by Richard Luscombe, The Guardian
Since taking office, Donald Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, rolled back numerous protections against environmental pollution and espoused coal as the fuel of the future, all in the name of job creation and ending what he sees as the “theft of American prosperity”.
Yet the big businesses he claims to champion are increasingly choosing to ignore the US president’s sceptical stance on climate change and press ahead towards their own environmental goals without him.
Several of the country’s corporate giants, including Walmart, General Motors, Ford and Mars, appeared this week at the second annual Companies v Climate Change conference in Miami to showcase their progress and reinforce their belief that sustainability and other green targets can be achieved irrespective of the policies and purpose of the White House.
“We were disappointed [the] US pulled out of Paris, but what’s so great is what companies can do to make a difference,” said Zach Freeze, senior director for strategic initiatives in sustainability at Walmart, the first retailer to announce science-based targets for emissions reductions and a key signatory to the We Are Still In declaration that followed Trump’s Paris withdrawal.
“We all have a lot we can do and should do, it’s becoming more and more of an imperative. We’ve been working on this for a long time, prior to this administration [and] we’re thinking about 10 years from now where we’re going to be. Regardless of what’s happening, this is something we believe in. If we do it the right way we will see progress.”
Walmart, which claims 260 million customers per week worldwide, and employs 1.4 million workers in the US alone, earlier this year announced its Project Gigaton initiative that aims to reduce CO2 emissions globally by one billion metric tons before 2050.
Other companies at the conference in Miami – a poignant venue following flooding from Hurricane Irma in September and the threat of obliteration from sea-level rise within the next century – touted their own achievements in defiance of Trump’s climate stance. For example, General Motors’ purchase of 200 megawatts of wind energy for its Ohio and Illinois plants achieves 20% of its target to use only renewable energy sources by 2050. Confectionery giant Mars, meanwhile, has launched a $1bn sustainability plan, targeting a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases.
For Jason Youner, chief executive and founder of Companies v Climate Change, it is further proof that green-thinking American businesses are filling the environmental void created by the Trump administration’s cynicism.
“The corporate sector is not paying heed to the president’s agenda. They’re making all kinds of commitments and they’re putting all kinds of policies in place and changing the way they operate and do business and making a lot of improvements,” he said.
“The message is one of optimism and hope. The president can only do so much, he’s full of bluster and likes to talk a lot and kind of exaggerates his influence. The companies are seeing they can take the lead and influence what happens on the ground, so there’s hope and optimism. Companies around the world are moving forward and not letting this one rogue administration hold them back.”
Alana Libow, director of sustainable development for Danone, a signatory to We Are Still In and whose Evian bottled water brand business in North America has been certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust, believes companies can turn the political debate to their advantage as their customers and shareholders demand more environmentally friendly practices.
“It’s an incredible opportunity in an ironic sense, because business always plays a tremendous role in the actions we all take in our social responsibility,” she said. “It only highlights the opportunity and importance for business. Danone was founded on a dual commitment to our shareholders and society, way before we got into the worlds of sustainable development, corporate responsibility, being green. It’s a moment of highlight, nothing has changed in our business and we continue moving along and being a leader in the space.”
Still more can be done by the corporate world, some conference attendees believe. Nicole Labutong, technical manager at CDP, a disclosure and advisory group for businesses, pointed out that only 325 companies from tens of thousands with stated environmental goals had set science-based targets.
“Science is true whether you believe it or not. It’s up to non-state actors to do their part, say you’re ‘still in’ and make up for governments that might not believe in science,” she said.
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- Germany goes greener with $95 billion push for train over plane - January 14, 2020
- EU sets out trillion euro plan to avert ‘climate crash’ - January 13, 2020