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A cheat sheet to industry-specific COP21 pledges

Updated: Which sectors are talking up bold action on climate change in Paris? Here’s the short list.

This article was last updated Tuesday, Dec. 8, to reflect additional commitments. It originally ran Friday, Dec. 4.

As we research this article, the Twitter filter we created to monitor COP21 climate change developments is updating with dizzying frequency — a tweetstorm of commentary and broad commitments aimed at achieving a low-carbon future.

Many grand proclamations related to the U.N. Conference of Parties in Paris originate with loosely organized private-sector alliances that stand behind specific goals. One fun example is Divest for Paris, a group of 500 organizations ranging from Europe’s largest insurance firm Allianz to the London School of Economics. What do they have in common? They have all agreed to purge their fossil fuels investments.

On Tuesday, World Resources Institute trumpeted the Sciences Based Targets Initiative, a group dedicated to setting their sustainable business priorities by using scientific data and evidence to steer them rather than relying on marketing priorities. At the launch, 114 companies expressed their intention to participate. Of those, 10 have already submitted (and been approved for) specific carbon management goals including Coca-Cola, Dell, Enel, General Mills, Ikea, Kellogg, NRG Energy, Procter & Gamble, Sony and Walmart.  

These sorts of declarations certainly draw attention. Then again, from a public relations standpoint, there’s safety in numbers. It’s relatively easy to avoid criticism for missing a goal later when it’s buried in a statement that includes literally dozens of other companies. That’s far less possible when an organization takes a stand on its own or with industry peers.

With that in mind, here’s a list of bold sector-related or company-specific action plans coinciding with the Paris climate negotiations. Check back for updates as the conference unfolds.

Agriculture and food

Perhaps no other industry faces as much operational risk from climate change as big food and agriculture. The corporations that produce packaged food and beverages — Mars, Kellogg, General Mills, PepsiCo, Monsanto and Coca-Cola among them — are heavily dependent on supply chains that stretch around the world. 

They’ve already felt the impact of warmer climates in shortages or higher costs for commodities from areas where droughts, floods or new insect infestations are working against farmers. Many are activists for carbon mitigation front: Mars was the first U.S. company to commit to going 100 percent renewable. 

At COP21, the biggest news in the sector came with Monsanto aiming to be carbon-neutral across all operations by 2021 and to produce carbon-neutral or carbon-negative agricultural products. To achieve the latter, Monsanto says it will prioritize innovations for corn and soybeans that enable soils to hold greenhouse gases enough to offset the crops' carbon impact.

"Carbon-neutral corn and soybean production, in the United States alone, has the potential to reduce crop production emissions equivalent to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to reducing 233 million barrels of oil consumption per year," the company said.

Monsanto also committed to reduce the carbon output of its pesticides, and to help farmers in its supply chain adopt low carbon farming methods. That includes regenerative farming techniques to use cover crops in off seasons and reduce tilling.

Another notable development comes from technology company Schneider Electric, in the form of a new rural Internet of things network that will connect more than 4,000 weather sensors across the United States. The company seeks to take the guesswork out of forecasts. It will share the data collected by its WeatherSentry devices with farmers, ranchers and landowners — it already has more than 100,000 agribusiness customers. 


"We are prepared to be accountable to our pledge." That’s an eye-catching closing sentence, and it’s how the CEOs of seven household-name clothing companies close their unified commitment (download) to increase clean energy purchased, reduce emissions and work to address climate change at the state, national and global level. Here are the companies they represent: Adidas Group, Burton Snowboards, Eileen Fisher, Gap, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., and VF Corp.

Levi’s is one of more than 150 major companies with significant U.S. operations that supports the White House-led American Business Act on Climate. A pledge signals corporate support of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for "economy side" emissions reductions of 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.


The heavy climate impact of skyscrapers, office campuses, apartment buildings and single-family homes is well-documented — inch for inch, they stack up to 40 percent of all the power consumed in Europe. That was catalyst enough for the new Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, which includes both government participants (think building codes) and other organizations with a vested interest in green construction. You can think of this as an umbrella group meant to coordinate and build on the initiatives already supported by its members.

