working with businesses, states, and cities to build partnerships that harness the power of the markets to reduce emissions, develop innovative financing for clean energy and strengthen our resilience to climate impacts.

We have some real momentum going now. Let’s make the most of it.

Cities are driving climate solutions

Cities and counties are increasingly emerging as climate leaders, becoming laboratories and incubators for climate solutions. These solutions take a fresh approach to emerging local challenges, and could drive progress at a larger scale.

Here are two key ways cities are stepping up:

·      Local governments are creating an invaluable knowledge base for efficiency and sustainability efforts.

To reach your destination, you have to know where you are starting from. That’s why it’s so important that cities are taking advantage of ever-improving data collection and analytical capabilities to become the providers of rich databases of energy and water use in their jurisdictions.

Philadelphia's Energy Benchmarking program requires large commercial buildings to disclose their energy use. As a result, the city has a baseline of energy usage by nearly 2,000 buildings across multiple sectors. By sharing this data with building owners and energy managers, the city is focusing more attention on saving energy. And by sharing building data online with potential tenants, the city hopes to create a market for efficient buildings.

A similar program in New York City has had promising results. The disclosure policy corresponded with energy savings of nearly 6 percent - worth more than $260 million.

New commitments to reduce HFCs show leadership

The fastest growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- aren’t going to be growing as fast in the future.

Today’s White House announcement of voluntary industry commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), along with new regulations put in place over the past year, have created game-changing shifts toward more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 1980s, HFCs have become widely used worldwide in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. While they don’t contribute to ozone depletion, HFCs can trap 1,000 times or more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. This means they have a high global warming potential (GWP).

The amount of these compounds produced around the world has been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. Unless controlled, emissions of HFCs could nearly triple in the U.S. by 2030. Strong international action to reduce HFCs could reduce temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate change.

The 16 voluntary industry commitments that make up today’s announcement highlight the innovation and leadership U.S. industry is showing in meeting the challenges of addressing climate change. These actions build on 22 commitments made by industry at a White House event just a year ago.

Why businesses, states and cities must collaborate on climate

When it comes to dealing with climate and energy challenges, you often get the sense that the right people aren’t talking to one another.

Energy policies at different levels of government aren’t always coordinated. How one business, state or city is reducing greenhouse gases or planning for climate impacts may not be well understood or even known outside its area or industry.

The sustainability director for the city of Philadelphia, Katherine Gajewski, expressed this feeling during a recent C2ES panel discussion, saying there’s almost “no alignment” on climate and energy issues.

We hear you, Katherine. And we agree.

That’s why C2ES is launching a major new initiative – the C2ES Solutions Forum -- to bring together businesses, states, and cities to expand clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen resilience to climate change impacts.

Over the next two years, these key players will join us in a series of public and private forums around the country to explore critical, cross-cutting issues, develop collaborative approaches, and create a set of practical solutions that we can broadly share.

As we’ve talked to business, state and city leaders across the country, it became clear that a platform for communication and collaboration on climate and energy issues was needed.

Brazil Green Fair demonstrates how climate solutions can be scaled

Photo by Amy Morsch

A volunteer from Escola University uses a model home to demonstrate energy-saving tactics at the first Brazilian Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas.

Seeing is believing, even if it’s a meticulously built model used to illustrate action in real life.

Take the model home Escola University volunteers displayed at a recent Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas, Brazil. From top to bottom, it demonstrated energy-saving actions in every nook to help visitors see how each small change can save kilowatts -- and money.

Communities can use the same concept to illustrate and communicate what actions will help save energy and reduce climate impacts.

The way we talk about climate and energy issues can either empower people to act or leave them overwhelmed. People won’t necessarily be moved to act just because they know about the challenges. More often, they will be moved because they feel a collective responsibility for a shared problem and understand how they can make a positive impact.

Through the Alcoa Green Fairs, C2ES and the Alcoa Foundation work to drive action on climate and energy issues in a positive and engaging way. Now, Alcoa and C2ES have pushed this successful U.S. program to the international stage. The first-ever fair in Brazil in August attracted 17 organizations and more than 750 people to Alcoa’s Poços de Caldas plant, about four hours north of the capital Sao Paulo, to see demonstrations, learn about resources, and discover new ways to be eco-friendly.

Events like the Alcoa Green Fairs highlight how organizations are stepping up to reduce their impacts, both collectively and one employee at a time. This leadership was evident when Alcoa plant managers, employee champions, the Alcoa Foundation, C2ES, and Sustainable Poços Association (APS) gathered at an early-morning roundtable discussion before the fair.