5 new corporate climate initiatives revealed at GreenBiz 19

GreenBiz 19 mainstage
Robert Keith
Fisk Johnson, CEO of S.C. Johnson (left), in conversation at GreenBiz 19 with founder and CEO of Plastic Bank, David Katz, and GreenBiz's editorial director, Heather Clancy.

More than 1,200 corporate sustainability professionals, NGO representatives, public sector representatives, consultants and other individuals committed to taking action on climate change gathered at GreenBiz 19 — the largest gathering for the now 11-year-old event.

Some companies in attendance used the venue as a megaphone to refresh existing initiatives — and to announce groundbreaking new ones. Here are five standouts:

1. An innovative way to help companies claim clean energy for data centers

Data center and information storage company Iron Mountain used the GreenBiz plenary stage to introduce Green Power Pass (GPP), a program that makes it simpler for colocation customers large and small to receive credit for Iron Mountain’s investments in renewable energy.

You can think of this mainly as a streamlined reporting program. Under GPP, Iron Mountain accounts receive data that can be used to report the greenhouse gas (GHG) or carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions associated with running certain loads in the company’s data centers. This is made possible thanks both to the company’s commitment to using renewable energy to power its data center sites and to a new carbon reporting protocol created by the Future of Internet Power (FoIP) working group.

Companies that participate in GPP receive a report on power consumption, and documentation about the solar, wind and other renewable energy sources associated with their loads. Previously, the only option for doing this would be to assign someone to figure out those metrics and then buy renewable energy credits or carbon offsets to offset that calculation.

Iron Mountain is the first company to take advantage of the FoIP protol, but the method is open source — meaning other data center operators likewise can offer it to their colocation customers. Early adopters include Akamai and WeWork, who were involved in the GPP design.

"I think it has great potential to be a breakthrough solution to be applied not just to data center leased spaces but to any landlord-tenant relationship," said Illina Frankiv, global energy program manager for WeWork, during the GreenBiz 19 main-stage announcement.

Iron Mountain has been an active participant in the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), a group of companies dedicated to making it simpler for corporate customers to procure clean power. It’s also a member of the RE100 campaign managed by The Climate Group and CDP, and in October the tech firm signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) for 145 megawatts of wind power from project in Kansas. Iron Mountain’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent by 2025 was approved in late February by the Science Based Targets Initiative.

(Listen to GreenBiz 350 Episode 161 for more perspective from Illina Frankiv and Kevin Hagen, Iron Mountain’s vice president of environment, social and governance strategy.)

2. A bottle made entirely of recycled ocean plastic

One of the highest-profile speakers at GreenBiz 19 was Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of consumer products company SC Johnson, who took part in a plenary session about addressing ocean plastics pollution.

Johnson used his time on stage to reveal that the company’s plans to use materials recovered in Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines to manufacture the containers for Windex Vinegar. This isn’t just some tangential offering: More than 8 million products could be on shelves in Walmart and Target (among other retailers) this spring, according to the company.

The plan is to introduce additional items throughout the SC Johnson product line, including one that uses ocean-bound "social plastic" sourced through Plastic Bank, a unique organization that reimburses people in developing economies with digital currency for the items that they collect and deposit at its kiosks. The company is creating eight centers in Indonesia in partnership with SC Johnson.

"By the fall, we’re actually going to be sourcing plastic from [Plastic Bank] and reincorporating it back into our products," Johnson said during the GreenBiz 19 main-stage conversation. 

3. A deeper commitment to renewable energy

3M became the latest company to join the RE100 campaign, and took immediate action by converting its headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, to renewable electricity sources from utility Xcel Energy.

The company is the largest in Xcel’s service area in eight Western and Midwestern states to make such a commitment. While 3M didn’t disclose how much power its corporate campus uses, it accommodates about 12,000 employees across 30 buildings and research labs. Most power for the site is being sourced from wind farms in Pipestone, Minnesota. The 3M site is being powered entirely by renewables as of March 1.

Gayle Schueller, vice president and chief sustainability officer for 3M, said three pillars support 3M’s overall strategy to embed sustainability into its operations and business strategy: science for circularity; science for climate; and science for community.

Last fall, the company adopted a mandate that requires engineers, product designers and manufacturing teams to consider "sustainability value" for every new product. The strategy behind that decision was driven in the company’s C-suited by 3M’s chief executive.

3M surpassed its previous renewable electricity goal — to achieve 25 percent by 2025 — last year, Schueller told GreenBiz during an interview at the conference.

The new RE 100 commitment calls for 3M to reach an interim target of sourcing at least 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025. It is one of the most diversified commitment to get on board with the campaign. Some solutions that will help 3M get there  — particularly for energy efficiency — will be designed within the company’s own massive engineering organization, Schueller predicted. 

"If we can do it faster, we will," she said.

4. More evidence of utility cooperation on renewables

General Motors continued its leadership on corporate procurement of renewable power — both electricity and thermal sources — by disclosing a new partnership with Michigan utility DTE Energy for about 300,000 megawatt-hours of wind power in the state.

The relationship will help GM completely cover the electricity needs of its operations in Detroit and Warren, and it was made possible by a new program called MIGreenPower approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission in January. The initiative makes it simpler for companies to procure clean electricity directly from the utility.

Rob Threlkeld, global manager of sustainable energy and supply reliability for GM, discussed the deal as an example of the important of green tariffs during a renewable energy tutorial at GreenBiz 19. "It helps demonstrate that local and regional industry partnerships are paramount to GM’s clean energy future, where renewables sources will account for 100 percent of our global energy footprint by 2050," he said, in a prepared statement.

GM sources about 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and it uses a variety of methods to do so — including virtual power purchase agreements, green tariff programs such as the DTE offering and on-site biogas installations. It has contracted for more than 1.71 terawatt-hours of clean energy in North America alone, according to the company’s latest press release on the topic.

5. A new idea for using precision agriculture to extend land stewardship

The farmer co-op Land O’Lakes used GreenBiz 19 to talk up a new relationship with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, organizations focused on protecting wildlife habitats.

The collaboration will help farmers assess more precisely, using the Land O’Lakes Truterra Insights system, which land might be more appropriate for preservation than for production. Introduce in September, Truterra is part of the coop’s initiative to help agricultural operations better understand the impact of various sustainability measures, such as different applications of fertilizer, regenerative farming practices or water conservation, have on acre-by-acre production. This new relationship adds conservation to the mix.

"This is about leveraging ag tech to promote precision conservation and optimization of potential profits, delivered by ag retailers who are trusted in the farm field and bolstered by the unique expertise of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever staff in identifying and deploying habitat projects," said KC Graner, senior vice president of agronomy for Central Farm Service, an ag retailer in Truman, Minnesota, in a statement. "Precision conservation doesn’t just pay off when you’re hunting pheasant and quail. It also pays off through the long-term health and productivity of your farming operation."

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