Businesses continue to lead on climate

Business leaders at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco, explain how investments in clean energy and efficiency make good sense for everyone. L to R: Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President, C2ES; Cathy Woollums, Senior Vice President, Environmental Services and Chief Environmental Counsel, Berkshire Hathaway Energy; Nanette Lockwood, Global Director, Policy and Advocacy, Ingersoll Rand; Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director, Mars Incorporated; Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft.

Businesses have invested billions in clean energy and efficiency because it makes business sense.

At a side event at the U.N. climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, leaders of major companies reiterated the benefits of those investments – for their companies, customers, the environment and the economy -- and said they will keep moving toward sustainability.

“We see a clear business case for this,” said Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director at Mars Inc. The global food and candy company has committed to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 2040. Working toward energy efficiency helps the company cut costs, he said, but also motivates employees who are working toward a higher purpose.

“These targets, these programs, these goals need to transcend individual leaders, be they in government or in corporations,” Rabinovitch said. “We’re solving long-term problems. We need to put structures and systems in place that are consistent and durable.”

“You’re now looking at decades of investment. Businesses are not going to walk away from this,” said Nanette Lockwood, Global Director, Policy and Advocacy at Ingersoll Rand. The maker of air conditioners and refrigeration systems has committed to invest $500 million by 2020 to develop alternative refrigerants to HFCs and to reduce emissions by 50 million metric tons by 2030. “Once we set a direction and we create value and markets, we continue down that path.”

The C2ES event, co-sponsored with the Edison Electric Institute, featured senior representatives from Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Ingersoll Rand, Mars and Microsoft. They are among the more than 150 U.S. firms that have committed to specific climate actions as part of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

“Microsoft is committed to its sustainability goals, to its clean energy goals. Our investments in innovation in this area are good not only for the environment, but also for our business and for the economy,” said Tamara “TJ” DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, whose operations have been carbon neutral since 2012. Microsoft uses an internal carbon fee to fund energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable communities.

As the largest regulated owner of renewable energy generation in the U.S., Berkshire Hathaway Energy has invested more than $15 billion in renewable projects, and has pledged to invest up to another $15 billion going forward.

“We can bring renewable solutions to our customers at very low cost and sometimes no additional cost,” said Cathy Woollums, Senior Vice President for Environmental Services and Chief Environmental Counsel. “It’s a win for the environment; it’s a win for our customers; and it’s a win for us.”

In a C2ES statement released in October when the Paris Agreement reached the threshold for entry into force, 11 leading companies said they are “committed to working on our own and in partnership with governments to mobilize the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy.” The statement notes that the Paris Agreement facilitates stronger private sector action by providing long-term direction, promoting transparency, addressing competitiveness, and facilitating carbon pricing.

Speakers at the event agreed on the importance of consistency, transparency and partnerships moving forward. The Paris Agreement, with nearly all of the world’s nations committing to move in the same direction, is sending signals that the business and investment community are internalizing in their long-term investing and decision-making. And working together with cities and states, and other companies, helps them share best practices and go further, faster to reach their goals.

A lot of the progress that has been made, especially in the United States, in reducing emissions has been driven by market and technology forces, and those forces will continue even in the absence of federal action on climate change.

Asked what will change under the new U.S. administration, Woollums said, “We need to give the new administration a chance to develop rational policies. The President-elect understands business. To the extent that the things that we’ve been doing make business sense, we will continue to do those things.”

 

Focus brings results for Climate Leadership Award winners

Josh Wiener of MetLife, Kevin Rabinovich of Mars Inc., Rusty Hodapp of Dallas-Fort-Worth International Airport and Rob Bernard of Microsoft share the strategies that helped them win Climate Leadership Awards with David Rosenheim of The Climate Registry at the fifth annual Climate Laedership Conference, March 10 in Seattle.

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.

How culture shapes the climate change debate

I have an in-law who is, shall we say, rather skeptical about climate change. Any discussion on the topic usually begins with some contrarian science theory that he heard on one of his favorite talk shows (e.g. sun spots, deep ocean magma, urban heat islands), and then devolves from there.

Why do some Americans believe the antithesis of the scientific consensus on issues like climate change?

This topic is explored by Professor Andy Hoffman of the University of Michigan in his new book, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate. As suggested by the title, Hoffman’s thesis – a distillation of considerable research from social scientists over the past several years – is that the public’s understanding of climate change, like other historically contentious issues such as evolution, acid rain, the ozone hole, and genetically modified food – is as much a cultural issue as a scientific one.

One of the key arguments is that a scientific consensus does not necessarily reflect a “social consensus,” the latter being something that the majority of society would consider to be true.  For instance, the scientific consensus that cigarettes harm human health emerged decades before the social consensus emerged.

Companies seeing impacts of climate change

At a time when the climate issue is being overshadowed in capitals around the world by economic concerns, some may be surprised that interest in climate change in both the investor and corporate communities remains strong. In a recent survey of the world’s 500 largest companies, 96 percent of the 379 responding said that climate change is dealt with at the senior executive or board level, while 78 percent have integrated climate change into their business strategies. In the same survey, 37 percent say the impacts of climate change are already affecting their operations, up sharply from just 10 percent two years ago.

To understand why, just look at the numbers.

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Evaluating Corporate Influence on the Climate Debate

Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a new report, A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy. It’s an important topic, as we know there are professional merchants of doubt whose sole purpose is to exaggerate scientific uncertainty on environmental issues where in fact the science is quite clear. As the report points out, we have seen this time and again with topics such as tobacco, leaded gasoline, SO2, asbestos, DDT, and now climate change. 

Here’s how the authors describe their aim: “…Ultimately, we seek a dialogue around climate science and policy that prioritizes peer-reviewed scientific information over the agendas of specialized interest groups.” That’s a goal we at C2ES certainly share. And toward that end, we’d encourage a somewhat more nuanced and realistic perspective on how companies behave and why. Let me explain.