Business can help on the road from agreement to action on climate

The Paris Agreement is a roadmap for action on climate change, but how exactly will we get to the destination: a low-carbon economy?

Participants at a recent event (see video) co-hosted by C2ES and Microsoft, the newest member of our Business Environmental Leadership Council, at Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, D.C., agree that business leadership will play a key role.

At the event, White House Director of Private Sector Engagement Rob Diamond praised companies for sending a strong signal of support for climate action in the run-up to Paris. More than 150 companies, including those on our panel – Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Intel, and Microsoft – have joined the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Diamond said he hopes more will follow their lead in pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expand clean power, improve energy efficiency, and finance climate action. “The amount of effort the private sector has taken is fantastic,” Diamond said. “Keep it up.”

Business leadership has moved far beyond saving energy in a company’s own facilities. It now means investing in clean energy projects, reducing emissions throughout the supply chain, helping customers reduce their carbon footprint, and making an economic case for policies that address climate change.

As Steve Harper, Intel’s global director of environment and energy policy, put it: “The price of leadership has gone up. You need to do more, and you need to say more, and you need to advocate for more in order to continue to be seen as a leader in the corporate world on the climate issue, which we agree is society’s biggest challenge.”

Here’s what some leading companies are doing to step up to that challenge:

Bank of America: Alex Liftman, global environmental executive at Bank of America, said the Paris Agreement signals markets about the direction to go and provides a global roadmap for how countries plan to invest. Bank of America has increased its investment in low-carbon activities from $50 billion to $125 billion by 2025. The bank is also partnering with other financial institutions on an $8 billion Catalytic Finance Initiative to advance innovative financing structures for investments in clean energy and sustainability. Liftman said, “We’re trying to bring financial scale to the equation.”

Berkshire Hathaway Energy: Berkshire Hathaway Energy is the largest regulated owner of renewable energy generation in the U.S. It has invested more than $15 billion in renewable energy projects, and has pledged to invest up to $15 billion more going forward. Cathy Woollums, senior vice president for environmental services and chief environmental counsel, said the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan created a roadmap forward, and the Supreme Court’s stay creates uncertainty. “We wish that hadn’t happened,” she said, but there are still opportunities to move forward in the interim. “Rather than litigating, we are leading.”

Intel Corporation: Intel is one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy in the U.S. Since 2005, Intel has also cut in half its use of fluorinated gases, which contribute to global warming. As a technology company, Intel uses energy to make products, but Harper noted those products can also help others reduce their energy usage. Intel is engaging with states to incorporate intelligent efficiency into plans to implement the Clean Power Plan, and is working with countries such as China to push the development of markets for renewable energy.

Microsoft: Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012. Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, senior director of environmental sustainability, said the company set an internal price on carbon that has helped it increase operational efficiency and invest in clean energy. Microsoft has purchased more than 10 billion kilowatt hours of green power, and reached more than 6 million people through the purchase of carbon offsets from community projects. The company is also engaging with customers to reduce their energy and resource use.

Existing and expected policies can get the United States close to its Paris Agreement goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. But to get the rest of the way will take more – including business action. Through platforms such as the Business Environmental Leadership Council, C2ES will continue to work with leading businesses to support strong climate policies and show climate leadership.