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6 of the best corporate climate action announcements from the last week

From Google to North Face, companies used Earth Day to share big plans. Here are the ones that stood out.

I've always been somewhat ambivalent about Earth Day. Actually, it's not just Earth Day, it's all the various environmental "Days," which seem to occur with dizzying frequency, often generating a flurry of media activity and not much more. Something about this kind of coordinated, performative concern too often seems like a sinecure for serious and sustained action.

As Carbon Brief's Simon Evans noted last week, three quarters of the carbon emissions released by human society has been released since the first Earth Day 50 years ago. We're good at having Earth Days, but Earth Years? Not so much.

Three-quarters of the CO2 ever released by human activity has been emitted since the first #EarthDay in 1970.

— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) April 22, 2020

And yet my jaded cynicism has been tempered this year. Something about the 50th anniversary of this hugely well-intentioned celebration of environmental action resonates. Perhaps it is the rapid adaptation to our locked-down world that the organizers have had to facilitate, delivering a series of virtual events and broadcasts that effectively have highlighted how even as we are living through the current health crisis there is no time to waste in tackling a still worse global threat.

Or perhaps it is the knowledge that this Earth Day must mark a watershed, the end of a 50-year period of ultimately unsustainable and fragile economic models and the start of a decade when a green industrial revolution simply has to gather pace.

Last week's flurry of news announcements have provided a much needed jolt of optimism, hinting that this industrial revolution may yet materialize. The United Nations and the COP26 co-hosts were to the fore on Earth Day, lending their voices to the growing chorus demanding governments deliver explicitly green recovery packages. Crucially, a major Ipsos MORI poll revealed that in a host of key economies overwhelming majorities agree climate change is as serious as the COVID-19 crisis and agree that green stimulus plans should follow forthwith. The public gets it.

Meanwhile, an avalanche of corporate environmental announcements joined the huge and growing pile of evidence that a step change has occurred in boardroom engagement with climate action.

By way of example, here are just five of the most eye-catching announcements from the literally hundreds that swamped our inbox:

Refinitiv pledges to deliver science-based emissions goals

The financial data giant formerly known as Thomson Reuters Financial & Risk business significantly enhanced its climate plans, pledging to set more stringent science-based emissions targets, bring its climate reporting into line with the TCFD recommendations and formally joining the RE100 initiative and committing to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewables.

"The pandemic is clearly providing humanity with a re-set moment: a stark reminder about our fragility as a species and a sharp lesson about what happens when we mess with nature," said CEO David Craig. "It is also a moment when the old rules about the role of the state no longer apply. We can therefore attack the twin challenges of COVID-19 and climate change simultaneously, not sequentially. After all, when again will we be at a moment when governments are injecting such unprecedented sums into the economy just as the world needs up to $7 trillion a year of renewable investments to hit 2030 development and climate targets."

The pandemic is clearly providing humanity with a re-set moment: a stark reminder about our fragility as a species and a sharp lesson about what happens when we mess with nature.

Google details greener data center breakthrough

The tech giant provided an Earth Day update on progress against its goal to deliver 24x7 carbon-free energy to all its data centers around the world. For the past three years the company has matched its power use with 100 percent renewable energy purchases, but that still leaves it reliant on fossil fuels at certain times when renewables are not available.

However, in a blog post last week, Google's Ana Radovanovic provided an insight into a project that promises to better match data center demand to zero carbon power availability. The "carbon-intelligent computing platform" works to automatically "shift the timing of many compute tasks to when low-carbon power sources, like wind and solar, are most plentiful."

"The first version of this carbon-intelligent computing platform focuses on shifting tasks to different times of the day, within the same data center," Radovanovic explained. "But, it's also possible to move flexible compute tasks between different data centers, so that more work is completed when and where doing so is more environmentally friendly. Our plan for the future is to shift load in both time and location to maximize the reduction in grid-level CO2 emissions."

Burberry debuts ReBurberry Edit sustainable materials collection

Global fashion brand Burberry unveiled a selection of products as part of its spring/summer 2020 collection, which deploy the latest sustainable materials. The Earth Day introduction of the "ReBurberry Edit" also coincides with the global rollout of dedicated sustainability labelling across all key-product categories.

The ReBurberry Edit features a range of eyewear crafted from pioneering bio-based acetate, and trench coats, parkas, capes and accessories created from ECONYL — a recycled nylon made from regenerated fishing nets, fabric scraps and industrial plastic. The garments are also made at facilities associated with energy and water reduction, textile recycling and chemical management programs, while a selection of bags have been produced using renewable energy.

"At the half-way point of our Responsibility Strategy to 2022, we remain dedicated to delivering tangible progress against our social and environmental targets, and our holistic, product-focused sustainability programs are central to this," said Pam Batty, vice president for corporate responsibility at Burberry. "We strongly believe that driving positive change through all of our products at every stage of the value chain is crucial to building a more sustainable future for our whole industry."

Fisher-Price embraces bio-based plastic toys

Toy giant Mattel used Earth Day to announce that the sugar cane-based plastic version of its Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack and Fisher-Price Baby's First Blocks are available for pre-sale.

The new products mark a major milestone in towards the company's goal to achieve 100 percent recycled, recyclable or bio-based materials in both its products and packaging by 2030.

"At Mattel, our purpose is to empower the next generation to explore the wonders of childhood and reach their full potential, and creating a more sustainable world is a key part of that," said Richard Dickson, president and COO, Mattel. "Our materials goal is just the beginning. We will continue to actively advance our sustainability efforts through additional improvements to our products, packaging and operations."

One recurring theme found in all the interventions from political leaders and commentators was that there is simply not time to pause climate action while we tackle the coronavirus crisis.

North Face unzips upcycling opportunities

Leading outdoorwear brand North Face marked Earth Day by taking the next step in its Renewed circular design and recommerce program with the Remade Collection, unveiling a range of one-of-a-kind upcycled garments.

Following the brand's first Renewed Design Residency — a workshop dedicated to training The North Face design team on the principles of sustainable design — the new collection offers items made from returned, damaged or defective products. The Remade collection is available online with prices ranging from $50 to $400.

BusinessGreen confirms plan for this autumn's Net Zero Festival

Perhaps part of the reason these announcements and the wider Earth Day events had such an impact this year is that they both provided a snapshot of normality and a reminder that crucial environmental efforts are continuing despite the deeply unusual and disorientating times we are all living through.

One recurring theme found in all the interventions from political leaders and commentators was that there is simply not time to pause climate action while we tackle the coronavirus crisis. Climate projects and programs need to not just continue, but accelerate.

To that end, BusinessGreen made its own announcement last week confirming this autumn's Net Zero Festival will proceed, either as a live event, a digital event or a mixture of the two depending on what circumstances dictate.

There is simply not the time to defer an opportunity to bring together leading business figures to discuss and accelerate the net zero transition. It is too important for that. Every quarter that passes is just under 1 percent of the available time to build a net zero economy. By the time the next Earth Day comes around, 3 to 4 percent of the available time will have lapsed. Thankfully, as the reaction to this year's Earth Day shows, more people are starting to realize the clock is ticking.

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