Award winners extend climate leadership to customers, community

To winners of the 2017 Climate Leadership Awards, leadership means more than taking action in their own businesses; it’s about leading partners, suppliers, and customers as well.

Social responsibility was one of several themes running through the 2017 Climate Leadership Conference in Chicago, where officials from business, government and the nonprofit sector celebrated their achievements and discussed strategies to advance climate action.

Climate leadership has become a habit at IBM, which won the Organizational Leadership Award for the second consecutive year. The company has taken home a Climate Leadership Award in five of the six years the awards have been given.

IBM has been reducing its greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, and has set three consecutive reduction goals. Its latest is to reduce absolute emissions by 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

It is achieving the goal by becoming more energy efficient and procuring more renewable energy, with a goal of contracting renewable power equal to 20 percent of its own annual electricity use by 2020.

Since 2010, IBM has also required all its contracted suppliers to have an environmental management system, inventory their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, establish reduction plans, and publically report their results.

IBM also helps other companies reduce their emissions through its own innovation, technology, and business acumen. For example, IBM’s cognitive computing and data analytics help energy suppliers deliver the right amount of renewable energy to the grid while minimizing the amount of conventional fuel they need to burn.

“As IBM stated a decade ago, climate change is one of the most critical global environmental challenges facing the planet, and that is even more true today,” said Wayne Balta, IBM’s vice president for corporate environmental affairs and product safety. “The company will remain committed to environmental sustainability. It’s good business and the right thing to do for humanity.”

Demonstrating leadership to effect change

Bank of America won an Excellence in Greenhouse Gas Management/Goal Achievement Award for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its global operations 37 percent from 2010 through 2015. The bank accomplished more than twice its goal through energy efficiency programs like LED lighting and occupancy sensors, decommissioning unneeded equipment, and optimizing HVAC controls.

Its new goals are to cut emissions from its global operations in half from 2010 levels, purchase 100 percent renewable electricity, reduce energy use 40 percent, and maintain at least 20 percent LEED-certified space by 2020.

Senior Vice President for Environmental Operations Lisa Shpritz said the bank extends its own efficiency to its partners and uses its position of financial leadership to effect change.

“Leaders have to act responsibly so that others may follow,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility, but we’re up to it.”

The bank has committed to investing $125 billion in developing solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges, including at least $10 billion in high-impact clean energy projects, with partners contributing at least $8 billion to date.

The bank also extends its reach through its supply chain. Nearly 200 of its vendors respond each year to a voluntary survey regarding their climate risks and plans to address them, and the bank publishes the results.

“That’s our responsibility as an organization, to take others with us,” Shpritz said.

Creating an example for others

At NRG Energy, winner of a Goal-Setting Certificate, efficiency and sustainability are also part of a culture that extends to its electricity customers.

NRG is already making significant progress on its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for U.S. operations 50 percent between 2014 and 2030, and 90 percent by 2050, through enhancing power plant performance, capturing and storing carbon emissions from fossil-fired power plants; retrofitting coal-fired power plants to accept natural gas; and deploying new renewable energy generation.

NRG Vice President for Sustainability Bruno Sarda said the company’s commitments make business and economic sense, and benefit customers as well.

“We support our customers’ energy objectives by providing renewable energy, distributed energy, and other efficiency solutions for commercial and industrial customers, retail offerings and large, utility-scale renewable energy projects,” he said.

NRG ranked No. 3 in the nation in renewable generation capacity in 2016, with assets that include 36 wind farms in 12 states.

This year, NRG completed the first retrofit of a U.S. coal-fired power plant to capture carbon dioxide emissions. The Petra Nova project, near Houston, was completed on time and under budget. The captured carbon dioxide is used for enhanced oil recovery, increasing production from already developed domestic oil fields while storing the carbon dioxide underground and creating U.S. jobs.

Such projects also show that the technology works and can be replicated.

“We need to create an example for others,” said Sarda. “A sustainable future is a better future.”

Learn more about all of this year’s Climate Leadership Award winners.