Ceres Launches a Corporate Call-to-Action on Climate Change
On March 30th, the lead article in the New York Times was blunt: Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst is Yet to Come. That headline followed the March 22nd tragedy where a rain drenched hillside above Washington State’s Stillaguamish River collapsed, killing at least 28 people. April headlines warn of severe drought in Syria that is decimating the wheat harvest and threatening deeper suffering in that war-torn country. The economic costs of these catastrophes will be enormous. The human costs are unfathomable.
Extreme weather events are increasing in the U.S. and around the globe, and their impacts are rising - right alongside sea levels. Yet as ecological, economic and human costs mount, one of the world’s largest carbon emitters, the U.S., is hamstrung by a deeply polarized Congress. In an effort to move the needle, in April 2013 Ceres and its Business for Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition launched the Climate Declaration, a corporate call-to-action.
Policymakers listen to business leaders, and what started as a clarion call from 33 founding signatories quickly mushroomed to several hundred within a month. Today, more than 750 companies have signed the declaration—including leaders like Apple, Sprint and GM—as an indication of their conviction that a bold response is not only urgently needed, but offers enormous economic opportunity.
Businesses already see climate-related impacts rippling across their operations and supply chains. Mars Inc., the world’s leading confectioner, relies upon West African cocoa that may not be viable in 20 years. "We see crops suffering from climate change, and that flows through to us in terms of price," says Kevin Rabinovitch, director of global sustainability at Mars. To aid the industry, the Virginia-based company has invested in critical cocoa sourcing regions to give farmers the knowledge and technology to triple their yields, and it’s committed to powering100 percent of its global operations with renewable energy by 2040.
Devastating floods in Pakistan have repeatedly disrupted cotton production for Climate Declaration signatories like Levi Strauss & Co. and VF Corporation, whose brands include Lee, Wrangler, Timberland and North Face. VF buys about one percent of the world’s annual supply of cotton, which is susceptible to increased pests, water stress, plant diseases and extreme weather. “Water scarcity and drought – especially in the areas such as the Western United States, China, Pakistan, Brazil and India – have caused cotton prices to fluctuate dramatically, impacting the price of cotton, and thus VF’s profitability,” Letitia Webster, senior director of global corporate sustainability at VF Corporation, told Congressional members of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change on April 10.
Webster and top business executives from IKEA, JLL, Mars and Sprint met with members of the task force to urge for stronger policy action on climate change to mark the one-year anniversary of the Climate Declaration, and they were joined for additional Congressional meetings by executives from Aspen Skiing, Ben & Jerry’s, Burton Snowboards, CA Tech, Calvert Investment, eBay, Eileen Fisher, Nike, Starbucks, Symantec, Unilever and the Outdoor Industry Association, which represents more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
Repeatedly throughout the day, declaration signers were thanked by representatives and their staff for stepping forward and for bringing a business perspective to Washington that is seldom heard.
Signers of the declaration agree that the current climate challenge can be pursued as one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century. Colin Dyer, president and chief executive officer of JLL, a real estate services corporation that manages three billion square feet of real estate, or the equivalent of 452 Pentagons, told the bicameral task force, “Last year, we helped clients reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 million metric tons. In the process we saved more than $2.5 billion of energy costs for them.” With commercial buildings contributing 40 percent of greenhouse gases globally, Dyer sees enormous opportunity—both economic and environmental. “Ultimately for ourselves and for our clients, we at JLL believe that sustainability is good business and the right thing to do,” he surmised.
Like JLL, many declaration signers have begun to adjust accordingly. KB Home, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, has built more than 80,000 EnergyStar certified homes since 2000, saving millions of dollars for homeowners and preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to roughly 39,000 vehicles. IKEA, which already powers 90 percent of its facilities with solar energy announced to the bicameral task force that it was purchasing a wind farm in Illinois that will allow it to power 165 percent of its entire U.S. operations with renewable sources.
Policymakers need to catch up with industry. In a June 2013 speech President Obama concurred and cited the Climate Declaration as he urged legislators to heed its message: “To address climate change, Congress should take a note from corporate America, because even if concerns about sustainability or climate change are put to one side, being careful with resources, managing costs for the future, controlling energy use and looking after your people is good for business.”
Last October, CBS featured the Climate Declaration’s central message on the Jumbotron in New York’s Times Square. At 25 stories high, it was a big, bold message from America’s corporate power structure. Legislators need to be paying attention, because the declaration’s words - and the business leaders behind it - are changing the conversation in Washington.