Fortune 500 Voices Give Glimpse of Climate Future Under Trump

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By Dean Scott

Nov. 15 — The UN climate summit in Morocco got an early glimpse of who just might be doing the heavy lifting on U.S. climate action if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his pledge to “cancel” the Paris climate pact—large U.S. companies that vow to soldier on no matter what lies ahead.

Mars Inc., one of the first of what are now dozens of Fortune 500 companies—including Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart—that are moving to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sees the same business case for their actions as before the election, said Kevin Rabinovitch, Mars’ global sustainability director.

The total companies vowing to hit the 100 percent renewable target under their RE100 partnership has grown to 83 in just two years.

“We had a CEO retire” in 2014, Rabinovitch said “and had a new CEO take his role since we started our targets. We didn’t walk away from the targets and rewrite the whole thing—and we won’t rewrite them when this [current] CEO retires” either, he said.

The Nov. 15 remarks from Rabinovitch and other sustainability directors from Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Ingersoll Rand, Microsoft, and Edison Electric Institute came during a discussion of future Fortune 500 climate actions that was held on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Marrakech.

Uncertainties Abound

Nearly 200 nations are negotiating in two weeks of talks slated to end Nov. 18 how to implement the 2015 Paris global climate pact amid continuing signals from Trump advisers that he’ll pull the U.S. out of the deal. Trump also has vowed to target existing U.S. climate programs and regulations as well as contributions to overseas climate funding.

Other uncertainties in the next administration include the future for production and investment tax credits for renewable energy—for four or six more years, depending on whether it is a solar or wind project—which were put in place in a December 2015 funding extension but may get another look by the new administration.

Rabinovitch said Mars remains committed to its pledge to hit net-zero emissions in its operation by 2040, having achieved its short-term pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2015. To meet those goals, it is backing large-scale wind farm projects such as the 118-megawatt Mesquite Creek, Texas, project.

“These targets, these programs [and] these goals need to transcend individual leaders, be they in governments or in corporations,” Rabinovitch said at the forum, held by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

Talent, Another Scarce Resource

The same rationale for corporate commitment to clean energy and cutting emissions—such as managing a major commodity risk for companies, in this case giving surety to the long-term cost of electricity—also helps keep the company attractive to highly prized employees, Rabinovitch said,.

“We see a clear business case for this” continuing, he said. But “it also makes people want to come and work for us,” the Mars sustainability director said, “and one of the resources that is scarce in the future is talent.”

Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft were among 11 U.S. companies—or companies with significant operations in the U.S.—that backed speedy entry into force of the Paris climate agreement in an Oct.5 letter.

Besides endorsing the pact’s temperature goal of keeping worldwide global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the companies said the deal reached in December 2015 will help “shift investment toward the diverse range” of clean energy and other technologies needed to confront climate change.

Microsoft Adding Wind Capacity

Microsoft’s Tamara DiCaprio, the company’s senior director of environmental sustainability, said the technology and software company has no plans to roll back its corporate climate and sustainability efforts. Microsoft, among the first wave of U.S. companies to integrate climate change and greenhouse gas emissions reduction into its business strategies, has been carbon neutral since 2012, DiCaprio said.

Microsoft essentially charges an internal carbon fee on 14 of its business groups—including data centers, offices, software development labs, and company air travel—and pools the revenue to be used in four climate-friendly categories.

Those funds flow to support renewable energy investment, carbon offset community projects around the world, climate grants to accelerate technology innovation and improving greenhouse gas tracking and reporting, she said.

According to DiCaprio, the company’s efforts have yielded a reduction of 9.5 million metric tons of carbon.

DiCaprio spoke a day after Microsoft also announced two new contracts to procure a total of 237 megawatts of wind energy to run its data center in Cheyenne, Wyo. The Nov. 14 announcement means the company is committed to purchasing more than 500 megawatts of U.S. wind energy.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the top 50 U.S. corporate buyers of wind and solar power are to add 17.4 gigawatts of clean energy by 2020 and another 63.4 gigawatts by 2025—all to meet their own corporate goals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Marrakech at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

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