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Sept. 25 — The “I’m-not-a-scientist” defense often used by politicians to deflect questions on climate change has moved into the corporate realm—in a good way.
Leading companies are increasingly recognizing that when it comes to cutting their emissions of heat-trapping gases, it pays to know whether what they are doing lines up with what scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“We make toothpaste. It’s what we do,” Lori Michelin, who leads Colgate Palmolive’s global sustainability efforts, said Sept. 25 at a meeting of corporate sustainability officers hosted by the United Nations Global Compact in New York. “We’re not really climate scientists.”
So when Colgate Palmolive wanted to set a science-based target for cutting its emissions, it turned to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) for help. Using a method they developed, the company has committed to reduce the carbon footprint of its manufacturing 25 percent by 2020 over a 2002 baseline.
“Are we sure we’re going to meet this goal?” Michelin said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to make it.”
Long-standing efficiency efforts have already helped the company cut its energy use and save $425 million in avoided energy costs. “So there is money to be made here,” she said, adding that “these savings reinforce that committing to sustainability is the right thing to do, and that it is a good business decision, too.”
Like Colgate Palmolive, the majority of the world’s largest companies already have emissions reduction goals, but only a few of them actually align their targets with an internationally agreed-upon goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
They hope to have 100 companies signed on by year’s end, when nations meet in Paris to hammer out a potentially groundbreaking agreement on climate change that is likewise centered around the 2-degree target.
“It really is a new world in terms of corporate responsibility because it’s no longer about just being best in your sector,” Samantha Smith, who leads WWF’s work on climate and energy, told Bloomberg BNA after the meeting. Instead, corporations are trying to show that they are contributing their fair share toward the fight against climate change.
The three latest companies to do so are Coca-Cola, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, each of which have successfully set science-based emissions targets that go out to 2020 or 2025. Among the companies pledging to join them is global technology powerhouse Siemens.
Jan Rabe, sustainability director for Siemens, said the company—which makes wind turbines, medical equipment and more—has science at its core, so it makes sense to “mind the science” when setting emissions targets.
Rabe said Siemens also recognizes its moral obligation not to “shy away from this problem” of climate change but to be part of the solution by offering technologies that can lower society’s emissions.
“We do it also for a very selfish reason because it is a very positive business decision,” he said at the meeting.
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