Top American companies are taking action on climate—and saving billions

Switching to renewable energy sources and cutting energy waste has saved some US companies hundreds of millions of dollars. Creative Commons: Statkraft, 2009.

Switching to renewable energy sources and cutting energy waste has saved some US companies hundreds of millions of dollars. Creative Commons: Statkraft, 2009.

Many American companies are taking strides to integrate clean energy and energy efficiency into their operations, according to a new report from Calvert Investments, Ceres, David Gardiner & Associates, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Released on Thursday, the analysis shows that 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies have set targets for greenhouse gas reduction commitments, renewable energy, or energy efficiency.

Among the top one hundred of these companies, even more are taking action against climate change. As of last year, 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies had set goals for either renewable energy or greenhouse gas reductions.

For many companies, adopting renewable sources and reducing energy waste has cut costs. Walmart, for example, uses more solar power than any other company in the United States and aspires to be supplied entirely by renewable power.

Mike Duke, President and CEO of Walmart said:

More than ever, we know that our goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy is the right goal and that marrying up renewables with energy efficiency is especially powerful. The math adds up pretty quickly—when we use less energy that’s less energy we have to buy.

By 2020, the company aims to reduce the energy intensity of its buildings by 20 percent and drive the production or procurement of 7 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy. These two commitments are projected to save the company $1 billion annually once they are fully implemented.

Other companies that have seen significant savings from energy and climate goals include UPS ($200 million annually), Cisco Systems ($151 million), and PepsiCo ($120 million).

Some companies that have instituted emissions reductions or renewable energy targets also have done so to demonstrate corporate leadership. Apple has recently taken this approach by making data related to the company’s impact on climate change publicly available while also working to improve the energy mix that powers its data centers and storefronts.

Apple CEO Tim Cook made headlines in March for defending the company’s environmental policies and telling climate change skeptics to ditch Apple stocks.

Leading on climate, however, is becoming less of a hard sell in the boardroom as it becomes increasingly clear that the impacts of global warming are hitting business hard—and will continue to do so until emissions see a sharp drop-off.

A report from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) released last month found that 63 of America’s S&P 500 companies have already spent money to counter the effects of climate change. Tom Carnac, President of CDP in North America, said:

Dealing with climate change is now a cost of doing business. Making investments in climate change-related resilience planning both in their own operations and in the supply chain has become crucial for all corporations to manage this increasing risk.

The extreme weather events tied to climate change—like the devastating hurricanes in the Philippines and along the US East Coast—can halt shipping operations and disrupt critical supply chains the world over, causing businesses to lose money.

While the report lauds the climate action that some companies have taken, it also shows that many others have substantial room for improvement. 70 percent of companies in the Fortune 250 to Fortune 500, for example, lack a greenhouse gas, renewable energy, or en energy efficiency target of any kind.

The report also says that companies could make their environmental policies more ambitious by committing to time-bound agreements for greenhouse gas reductions, ideally involving targets that align with reductions necessary to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

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Quick Facts on Energy Efficiency

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  • The US military has begun using energy efficient technologies to cut energy consumption and minimize dangerous fuel transport in Afghanistan and Iraq, from solar panels to solar rechargeable batteries. “There’s nothing that raises energy [awareness] like actually putting solutions in somebody’s hands.” Source: Press Release

  • The US Government will install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House to demonstrate that these technologies are available, reliable and ready for installation in homes across the country. Source: Press Release

  • Chinese NDRC Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua said“Countries have realized that the traditional high-carbon growth model is unsustainable and that it is in the national interest to grow in a more sustainable and resource-efficient manner. The carbon and energy intensity targets set out in China’s 12th Five Year Plan, together with the forthcoming development of a […]

  • Global sales from energy efficiency products totaled €540 billion in 2007. Source: WWF

  • In order to overcome energy poverty in developing countries, off-grid and decentralized renewable energy is often bestsuited to provide energy services cost-effectively. Also, highly efficient modern biomass stoves are the best technologies to improve substantially the health impact of traditional biomass burning of no more than maximum 20% energy conversion efficiency. This will also reduce […]

  • With less than one tenth of the energy portfolio targeting access and only 30 percent of its energy portfolio funding new renewables and energy efficiency, the World Bank is not in fact prioritizing energy access and clean energy in its lending at the moment. Source: Access to Energy for the Poor: The Clean Energy Option

  • Solar is inevitable not because of carbon but because it is the most effective way to reach the un-electrified poor. Source: Carbon War Room

  • Energy efficiency and key renewable technologies (such as wind) are resilient to other resource threats such as rising water stress, which are posing increasing constraints on conventional thermal power generation. Source: HSBC

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  • Based on current government policies, primary energy demand will increase globally by 36% between 2008 and 2035, or 1.2% per year on average, compared with 2% per year over the previous 27-year period.  >> IEA  

  • Walmart is moving ahead with plans to eliminate 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain, and GE has announced it has bought 25,000 electric vehicles, the largest single EV purchase in history.  >> GPN  

  • The Empire State Building retrofit will reduce energy consumption by more than 38%, and slash CO2 emissions by 105,000 tonnes over 15 years.  >> Johnson Controls

  • DuPont has cut its energy use to 19% below what it was in 1990, saving between $3 and $4 billion since 2000.  >> Newsweek

  • Spain’s Energy Efficiency Strategy 2004-2012 reduced Spain’s energy consumption per unit of GDP by more than 11.3% between 2005 and 2008.  >> Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade

  • From 1991 to 2005 China achieved average annual GDP growth of 10.2% with only 5.6% annual increase in energy consumption.  >> Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

  • Chinese investments of $912 billion (US) in clean energy and environmental protection will create 10.6 million jobs, boost GDP by $1.3 trillion and provide an additional $220 billion in energy savings.  >> CCICED