Image: Walmart is among several top companies to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, through projects including the use of solar panels at retail locations like this one in Covina, California.
Climate Week 2015 events are heating up all across New York City. On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addressed a group of world leaders, business professionals, activists and journalists and laid out his vision for a low-carbon future. He was joined by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and the two unveiled a new U.N. Climate Change Secretariat initiative on climate neutrality, called Climate Neutral Now.
Not be outdone by dignitaries and politicians, the business community is gearing up to make its own mark on Climate Week and the road to the COP21 negotiations in Paris. Underscoring the buy-in of the business community on climate action is a bold commitment from a group of top Fortune 500 companies: to meet 100 percent of their electricity needs using renewable sources.
On Wednesday, nine top firms -- Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, Voya Financial and Walmart -- joined the RE100 initiative, pledging to work toward the 100 percent renewable goal.
RE100 is an ambitious global campaign led by the Climate Group, in partnership with CDP, to engage, support and showcase influential businesses committed to 100 percent renewable electricity. The program launched at Climate Week 2014 with 12 big-name corporate partners, including Ikea, H&M, Nestlé and Philips, as well as Mars -- the first U.S. business on board.
The announcement brings the total number of major businesses signed on to the campaign to 36. Green desert economy developer Elion Resources Group became the first Chinese company to join in March, followed in May by the first Indian company, information technology leader Infosys. Last week saw the addition of Swiss financial services provider UBS, and earlier this week the first science-based company, Dutch business Royal DSM.
Exactly when these 100 percent renewable goals will be reached varies on a company-by-company basis, Emily Farnworth of the Climate Group, who oversees the RE100 program, told TriplePundit in an exclusive interview. But many firms are making significant headway after only a few months.
Ikea, for example, now meets around 40 percent of its electricity needs through renewable sources. The company also pledged $1.1 billion in June to help fund renewable energy infrastructure outside its own four walls. In another move of bold leadership, Infosys, the first Indian company to join the campaign, pledged to meet its renewable target by 2018 -- an aggressive goal that's sure to get noticed in the IT sector and beyond.
The original goal of the program was to inspire 100 of the world's largest businesses to commit to 100 percent renewable power by 2020. But the group is seeing far more interest than it first imagined and plans make its target even more ambitious: to bring on 100 major companies before the Paris climate talks in December.
"This year is such a big year on climate change," Farnworth told 3p. "There are a lot of businesses that want to make bold commitments to demonstrate -- ahead of the negotiations in Paris -- that businesses are actually very serious about tackling climate change. And a 100 percent renewable electricity goal is one thing that can really back that up."
"A lot of companies are looking to go public with some big goals ahead of [COP21], so I'm hopeful that we'll be on track by the end of the year."
Climate Week is the ideal place and time for this latest round of Fortune 500 firms to announce their commitments renewable power. With December’s climate talks quickly approaching, this key milestone event sends a timely reminder to negotiators that leading businesses want strong climate action from governments, while increasing demand for renewables themselves.
This perfect storm of factors hits the nail on the head when it comes to the Climate Group's original aspirations when it launched RE100 at Climate Week last year: to re-think electricity generation and supply in a way that's focused on "driving corporate demand" with an ultimate goal to "influence the broader power sector," Farnworth said.
"If you can change the way that companies are talking about engaging on the issue of switching to renewables, then you can have a big influencing factor on the whole sector," she explained.
"Although the individual corporate commitments are obviously very important and extremely impressive, what we're really hoping with [RE100] is that, overall, we can galvanize support for a 100 percent renewable electricity future."
America’s business drive to a low-carbon economy has been picking up speed recently. Some of the most recent RE100 partners, including Walmart, are doubling-down on prior commitments to source 100 percent renewable power. The big-box retailer first made known its desire to go renewable nearly 10 years ago and is also part of the EPA's Green Power Partnership.
"Walmart set out on its journey to be powered by 100 percent renewable beginning in 2005, and today’s pledge with RE100 further affirms the importance of our aspirational goal," Enrique Ostale, president and CEO of Walmart Latin America, said in a statement. "With much of Walmart’s projected growth over the coming years set to take place in Central and Latin America, we are committed to increasing demand for renewable energy globally.”
Walmart and Goldman Sachs were also two of 13 companies in July to commit to reducing their emissions as part of the American Business Act on Climate pledge – and the White House is expected to announce new names next month.
In short, it's becoming clear that the business community isn't about to leave climate action and adaptation up to world leaders. We've heard business after business report that climate change is already posing risks to their supply chains -- not to mention leaders in the space taking it a step further and identifying climate action as an opportunity.
TriplePundit will keep our eye on RE100 as we move closer to the COP21 climate talks. Watch out for commitments from your favorite brands, not to mention potentially huge changes within the utility sector as demand for renewables reaches new heights.
Image credit: Flickr/Walmart
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.