Corporate Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets

In the United States and around the world, many businesses are demonstrating their commitment to solving the problem of climate change. Not only are companies speaking out on the severity of the problem, they are setting and meeting corporate targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their businesses.

DuPont has committed to reduce its GHG emissions by 65 percent from 1990 levels by 2010. Shell will reduce its GHG emissions 10 percent from 1990 levels by 2002. And earlier this year, Alcoa announced it would reduce its GHG emissions by 25 to 50 percent by 2010.

In this report, authors Michael Margolick and Doug Russell of Global Change Strategies International, Inc. provide guidance to companies contemplating targets. Based on in-depth case studies of six diverse members of the Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council—ABB, Entergy, IBM, Shell, Toyota, and United Technologies Corporation—the authors trace the corporate target-setting process from the point of deciding to act on climate change, to the factors involved in setting a target, to management and employee engagement, and to evaluating, monitoring, and performance review.

A number of underlying themes emerged regarding companies’ motivations for setting targets. Among the most salient are these: companies that set GHG reduction and energy efficiency targets do so because they believe that setting and meeting the targets will improve their bottom line and drive innovation. They believe that over the long term, the world will have to deal with climate change, so their climate-friendly investments will pay off. They also believe that by taking the initiative, they can help the government to create a climate change policy regime that works well for business. It is one thing to advocate policies such as reasonable targets and timetables and flexibility for businesses to use various means (such as emissions trading) to implement clearly defined goals. It is another thing to actually demonstrate via corporate action that these measures work.

However, in taking these actions, these leading businesses are taking risks. They are betting that there will ultimately be government policy on climate change, that it will allow companies flexibility, and that it will reward and not punish early movers. If they turn out to be wrong, these companies could be disadvantaged relative to their less proactive competitors.

As climate policy continues to develop, we should keep the following lessons in mind. First, it is clear that GHG emissions can be substantially reduced, and that there are many approaches that can be employed to meet this objective. Second, emissions can be reduced in ways that are cost-effective, and that generate ancillary benefits that improve companies’ competitive positions. Finally, the diversity in the type and scope of targets and implementation activities that companies have taken on voluntarily indicates that policies to reduce emissions should be as flexible as possible. Flexibility not only allows for more cost-effective reductions, but also ensures that companies can focus their limited resources on achieving the greatest reductions. Companies and countries have only so much money to invest in addressing climate change. The more flexibility we allow, the more economically efficient our response will be, and thus the more environmental progress we will achieve.

The authors and the Pew Center would like to thank the companies featured in this report for sharing their experiences and perspectives, and acknowledge the members of the Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council, as well as Jennifer Nash of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Sarah Wade of Environmental Defense for their review and advice on a previous draft of this report, and Matt Jones and Bob Masterson for their valuable contributions. Additionally, the Pew Center would like to thank the Energy Foundation for its generous support of this project.

Executive Summary

A growing number of companies have voluntarily adopted climate-related targets—numerical performance objectives for indicators related to climate change, such as energy efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This report explores companies’ reasons for adopting targets, their choices of target types and levels, their plans for meeting the targets, and their progress to date. It also provides guidance, based on their experiences, to other companies that are considering climate-related targets.

The report is based on in-depth case studies of six members of the Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, supplemented by surveys and a workshop with additional BELC members. The case study companies are ABB, Entergy, IBM, Shell, Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America (TMMNA), and United Technologies Corporation. These particular companies were chosen to reflect a diversity of industries, target types, and headquarters locations.

The companies in this study vary widely in their reasons for adopting climate-related targets, and most have done so for several reasons. All of the companies see targets as improving their competitive market position by reducing production costs and enhancing product sales today, and in anticipation of regulatory and market environments of the future. Other reasons for setting climate-related targets include: to prepare for future regulation by investing in GHG emissions reductions now, to contribute to the design of efficient and equitable international and domestic GHG policies and programs, and to enhance corporate reputation via environmental leadership. However, voluntary targets can present risks to shareholders. Like the motivations for setting a target, the risks of doing so also vary by company. Risks include the following possibilities: governments will not recognize early action; governments will select a late baseline, rendering early reductions less valuable; and governments will not regulate at all, essentially punishing companies with targets for their good deeds because they, but not their competitors, will have incurred costs of making emissions reductions.

Companies have adopted several different kinds of targets. Some targets apply to purchases, others to companies’ own energy use or emissions, and others to products; some focus on greenhouse gases, and others on energy use; some serve as absolute limits, and others are relative to indicators such as production levels and revenues. Which type of target an individual company chooses depends on its products and production methods, policy environment, and business models. The target’s effect on emissions reductions, the existence of uncontrollable factors relating to emissions or energy use, the opportunity for cost-effective emissions or energy reductions, and the potential impact on company growth are four general considerations that influence a company’s choice of target type.

Companies also have different methods for setting the target level. A “top-down” target-setting process sets the level for the whole corporation at once, without a plant-by-plant analysis. Under a “bottom-up” process, the corporate target level is based on analysis of potential reductions by individual plants.

Top-down and bottom-up elements occur within each company’s target-setting process, but in widely varying proportions. Common steps in setting the target level include an emissions or energy use inventory, choice of target year, projection of business-as-usual emissions, and an iterative process that weighs potential target levels against the feasibility and costs of prospective action plans. It is beneficial to involve those who will be responsible for implementing the action plan in this process, in order both to ensure a reasonable target, and to put the organizational elements of the action plan into place. The case studies suggest that an environmental management system is a valuable tool for these purposes.

Naturally, the specific components of action plans to achieve climate-related targets depend on the target type and the products and production methods of each company. However, every company must make several general design decisions, including whether the plan will be designed through a “top-down” or “bottom-up” process, how the target will fit in with other environmental management activities, to what extent the plan will feature market mechanisms such as internal emissions trading and external offsets, and how to use research and development (R&D) resources and other means to drive technology innovation. Emissions trading may be useful for companies that wish to drive down costs by using market competition to encourage efforts to discover least-cost reductions. Internal emissions trading is especially useful for companies that are uncertain as to whether their allocation of the target among business units is least-cost, that are uncertain as to how their target will be achieved, and that have low trading transaction costs. Offsets may be valuable where the cost of emissions reductions within a company’s own operations is high. The action plan may also need to respond to external risks imposed by markets, technological change, and regulation. An assessment of these factors may be useful in explaining the target results, both internally and externally, should emissions or energy use trend off-target.

The companies studied found that incentive systems for specific ideas and initiatives, as well as reinforcement of commitment by senior management, motivated employees and managers throughout the company. Many managers indicated that targets drive innovation within the company. Sometimes the mere existence of emissions or energy use data generates interest in, and ideas for, improvements that turn out to be profitable on their own. Companies also found that climate-related targets have a positive influence on employee morale. Internal communications are important in all cases — increasing employee understanding of climate change helps gain buy–in to the target, and generates new ideas on how to improve environmental performance.

Communications efforts and styles also vary by company. Typically, firms with relatively high direct emissions and top-down target-setting processes have higher-profile climate change communications efforts, including speeches and public presentations by the CEO. Companies with lower direct emissions, that have had environmental management systems in place for a number of years, and that have bottom-up target-setting processes, tend to take a more low-key approach to communications. Several companies have benefited from collaboration with third parties, such as environmental non-governmental organizations, to help get the message across. Partnerships with non-governmental organizations can build credibility and provide useful services.

Finally, all the companies studied are committed to reach their targets systematically, at low cost, and according to conditions in their particular businesses. The companies consider the achievement of climate-related targets to be as important as other critical indicators of the health of the business.