Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Jan Lee headshot

Disney Upgrades 2013 Carbon Offsetting Goals

Words by Jan Lee

Carbon offsetting has been a major focus for the Walt Disney Company for years. In 2011, the entertainment leader made news by voluntarily setting a price for its own carbon emissions as part of an ambitious effort to reduce its own greenhouse gases. In 2012, it added to that initiative by announcing its intention to of achieve at least 50 percent of its long-term goal of zero net direct emissions of greenhouse gases.

This year, Disney is going a step further by including indirect emissions in that program and increasing the price it sets for carbon emissions to $11 to $14 per metric ton. The company also set a goal of reducing its dependence on electricity from existing assets by 10 percent compared to its 2006 baseline.

Disney is one of a small group of mega-corporations that has set its own internal price for carbon emissions. While many large nations in the world have been reticent to sign onto a pricing system, Disney, Shell and Microsoft have all adopted internal pricing strategies.

Interestingly, it was the launch of Disney’s two ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy in 2011, and the realization (according to the Disney Company) that their previous environmental strides had been set back “significantly" by the two ventures that led to the internal pricing system.

“Each of our businesses is charged for its proportion of the Company’s overall direct emissions footprint,” explained Disney in a recent press release. “The higher the carbon footprint, the more they pay. We have built this into our capital planning process as well, so businesses have to take the price of carbon into account while planning new projects."

One of the many advantages with this system, according to Disney, is that it helps encourage its subsidiaries to seek environmentally friendly ways to improve their operations. The company acknowledges that the cruise business is one area where cleaner technology is needed, and thus Disney uses the higher cost it charges its cruise industry to fund research projects.

“Our cruise business has tasked our Imagineers in research and development with the task of identifying cleaner fuel options.”

While results from fledgling internal carbon offsetting programs can often be hard to trace, Disney’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship can be found in several areas of the world, including Peru’s lush Alto Mayo Forest. Disney’s partnership with Conservation International helps eliminate the deforestation techniques that have been used by coffee farmers that are rapidly destroying its forestland. Rather than expelling all of the farmers from the protected area, a limited number are taught sustainable farming methods, thereby making them “stewards” of the land that helps support their livelihood and protect its governance.

But the partnership has another goal that complements Disney’s focus on carbon emissions: it supports REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, a strategy that works on a global basis to reduce carbon emissions.

Disney received some criticism when it unveiled its plan to set internal prices for its carbon emissions in 2011. Jane Burston, founder of Carbon Retirement, suggested that "some of the project types chosen (by Disney) have a history of not delivering additional emission reductions." She noted however, that "Disney’s commitment to taking full responsibility for their unavoidable emissions is hugely positive in principle."
The environmental organization Friends of the Earth, which, also in 2011, levied criticisms against the global cruise ship industry for what the organization saw as a lack of environmental stewardship, noted that Disney was one of the few cruise ship operators that attempted to mitigate sewage pollution caused by its ships.

According to Disney, however, its 2013 “upgrade” of its environmental goals is further evidence of its long-term commitment to reduce carbon emissions. So are its successful environmental accomplisments, which include converting the combustion systems for its park vehicles to soy-based fuels and utilizing a more sustainable building design that helps cut down energy usage on its Glendale, Calif. campus.

Disney’s internal carbon emissions pricing system should serve as encouragement to those nations around the globe that are still trying to figure a way to implement such programs. If a company the size of Disney can regulate itself and still contribute to more than eight different conservation programs that change the way park lands are managed and small farmers improve the land, perhaps the world’s leading governments can as well.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

Read more stories by Jan Lee

More stories from Leadership & Transparency