From Carbon Cuts to Class Rooms, 155 CEOs Outline their Sustainability Goals

From setting ambitious carbon reduction targets to attempting to decrease high-school drop out rates, the CEOs of some of America’s biggest companies have just laid out some of their sustainability achievements and goals.

The list of 155 companies—compiled by peer group Business Roundtable—indicates that leaders are alert to what many described as a growing need to balance generating solid shareholder returns with more environmental responsibility.

Its publication comes as companies face greater scrutiny of their role in society from a general public concerned about wage stagnation and threats to employment caused by automation.

“Our companies only succeed when our workers, families and communities can share in our success,” said Nicholas Akins, chairman of Business Roundtable’s energy and environment committee. Akins also is CEO of grid operator American Electric Power.

“IT IS NO LONGER ENOUGH FOR COMPANIES TO FOCUS ON THEIR DIRECT FOOTPRINT. THEY MUST THINK ABOUT WHAT TYPES OF JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES THEY ARE CREATING FOR SOCIETY.”

 

He said U.S. companies are making remarkable progress toward improving the environment, with energy use per dollar of economic output decreasing by 2% each year since 1992.

AEP, for example, expects to have reduced its carbon emissions between 2000 and 2017 by 90% as it upgrades to a more efficient grid infrastructure that can accommodate emerging technologies.

Here’s a selection of some other companies’ contributions.

AT&T: By 2025, the telecom giant intends to facilitate carbon savings 10 times greater than the footprint of its own operations, via enhancing the efficiency of its network. To get there, it will use the Internet of Things to help customers reduce their emissions. AT&T also has long supported efforts to address high-school attendance problems and, along with other organizations, has set a goal of increasing the U.S. high school graduation rate to 90% by 2020. “Innovation has sparked a profound technology revolution, giving us more tools than ever to address the world’s challenges,” CEO Randall Stephenson said.

Boeing: Two of the American plane manufacturer’s biggest factories, in Washington and South Carolina, are now 100% powered by renewable energy. Boeing’s newest commercial aircraft, such as the 787 Dreamliner and 737 Max, are 70% more fuel efficient and 90% quieter than the first jets it manufactured in the 1960s. “Our environmental leadership extends beyond our facilities and our products,” CEO Dennis Muilenburg said. “We collaborate with numerous research institutions, customers, universities, nonprofit organizations and governments to develop technologies, solve problems and educate communities around the world about the importance of protection and preservation.”

Citigroup: Two years ago, the bank set a $100 billion environmental finance goal to support activities that reduce global warming. It’s already invested $97.5 billion due to the growth of environmental finance instruments, such as green bonds, and the development ambitions of clients. Specific investments include providing construction and tax equity financing to Deepwater Wind’s Block Island project, which will be America’s biggest offshore wind farm. “Along with hundreds of other companies, we are committed to acting to address climate change, which we view as both a business risk and a business opportunity,” Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said.

GE: The industrial conglomerate wants to cut its freshwater use and greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from a 2011 baseline by 2020. Last year, it invested $2.7 billion in clean technology solutions for fossil fuels, renewables and the grid. The company also spends $1 billion a year on staff development and skills training. “It is no longer enough for companies to focus on their direct footprint. They must think about what types of jobs and opportunities they are creating for society,” CEO Jeff Immelt said.

JPMorgan: In a partnership with GE, the bank last year embarked on the ambitious goal of installing energy-efficient LED lighting across most of its retail bank branches in the U.S. It’s the world’s largest single-order LED installation to date and is expected to cut the branches’ lighting-related energy use by 50%. It is among one of various CSG initiatives at the company, which last year raised its minimum wage by 20%. “Sustainability, encompassing environmental and social issues, has moved decisively into the mainstream of business,” CEO Jamie Dimon said.

Pepsi: The soft drink giant has cut sugars, saturated fat and salt levels in many of its products and is targeting more. By 2025 for example, it wants two-thirds of its global beverage portfolio volume to have 100 calories or fewer from added sugars per 12-ounce serving. The company also has set specific targets for reducing water use and carbon emissions. “One of the key business lessons of the early 21st century is that a company can, in fact, increase its value by acting on its values,” Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi said.

Siemens: The German company said its efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020, and become carbon neutral by 2030, isn’t just about helping the environment. It expects to save money, too. By 2020, it expects its $110 million investment in energy efficiency programs to generate $20 million in annual energy savings thereafter. “Our goal to become carbon neutral is an extension of the work we do every day to deliver sustainable technology for our customers—balancing planet, people and profit,” Siemens CEO for global energy, Lisa Davis, said.

Walmart: Around a quarter of the world’s biggest retailer’s operations were powered by renewable energy at the end of last year. It hopes that proportion will reach 50% by 2025 as part of a broader goal to one day hit 100%. The company also wants to deliver zero waste to landfills by 2025 and already has diverted 82% based on 2005 levels. CEO Doug McMillon said the company wants to build customers by creating shared value between the company and communities. “We believe more now that ever that the changing retail landscape will means that retailers will survive only if their businesses create this shared value.”

The full list can be viewed here.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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