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American Express Moves Toward a Low-Carbon Future

April 21, 2022

Jen Skyler, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, and Madge Thomas, Head of Corporate Sustainability, discuss how American Express is advancing climate solutions as we celebrate Earth Month.

American Express’ Environmental, Social, and Governance strategy is centered around three core pillars: Promoting Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Building Financial Confidence, and Advancing Climate Solutions.

For this Earth Month, our Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Jen Skyler, and Head of Corporate Sustainability, Madge Thomas, shared their perspectives on how American Express is building on its sustainability commitments to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by engaging our colleagues, customers and community partners across a range of initiatives to address the climate crisis.  

American Express’ efforts to promote a low-carbon future are driven by the following goals announced last year:

  • Commit to net-zero emissions by 2035 in alignment with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)
  • Enhance the management of climate-related risks and opportunities across our business
  • Pilot low-carbon product innovations, including carbon tracking and offset solutions, by the end of 2022
  • Provide at least $10 million to support initiatives, partnerships, and programs that address the adverse effects of climate change and pollutions on communities from 2021 through 2025
  • Engage our colleagues in sustainability initiatives through the Green2Gether program

The global challenge of addressing environmental impact is top of mind for many according to the latest Amex Trendex* report. 76% of consumers feel a greater urgency to address climate change than they did a year ago and 84% agree they would like to better understand their carbon footprint.

Below are exclusive insights from our leaders into how we are supporting consumers’ transition to a low carbon economy, as well as the development of our ESG strategy and progress on our climate goals:

How did we prioritize our three Environmental, Social and Governance pillars: promoting DE&I, building financial confidence, and advancing climate solutions?

JS: There was an extensive process of identifying which issues were important to us as a company. In 2020, when we looked to revamp our ESG strategy, we conducted a comprehensive materiality assessment to better understand the most critical issues for our customers, colleagues, and our communities, and identify areas where we can make the most impact as a company.

Around this time, we also established an ESG Steering Committee to analyze these findings and turn them into a powerful and actionable strategy that we would execute on in close collaboration with senior leaders across our business units. We then worked as a team to land on the right framework and priorities to drive our ESG strategy forward. Those ideas evolved into the three key pillars of our ESG Framework, and we’ve created feasible, tangible, and achievable goals for each as we laid out on our ESG Roadmap announced last year.

Our Executive Committee and Board members have been engaged throughout the process and provided strong insights that helped us closely align our ESG strategy with our businesses and turn it into action.

What’s the role of a global company like American Express when it comes to ESG strategy and goals?

MT: The world’s largest problems can only be addressed if private sector, public sector and civil society to each do their part and work together.  Companies, like American Express, have a significant role to play and our stakeholders are increasingly expecting us to be an agent for change.

American Express is leaning in where we can use our powerful backing to best serve our customers, colleagues, and communities. In setting our ESG goals, we now have a roadmap to deliver that powerful backing across diversity, equity and inclusion, financial confidence, and climate solutions. It gives us a strong ability to be a leader in creating impactful change.

ESG is a rapidly changing space. What are the conversations you are having now that you weren’t having five years ago – or even one year ago?

JS: I think the undisputable answer is that we’re having a lot more conversations on ESG issues with all sorts of stakeholder groups that we never had five years ago. Our colleagues are more engaged and motivated than ever to take part in driving positive change within and outside of our company, and they want to see us lead in this space.  

What’s been great about the ESG Strategy Framework we established around our three pillars – promoting DE&I, building financial confidence and advancing climate solutions – is that it will guide our work not just on the pressing issues we’re facing today as a company and society, but can remain relevant over the next decade. Because our conversations are focused around on areas where we can make the most impact, closely tied to our business and values, we can evolve as the operating landscape changes while being grounded on the same core principles.

How do global awareness moments, such as Earth Day, help drive progress toward advancing climate solutions?

MT: These moments certainly help to bring attention to issues, and they serve as an opportunity to highlight what companies are doing and what they intend to do. But to be authentic, it’s important to understand that our action and impact shouldn’t be limited to a moment. For American Express, this journey is really a 365-day approach, and we’re using Earth Day as a time to examine our climate goals and report on progress and how we’re driving innovation.

We know from the latest Amex Trendex* that many consumers are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. I believe it’s important to be conscious of how we as individuals consume energy in our daily lives – from our methods of transportation to awareness of the foods we consume, or the amount of heat or air conditioning we use – it’s all about the simple things we can do and how we continue to educate ourselves. I’m constantly looking for ways to reduce my personal footprint and am conscious that even small steps can lead to big improvements. For instance, I try to go meatless at least two days a week, donate old clothes to Goodwill and my local Buy Nothing group or textile recycling groups like Green Tree Textiles, and I bring a water bottle into the office with me (and take a collapsible bottle when I’m traveling) to avoid using plastic cups or bottles.

How are we enhancing our operations and providing solutions to meet customer and community needs in the transition to a low-carbon society?

MT: Since 2018, American Express has been carbon-neutral and powered by 100% renewable electricity across our global operations. Starting with the company’s buildings, many of which are LEED or comparably green-certified, we continue to focus on the development of sustainably driven builds and infrastructural improvements, including impactful goals around waste and water efficiency.

How do you envision Amex’s colleague-led volunteer program, Green2Gether, evolving now that many colleagues are back to working in-person at least part-time? How can virtual colleagues contribute?

JS: We are working to engage thousands more of our colleagues globally in company-sponsored activities through our Green2Gether program, such as recycling drives, online lectures, community clean-ups, and food sustainability awareness campaigns.  Amex flex provide us with new opportunities to engage colleagues virtually, who may not have had the opportunity to participate in in-person events.  For those who are coming back to the office or hybrid, we are excited to get back out there and volunteer together!

What can you tell us about the “Backing Low-Carbon Communities” grant initiative and the $10 million in funding we’re planning to provide through 2025? What positive impact will that have in the communities, especially the cities, where our merchants and Card Members live and work?

MT: We’re focused on supporting programs and partnerships in high-emission or extreme weather-prone urban areas where we live and work that can reduce climate and environmental impact and provide resilience for future disasters.

Specifically, we’re supporting:

  • Innovation and solutions around energy transition and efficiency and clean energy solutions in urban areas
  • Community-led climate and nature-based projects, including those led by underrepresented communities
  • Supporting disaster relief and resistance to help communities and infrastructure be more resilient and prepared for extreme weather events

Looking ahead, what are some future trends you think will dominate the ESG space in the next few years?

JS: I believe increased focus on climate disclosures and efforts to standardize and regulate them will dominate the conversation. We’ve seen the recent actions by the SEC and European regulators. Like most companies, we’re closely monitoring these developments and actively reviewing our disclosure practices to ensure we provide appropriate transparency and visibility into our own efforts.

With the commitment we made last year on achieving net-zero emissions by 2035, being thoughtful about how we approach the issue and how we report on them, as well as how we’re managing future climate risk, will be critical. We’re all still learning in this space and it’s important to be ambitious and practical by doing what we can as a company to reduce our emissions as much as possible while doing our part to ensure a low-carbon future.


*Methodology: This Morning Consult poll was conducted between March 8-13th, 2022 among a national sample of 2,000n US and 1,000n travelers in Japan, Australia, Mexico, India, UK, and Canada who have a household income of at least $70K and defined as adults who typically travel by air at least once a year. Results from each market’s survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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