The Case for Climate Optimism

By Sheila Bonini

There is no silver bullet for the environmental challenges we face. And no single individual, company or government can bring about the scale of change needed. But everyone — from governments to businesses and civil society — has a stake in building a sustainable future. Together, we can deliver solutions on a global scale.

For the past eight years, the federal government has been squarely in the vanguard of clean-energy policy and action on climate change. But today, the political landscape in Washington is shifting. And just as the current administration considers rolling back much of the recent progress on these crucial issues, the private sector is taking up the mantle of climate leadership.

At first blush, businesses may seem an unlikely candidate for this new role. But increasingly, businesses are recognizing the bottom line value of a low-carbon economy. For them, sustainability is an opportunity to generate economic value and advance lasting solutions to one of society’s greatest common challenges.

As America’s engine of innovation, businesses are particularly well-suited for this task. Throughout our nation’s history, leaders of industry have been the driving force behind the advent of new technologies and practices, changing not just the way we do business, but our very way of life. Now they are tapping into that same wellspring of ingenuity to address the threat of climate change.

And for those on the leading edge, investments in sustainability are already yielding dividends. Nearly half of American Fortune 500 companies have set climate targets. Last year alone, their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated $3.7 billion in savings.

As businesses of all sizes establish climate targets, many are becoming more ambitious with their goals. Around the world, more than 200 companies have set targets aligned with the best available climate science. Globally, 95 companies have committed to power their operations with 100 percent renewable energy, compared to only a handful of companies just a few years ago.

Some companies are expanding their efforts to reduce GHG emissions and waste by shifting the focus to their supply chains (which on average account for four times more emissions than a company’s direct operations). Walmart, for example, recently launched Project Gigaton, a groundbreaking endeavor that aims to reduce one gigaton (one billion tons) of emissions from their global supply chain by 2030.

Apple also continues to pursue bold commitments. Apple’s global facilities are now at 96 percent renewable energy, including 100 percent renewable energy for their data centers around the world, and they are driving clean energy adoption in their supply chain to address manufacturing emissions.

Apple is also partnering with the nonprofit sector to tackle the critical issues of deforestation and forest degradation – responsible for an estimated 15 percent of all global GHG emissions.

Through a five-year project, Apple and WWF are helping China—the world’s largest producer and consumer of paper products—reduce its environmental footprint by producing paper products from responsibly managed forests within its own borders. A major goal of the project is for 1 million acres of forest land to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or under improved forest management. We are well on our way to reaching the goal. Approximately 320,000 acres of forest land are in the final stage of receiving FSC certification and eight companies have committed to improving the management of 450,000 acres of forest land. Apple, with partners like us, is now protecting or creating enough responsibly managed forest to cover all of the virgin fiber needed for their packaging.

P&G is tackling climate change through an integrated approach that includes setting science-based targets, an ambitious renewable energy goal of 30 percent by 2020 and 100 percent long-term. They are also increasing energy efficiencies across their 100 manufacturing sites globally, which has resulted in $500 million in savings since 2010. And, they recently encouraged the American consumer to adopt energy-saving laundry habits through the Sustainable Laundry Pledge.

Apple, P&G, and Walmart are not alone. Savvy business leaders across a wide range of industries are steaming full speed ahead toward the low carbon horizon. And more are joining their ranks every year. But our greatest challenges still lay ahead. And we need more leaders to heed the clarion call to action.

When businesses like Apple, P&G, and Walmart make large-scale investments in the renewable energy space, it sends a powerful signal to their peers. And as more businesses engage in collective initiatives, they find it easier to lift up proven solutions and take them to scale. While these companies scale up their targets, many are also becoming more vocal in their support for local, state, national, and international policies—including the historic Paris Agreement—in order to accelerate America’s transition to a low-carbon economy and to make the U.S. more competitive in the world economy.

Long-term growth requires long-term vision. Now more than ever, America’s business leaders see the value of making sustainability business as usual. And that is reason for optimism.

Image credit: Pexels

Sheila Bonini is Senior Vice President of Private Sector Engagement for the World Wildlife Fund.

Climate & Environment

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