In part one of his CSR Cheat Sheet roundup of sustainability news, Oliver Balch reports on how the private sector has thrown down the gauntlet to governments to take climate action to the next level at the crucial summit in New York

On the eve of Climate Week New York, 87 multinational companies, with a combined worth of $2.3trn and direct emissions equal to 73 coal-fired power plants, announced they would set climate targets for their entire value chains aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C and reaching net-zero by no later than 2050.

In doing so they threw down the gauntlet for governments to step up their own ambition at the summit, which starts tomorrow, and take global climate action to the next level.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has asked governments to come to the summit, which begins today, prepared to sign up to revamped national climate action plans and long-term net-zero commitments.

It is encouraging to see many first-movers in the private sector align with civil society and ambitious governments by stepping up in support of a 1.5C future

In June, the United Nations Global Compact, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the We Mean Business coalition issued a call for action for companies to take the lead by setting 1.5C targets for their own operations and across their entire value chains, which on average account for 5.5 times higher emissions than their operations.

First responders in July included AstraZeneca, BT, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Levi Strauss & Co, India's Mahindra Group,  Royal DSM, SAP, Signify, Unilever and Vodafone.

The latest cohort adds the likes of Burberry, Singapore's City Developments Limited, Danone, Deutsche Telekom, Electrolux, Ericsson Group, Firmenich, IKEA, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Schneider Electric and SUEZ.

Of the 87, 16 have had targets covering their own operations verified by SBT: AstraZeneca, BT, Burberry, Deutsche Telekom, Dexus, Elopak, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intuit, Levi Strauss & Co, L’Oréal, Schneider Electric, SAP, Signify, Sodexo, The Co-operative Group and Unilever.

One of the new signatories, Salesforce, is a headline sponsor of Climate Week NYC. Last week, it launched a new cloud-based solution that promises to allow businesses to quickly track, analyse and report reliable environmental data. Typical of event-pegged announcements, the Salesforce Sustainability Cloud isn’t quite ready just yet. A beta version of the service is currently being tested, with the date for a full launch as yet unconfirmed. The US software-on-demand firm, also took the opportunity to flag up its longer-standing commitments on combating climate change, which include delivering a carbon-neutral cloud and achieving 100%  renewable energy by 2022.

“It is encouraging to see many first-movers in the private sector align with civil society and ambitious governments by stepping up in support of a 1.5C future,” said Guterres. “Now we need many more companies to join the movement, sending a clear signal that markets are shifting.”

Nearly two in three Americans aged 18-24 support the notion that US companies should be doing more to tackle climate change

If business backing for the climate strikes organised to coincide with Climate Week is anything to go by, then it is not just the big brands that are heeding Guterres’ call.

Outdoor brand Patagonia closed the doors to a number of its European stores and manufacturing units last week to allow staff time off to participate in the wave of climate strikes scheduled for Friday.

It has committed to doing the same this coming Friday to coincide with a second wave of day-long strikes. Burton has adopted a similar policy. The US snowboarding and clothing brand has also pledged to shut down its website for 24 hours, redirecting customers to the Global Climate Strike homepage instead. Research by media outlet Fast Company indicates that more than 150 companies did not open for business last Friday in solidarity with the climate strike in the US. The list includes the likes of Kickstarter, Stonyfield, The North Face and Ben & Jerry’s.

Such actions may dent immediate profits, but should go down well with consumers, especially younger shoppers. According to research commissioned by The Climate Group, the coordinator of Climate Week NYC, nearly two in three (64%) Americans aged 18-24 support the notion that US companies should be doing more to tackle climate change. The same demand goes for the country’s president. In a poll released by CBS News, more than half (56%) of US citizens want President Donald Trump to take action on climate change “right now”. That said, only one in four (25%) support the Green New Deal fronted by Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Many businesses closed their doors last week in support of the global climate strike. (Credit: Twitter)

The organic UK tea brand Pukka Herbs announced last week that it will be offsetting all its emissions this year. A B Corp-registered business, Pukka Herbs puts its current carbon emissions at 7,800 tonnes. Beyond its own operations, the Bristol-based brand (now owned by Unilever) is also looking to advise tea drinkers the world over to be mindful of over filling the kettle. Boiling water for three cups of tea requires the same energy as using a laptop for five hours, it notes.

Meanwhile German-headquartered technology and services multinational Bosch has pledged to become carbon neutral within a matter of months. By 2020, it promises that all of its more than 400 worldwide locations will boast a net-zero carbon footprint, a feat it will achieve through green electricity purchases, energy efficiency and carbon offsets for “unavoidable” CO2 emissions.

Bosch will strike long-term power-purchase agreements with new wind and solar farms around the world, increase its solar-generating capacity tenfold and reduce its electricity consumption by 1.7 terawatt hours per year by 2030, more than one fifth of its current consumption, a massive cut compared with a mere 1.5% decrease in total electricity use in 2018. Its decision to set aside €2bn for the task should help. As for its offset strategy, Bosch’s corporate comms department has – as yet – remained silent on both the quantity of emissions this will cover and the cost of doing so. At present, the company’s direct emissions (scope 1 & 2) stand at 3.3m metric tonnes.

78 of the top 109 energy companies currently have emission reduction targets that fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals

There was a reality check on the limits to the private sector’s preparedness to bend the curve from the business-backed Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which courted criticism for limiting attendance at its “high-level discussion” on 22 September to invitation holders only. Research by the investor-led Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) gives an insight into why the sector may prefer to keep schtum.

According to its report, which was released on the eve of Climate Week, 78 of the top 109 energy companies (72%) currently have emission reduction targets that fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals. Of the 31 that have adequately robust targets, meanwhile, only two come from the oil and gas industry (Shell and Repsol).

Almost half (46%) of the 50 oil and gas companies surveyed were revealed not to have quantitative targets to reduce emissions, including Phillips 66 and Petrobras.

More worrying still, six oil and gas firms either have no commitment on climate action or they fail even to recognise climate change as a business risk (nine electricity utilities and 14 coal miners fall into this same bracket). Considering that TPI represents investors with $15trn worth of assets under management, the sector may be pushed to rethink its reticence to speak out on climate-related risks.

Main picture credit: TTstudio/Shutterstock


UN Global Compact  We Mean Business  Salesforce  SBTi  United Nations Global Compact  Patagonia  Pukka Herbs  Global Climate Strike  Transition Pathway Initiative 

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