Focus brings results for Climate Leadership Award winners

Climate action can start with an idea, but it takes a goal and a plan to get there to make that idea a reality.

When the folks at Microsoft began their current sustainability journey in 2007, “There was well-intentioned chaos,” according to Rob Bernard, the company’s chief environmental strategist. When the Clinton Foundation asked the software maker for a tool to monitor carbon in cities, “That made us think that, internally, we needed to have a strategy on sustainability,” Bernard said in his remarks at the fifth annual Climate Leadership Conference (CLC) in Seattle earlier this month.

That strategy led Microsoft to set and achieve its first public greenhouse gas goal, a 30 percent reduction within five years. Once that was met, the company then set — and met — an even more ambitious goal: carbon neutrality.

Microsoft was one of 13 organizations, three partnerships, and one individual honored with 2016 Climate Leadership Awards for accomplishments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and driving climate action. The were given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), in collaboration with C2ES and The Climate Registry.

Microsoft, which received an award for organizational leadership, has been carbon neutral since July 2012 for its operations across 100 countries, including data centers, software development labs, offices, and air travel. Key to achieving the neutrality goal was implementing an internal carbon fee, through which business units across the entire enterprise pay for their emissions. This is not only an incentive to lower those emissions, but a funding source for internal efficiency upgrades, renewable power purchase agreements, clean energy projects, and carbon offsets. Internal carbon fees have paid for 10 billion kilowatt-hours of green power while reducing emissions by 7.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Global food manufacturer Mars, also honored for organizational leadership, similarly began recognizing the need to address climate issues in 2007, spurred on by the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.

“That part was easy to communicate to the employees,” Mars global sustainability director Kevin Rabinovitch told CLC attendees. “Once we went past that fairly quickly, we could focus our employees’ attention on devising an implementation strategy to reduce emissions.”

Mars set an absolute greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 25 percent from 2007 by 2015 in its internal operations and throughout the supply chain. Once last year’s numbers are finalized, it expects to have met the goal. The company’s future goal is to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation program aims to achieve its climate, water and waste targets by improving efficiency, seeking breakthrough technology for manufacturing, and using renewable energy.

At Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW) Airport, which was recognized for excellence in setting goals for greenhouse gas management, the focus on sustainability dates back to the 1990s.

“Regulatory requirements for air quality under the EPA’s Clean Air Act were a big driver for us,” Rusty Hodapp, the airport’s vice president for energy, transportation, and asset management, told the conference. “If we had to expand our operations, we had to reduce the energy use.”

That led the airport to develop a strategy for climate action. DFW set an absolute target of reducing direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions 2 percent per year from 2010 to 2020. DFW’s plans for achieving these goals include increasing its proportion of renewable electricity from 30 percent to 40 percent and increasing the use of alternative fuel fleet vehicles.

At MetLife, which was also honored for goal setting,“We started doing energy audits and looking at cost savings,” said Josh Wiener, MetLife’s director of global sustainability. The company now encourages its suppliers to report emissions and reduction efforts, and since 2012 has been using the information in scorecards to make business decisions.

MetLife is committed to becoming carbon neutral this year through at least 2018, through both reducing energy consumption 10 percent from 2012 levels by 2020 and the use of carbon offsets.

The Climate Leadership Conference and Awards has become an annual celebration of the reality that businesses can work for a healthy planet while also enjoying healthy profits. Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners, and we look forward to recognizing a new crop of climate leaders at the CLC in 2017.

Video: What does it take to develop climate goals across sectors?

Courtesy of The Seattle Channel