How companies take action to reduce carbon emissions

While national leaders have been slow to act on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that warm the atmosphere and contribute to climate change, many businesses have made serious commitments to address their own actions. Companies in the oil and gas, electricity generation, automotive, and financial sectors are demonstrating that acting on climate is good for the Earth and also smart business strategy. C2ES organizes a corporate business council that includes many of the companies leading the way with ambitious emissions targets and innovative strategies.

July was the hottest month in recorded history, with many record-breaking heatwaves across the globe. The most noteworthy were in Alaska, where Anchorage hit a record 90 degrees F on July 4, and Europe, where thermometers in Paris soared to 108 F on July 26, shattering the record high by almost 4 degrees. In Washington state, Sept. 12 was a record-setting 98 degrees F for the date and the 55th day the high temperature reached 90 degrees or more; the average number of days above 90 degrees is 36 annually. But despite this and other mounting evidence of worsening climate impacts, the federal government is backtracking on efforts to reduce emissions and is poised to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

That leadership vacuum puts more pressure on the private sector. This includes members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), a group of 35 businesses committed to climate action and supporting climate-friendly policies. The BELC comprises a variety of companies from across the economy, including the engineering, industrial, technology, mining, automotive, finance, and power generation sectors.

Each of these diverse businesses has committed to implementing strategies to reduce emissions in its operations or supply chains. Some focus on procuring or investing in renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, while others are focusing on efficiently producing their goods and services. As documented in their annual or sustainability reports, many companies have set emission reduction targets – most with targets out to 2020 or 2030, but several with mid-century goals. For example, DTE Energy, a Michigan-based utility, has set targets to reduce CO2 emissions from owned and purchased generation by 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Microsoft has pledged to reduce operational emissions by 75 percent by 2030, but has been operating as 100 percent carbon neutral since 2012. Microsoft is reducing its emissions by putting an internal price on carbon and reinvesting those dollars into clean power, energy efficiency projects, and carbon offset projects. The trend toward aligning corporate goals with those of the Paris Agreement by going “carbon neutral” is rising. Power company Duke Energy just announced its goal to generate electricity with net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but many companies are looking at even shorter-term approaches, with goals for 2030 or 2020. Most have a baseline reduction goal, such as American Honda Co., which aims to reduce its emissions by 30 percent from their levels in the year 2000 by 2020.

Oil and gas companies are also taking steps to reduce their climate impact. Shell, for example, launched a program in 2017 to reduce its net carbon footprint, which recognizes that the company needs to not only reduce operational emissions but those associated with the use of its products. In the near term, Shell has set targets to reduce its total footprint by 2-3 percent below 2016 levels, but the company also acknowledges that the longer-term mix of products it sells will also change, which means investing in clean energy, such as wind and solar generation. BP, meanwhile, is investing in StoreDot, an ultra-fast battery charger for electric vehicles. The company believes that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement strong action is needed on multiple fronts—including deploying new technologies, investing in energy efficiency and advocating for carbon pricing. Equinor, another oil and gas company, expects to direct 15-20 percent of its annual investments out to 2030 in new energy solutions, such as offshore wind and carbon capture technologies.

Meanwhile power providers are changing the fuels they use to generate electricity, but they are also looking to reduce emissions in other areas as well. Utilities such as National Grid are engaging with their consumers to educate them on the importance of energy reduction.  For example, National Grid recently launched an energy efficiency and solar marketplace that allows its consumers to receive rebates for installing energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and receive free quotes for solar installations and financing options. APS, which serves Arizona, recently announced plans to add new solar and wind resources that will help expand the company’s renewable energy portfolio to about 2,500 megawatts, enough to power more than half a million Arizona homes, by 2021.

Auto manufacturers are vowing to produce more electric vehicles and improve efficiency of their product manufacturing. General Motors has committed to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, which includes investing in solutions to reduce emissions associated with its thermal load. As part of its Environmental Challenge 2050, Toyota plans to eliminate CO2 emissions in its operations and supply chain, as well as integrate recycled materials into the production of new vehicles.

The financial sector is also setting bold climate goals, by both investing in environmental programs and leveraging its own industry to enable financing of clean energy solutions. Bank of America’s Environmental Business Initiatives have deployed more than $126 billion in financing to low-carbon and sustainable business activities since 2007. In addition, Bank of America helps encourage positive environmental actions among its workforce. This includes a Low-Carbon Vehicle Program that provides rebates for employees looking to lease or buy hybrid and electric cars. Goldman Sachs & Co. has been carbon neutral since 2015 and is still looking for ways to reduce its water usage and limit waste products. It has also invested in companies that specialize in upcycling clothing and shoes, which helps to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from production lines and shipping. In July, the company announced the formation of a Sustainable Finance Group, which seeks to continue driving innovative finance solutions and capture new opportunities in sustainable growth solutions.

Without voluntary business action, reducing carbon emissions would be much more difficult. Businesses play a crucial role in a functioning society, and the fact that they take initiative to create their own policies makes them key players in fighting the climate crisis. Not only do the C2ES BELC companies work to prioritize climate change, but they aim to capitalize on the low-carbon economy while also benefiting their customers and the entire world.