On Thursday, a dozen major companies — part of the Prince of Wales' Corporate Leaders Group — announced their intention to prioritize nearly zero energy building (nZED) designs for new facilities. By 2030, they hope to push this philosophy into retrofits for existing offices and manufacturing plans. "Successful deliver of this goal will be accelerated by joint commitments from different parts of the building value chain including architects, designers, landlords, occupiers, contractors, intermediaries, and product and service suppliers," they wrote.

Among those signing this pledge: GlaxoSmithKline, Interface, Lloyds Banking Group, Philips, and Tesco. 

A similar proclamation comes from the World Green Building Council, in the form of a pledge supported by all 74 national councils to retrofit and certify the existing properties under their dominion for Net Zero status by 2050. That commitment covers roughly 13.5 billion square feet of biuldings (double the size of Singapore). 

It’s tougher to find specific individual commitments on the commercial side. However, one notable declaration comes from France’s Bouyges Construction firm, ranked among the world’s largest: It has allocated half of its research and development budget to sustainable construction practices and materials.

Sweden’s Skanska, an even larger company, has prioritized "Deep Green" projects such as net-zero energy buildings since 2010. In conjunction with COP21, it will scale up those efforts. One of its divisions aims for all of its projects to be Deep Green by 2020, in keeping with the goals of the Corporate Leaders Group (of which it is a part).

Consumer goods

One development raising eyebrows is a new initiative intended to boost the production of sustainable palm oil, beef, paper and other commodities. Two big backers: British retail giant Marks & Spencer and one of the world’s largest personal care and consumer products companies, Unilever.

The idea: Prioritize purchases for commodities grown through a managed system of planning and land restoration that eliminates deforestation. The CEOs of both companies note:

We are taking action but the private sector cannot succeed alone. We applaud the new political will governments are showing on forests today in Paris, with special gratitude to Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom for their leadership in supporting innovative partnerships with tropical forest countries.

The commitment by Marks & Spencer and Unilever falls under some work addressing deforestation being undertaken by the Consumer Goods Forum -- both companies are members -- but it's apparently so new that no other companies have technically joined it yet.

Separately, Unilever proclaimed its intention to become "carbon positive" within 15 years, by sourcing all of its energy from renewable generating resources by 2030. What's the big deal, given Unilever's aggressive focusing on minimizing its footprint for the past five years? This is actually the first time the company has set a specific data for its ambitions in this area.


Microsoft co-founder and now philanthropist Bill Gates thinks the world is adopting clean energy too slowly. That’s why he convinced a who’s-who of tech billionaires — including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff — to put more than $1 billion toward the fight against climate change.

Their organization, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, will work closely with a parallel public-sector initiative. In an essay explaining the rationale for the coalition, Gates wrote: "The history of energy transitions is clear: It takes years to develop new sources of energy, and decades to make them a significant part of our energy mix." It took four decades for oil to grow from 5 percent of the world’s energy supply to 25 percent, he noted.

The Low Carbon Technology Partnerships Initiative, launched last year in Peru, offered a comprehensive update on Monday during the COP21 sessions. There are nine different focus groups including renewable energy capacity, where participants hope to help double capacity by 2025; carbon capture and storage, where the group proposes a setting up a system of "zero emissions credits" to help kickstart more projects (progress is still limited); and "climate smart agriculture," where technologies for eliminating food waste are a huge priority. (See GreenBiz's separate coverage for more details.)

No one from tech giant Google is named on the Breakthrough founding team but the company has made no secret of its desire to run 100 percent of its operations using clean power. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, it honored the COP21 discussions with the "largest, most diverse purchase of renewable energy ever made by a non-utility company."

Its latest deals cover 842 megawatts from generating resources, including a solar plant in Chile and a wind farm in Sweden. That brings Google's green power total to more than 2 gigawatts of capacity.

You can also add Philips, the well-known purveyor of lighting, consumer electronics and healthcare technology, to the lengthy list of tech companies making sweeping commitments in conjunction with COP21. It pledged become carbon-neutral in five years; Philips cut its footprint by 40 percent between 2007 and 2015. A strategy to procure more renewable energy over time will be key to achieving this target, the company said. 

