Beyond Recycling: Alcoa Slashes CO2 Emissions and Water Consumption

alcoa, aluminum, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, community engagement, water stewardship, carbon emissions, co2 emissions
Alcoa recycling plant in Tennessee

Sustainability is a tall order for any company in the business of smelting and fabricating metal. Alcoa’s lucrative aluminum business, for example, certainly results in those pesky greenhouse gas emissions along with other impacts on the environment.

But Alcoa has a solid record on environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility. The company has been listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for 10 years and is one of only 11 Fortune 500 companies to be listed on the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Disclosure Index. Last week Alcoa issued its annual sustainability report, which outlines some of the progress the company has achieved on the environment, water stewardship, community involvement and business.

One metric integral to Alcoa’s sustainability strategy is carbon emissions. In 2010, Alcoa set a goal to reduce CO2 emissions from its refining and smelting business, based on 2005 levels. Alcoa originally had a 20 percent reduction target for 2020 and 30 percent by 2030, and so far the $21 billion company is on track with a 23.1 percent reduction as of 2011. To that end, Alcoa boosted its goal to a 30 percent reduction by the end of this decade and 35 percent for 2030. Mercury, sulfur dioxide and VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions are also trending downward. Innovative products like Alcoa’s EcoClean, a coil-coated architectural panel that cleans itself and the surrounding air, is another example of how the company is tackling the challenges of air pollution and emissions.

Alcoa also has set water conservation goals for its global operations. Water consumption ticked up slightly in 2011, but when measured per unit of production, the company’s freshwater use declined by 10 percent. With production facilities located in such parched regions of the world as Australia and Saudi Arabia, Alcoa is investing in projects including updated cooling water treatment designs, water recycling and stormwater collection systems.

Community involvement is another pillar of Alcoa’s CSR agenda. Last year the company and the Alcoa Foundation together contributed $38 million to community programs. From science education programs to its work with environmental nonprofits, Alcoa has partnered with local organizations in most of the countries in which the company conducts business. Alcoa employees are important to the company’s community engagement projects, with over 900,000 hours volunteered last year, or 16 hours per employee.

Alcoa is open to feedback and suggestion from its stakeholders. Readers can complete a survey and share their thoughts with the company. With energy prices only set to increase in the coming years and more local communities speaking out against the pollution that large multinationals generate as a result of their operations, Alcoa will certainly have its hands full this decade. Nevertheless, the aluminum giant is showing that even the most carbon-intensive business can take steps to mitigate its impact on the earth and society.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Alcoa.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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