Why General Mills, Dell, Unilever Care About the COP21 Climate Talks
As the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change in Paris approaches, an increasing number of companies are pledging to reduce their own emissions and carbon footprints â and seeing cost savings from these actions.
Some 90 percent of the worldâs countries have submitted climate pledges to facilitate a global agreement that will prevent global warming beyond a 2 degree Celsius increase, Green Builder reports. The remaining 10 percent are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks.
The private sector is stepping up their actions, too.
Doug Kramer, CEO of spray-foam insulation company Lapolla, attended a series of meetings at the White House where the Obama administration asked CEOs âfor input about how we, collectively, can expedite the process of finding out whatâs practical from a technology and cost standpoint to set deadlines for the phase out of harmful chemicals without jeopardizing business,â Kramer tells Green Builder.
The outcome of the meetings: 81 companies have now joined the White House-led American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Some 68 companies âÂ including Autodesk, Best Buy, Bloomberg, CA Technologies, Dell, eBay, EMC, General Mills, Ikea, Kelloggâs, Levi Strauss & Co., LâOreal, Mars, Nestle, Nike, PG&E, Starbucks, Unilever and The Walt Disney Company â joined the White House initiative last month, joining 13 company pledgesÂ announced in July.
Sustainable Companies Outperform Peers
Climate Action, which establishes partnerships between the businesses and the public sector, says sustainable companies have outperformed their peers by 9.1 percent over the past four years. The organization recommends businesses take action now to engage with COP21 in December, including making online pledges to align their internal policies and targets around carbon reduction with their peers. Companies can also become members of organizations such as Business Social Responsibility (BSR), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Ceres.
âMany companies see climate action as an economic opportunity that can spur new businesses and jobs â while also benefiting consumers,â says Ceres spokesperson Tessa Castellani. âConsumers are increasingly pressing companies on what they are doing to cut their carbon footprints, adopt renewable energy or become more sustainable.â
Climate Change Brings Rising Business Costs
Companies are also seeing their costs rise from extreme weather and other climate-related events, which affect their supply chains and operations Castellani says. âUnilever for example estimates that natural disasters linked to a changing climate â in particular, food price increases, water scarcity and reduced productivity in many parts of the agricultural supply chain â cost the company around $400 million annually,â she says. âConversely, acting on climate change can help companies save on energy costs, such as by implementing energy efficiency initiatives. Adoption of renewable energy can also shield companies from volatile fossil fuel prices.â
But, Castellani cautions, businesses acting alone to reduce their carbon footprints canât solve the issue. Government policy is essential, âwhich is why companies care about a strong outcome at the COP21 talks.â
Economic Benefits of Emissions Cuts
General Mills is one of the recent American Business Act on Climate Pledge signatories. The global food company says addressing climate change is imperative to its long-term viability. âFor example, increased severe weather events caused by climate change will negatively impact the availability and supply of raw material from agriculture,â says Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills. âIn addition, climate change will place stress on vulnerable growing regions that provide important crops like cocoa-growing regions of West Africa and almond orchards in California.â
General Millsâ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its operations has provided a range of environmental and economic benefits to the company, Lynch says. Its manufacturing plant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is turning waste from Greek yogurt into biofuel, reducing the plantâs carbon footprint by 14 percent and saving $2.4 million each year through alternative processing of the waste and energy generation.
Similarly, General Millâs oat mill in Fridley, which produces oat flour for Cheerios, generates clean energy from oat hulls, reducing the millâs carbon footprint by 21 percent and saving more than $350 million in natural gas costs. And in Guangzhou, China, General Mills reduced emissions by more than 25 percent after switching from oil to natural gas. This will save about $1 million yearly at the Guangzhou site alone, Lynch estimates.
Opportunity for Tech Innovation
Tackling climate change also brings opportunity, says Dellâs principle environmental strategist John Pflueger. Dell, another American Business Act on Climate Pledge signatory, has measured and managed its greenhouse gas emissions for years.
The company sees opportunities in âunderstanding how we, our customers, and our stakeholders can leverage Dellâs technologies to address these issues directly,â Pflueger says. âOur business value lies in our ability to help our customers achieve their goals. In some cases, this means better siting of wind turbines on wind farms. In others, it means enabling the Internet of Things to improve our ability to understand and manage our environment.â
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