Noted Philips Lighting CEO Eric Rondolat:

As it stands, we've reached the climate change checkout and all the contributions from around the world have proved insufficient to prevent a potentially catastrophic rise in global temperatures. The world must set more ambitious goals to improve energy efficiency. Faster adoption of LED lighting, and a drive to renovate existing city infrastructure and greater use of solar-powered LED lighting would have a huge impact."


Acknowledging that continuing business as usual would make transportation the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among all industries, some transportation industry associations and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) put forward several initiatives to cut those projected emissions in half.

Already, before the expected growth, transportation accounts for 22 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, according to the UNEP. But, as the global population soars and incomes rise in some developing nations, the number of cars on the road globally is expected to double in 15 years from roughly 1 billion now to 2 billion in 2030, according to an oft-quoted study by Professor Daniel Sperling, director of the Insitute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis.

So the UNEP transportation group put forth initiatives to try to slow that rise. Signatories to these initiatives are mostly cities and trade associations, but then again, most of the initiatives have to do with public transportation, fleets and freight rules. 

Firstly, 65 countries have signed on to the Global Fuel Economy Initiative committing to doubling the fuel efficiency of government light duty fleets by 2050. 

Second, a handful of auto companies —  led by Tesla Motors and Michelin Nissan-Renault — joined with the UNEP and the International Energy Agency in committing to an "electro-mobility" call to action, with the aim of getting electric vehicles to account for 20 percent of all cars on the road in any country by 2030. They didn’t say how exactly they would do this.

But progress toward that goal might be helped by another of the initiatives, "MobliseYourCity (PDF)," which is about supporting developing countries in creating national urban transport policies that are sustainable. With well-considered national transportation plans, fewer people in developing nations with rising incomes will rush to purchase gasoline-powered cars, the thinking goes.

Perhaps most important of the initiatives is one concerning freight because of the amount of air pollution and carbon emitted from trucks, cargo ships and cargo jets. The Global Green Freight Action Plan involves dozens of countries that have agreed to pursue a global framework to dramatically reduce emissions of CO2, soot, particulate matter and other pollutants from freight vehicles by 2025. This initiative, too, has conspicuously few corporate names, but Deutsche Post DHL, a worldwide delivery service is one, as well as Hewlett Packard, IKEA and Volvo.


Long criticized for doing almost nothing to lower its emissions, the airline industry — or at least airports — stepped forward during COP21 with an emissions reduction promise.

The Airports Council International (ACI) signed a partnership with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to support the UN’s Climate Neutral Now offsetting scheme. 

The aim, they said in a joint statement is that “Emissions reductions will be achieved through use of energy-efficient lighting, cooling and heating systems, solar energy, climate-friendly ground transportation and a wide range of other measures aimed at climate neutrality.”

The UNFCCC, in turn, endorsed the ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation Program in which joining airports agree to measure and report their emissions and try to work on mechanisms to be carbon neutral. To date, 137 airports around accounting for roughly a third of global airline traffic have signed on to the carbon accreditation program. About 20 airports have become carbon neutral, the ACI said.

Airlines themselves, however, are not part of the partnerships.  A separate UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, has been negotiating with airlines to develop some approaches for reducing emissions from jets and airplanes. Fuel efficiency is the center of those discussions.

Winter sports resorts 

A number of winter ski resorts have teamed up with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project in a campaign to commit to converting to 100 percent renewable energy. A group which calls itself the I AM PRO SNOW coalition has already called upon the COP21 negotiators to reach a strong agreement on climate change, with a letter signed by some 193,000 resort owners, Olympic skiiers, ski apparel companies and recreational ski athletes.

But this week I AM PRO SNOW said two large U.S. ski resorts towns, Aspen, Colorado and Park City, Utah, committed to become 100 percent renewably powered by 2030.

Ski resorts use a lot of electricity, powering dozens of chairlifts to carry patrons to mountain tops and lighting up slopes and lodges.  So it is a major operating decision to change the power source of a ski resort town's electricity.

However, the ski industry has also been hit hard by climate extremes, at least in the U.S.  The drought in the Western states just about wiped out the ski season in California, Utah and Nevada last year while the extreme cold and persistent snow in the New England states detered skiiers as well.  Weeks of sub-zero temperatures in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and upstate New York kept some would be skiiers at home.

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