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Will 2015 Be the Year of Sustainability?

April 6, 2015


As we celebrate Earth Month, and look forward to the United Nations convening on climate change this December in Paris, it's fair to ask, will 2015 be the year of sustainability (finally)? Environmental Leader, an environmental management news site, thinks it will.

Looking back to the pre-recession days of 2006, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" seemed to push forward a movement that began in 1970 with the creation of Earth Day. Gore's film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and businesses rushed to create "green" products and services in response to consumer demand for environmentally-friendly brands.

When the recession hit at the end of 2008, many of these laudable efforts fell under the weight of more immediate demands for food, housing, jobs and financial security. But, as the economy improves and quality of life issues begin to take center stage, concern for the environment and climate change have come roaring back (see my prediction of trends to watch this year in my January 12 posting).

Several things are happening:

  • President Obama brokered a climate change deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping that could lead to a global agreement on reducing carbon pollution among the 195 countries attending the December climate change talks in Paris.
  • Pope Francis is preparing to release an encyclical urging all Catholics to take action on climate change on moral and scientific grounds.
  • A group of CEOs of some of the world's largest companies - including Virgin, Unilever and Tata - have called on world leaders to commit to a global goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In addition:

  • Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) recently released a report that states businesses are increasingly exposed to risks from climate change with estimates placing the cumulative global cost as high as $4 trillion by 2030.
  • The Carbon Disclosure Project (CSP) reports that 45 percent of the risks that S&P 500 companies face from extreme weather and climate change are current or expected to fall within the next one to five years, up from 26 percent just three years ago.
  • According to the 2014 Public Affairs Pulse survey, 57 percent of Americans want corporations to weigh in on climate change, and 75 percent call environmental responsibility a very important priority.

American Express has a goal of reducing our carbon footprint by 10 percent between 2011 and 2017. At the beginning of 2014, we were on track to achieve this goal, having reduced our carbon footprint by approximately 33.5 percent since 2006. This is the equivalent of eliminating more than 22,000 passenger vehicles from the road.

This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that American Express was No. 50 on its National Top 100 list of the largest green power users. We are using nearly 98 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually, which is enough to meet 42 percent of our firm's electricity needs. This green power commitment qualifies American Express for EPA's Green Power Leadership Club, a distinction given to organizations that have significantly exceeded EPA's minimum requirements.

So, while we celebrate Earth Month, we're working to ensure that our company's impact on the environment and climate change is decreasing over time, and that our employees are continuing to use renewable resources as efficiently as possible.

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.
 

In two weeks: Why More Nonprofit Leaders Should Be Worried About Climate Change

 

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