From Apple To Walmart, Over A Dozen Of The Biggest Businesses In The U.S. Sign On To White House Climate Pledge

A huge number of the world’s nations are coming together in Paris this December to negotiate an agreement to stem emissions and forestall further climate change. Ahead of this winter’s United Nations talks, however, some well-known names here at home are pledging their own contributions to the cause.

The White House announced today that thirteen major businesses have signed on the climate pledge, with more due in the fall. The companies that announced their participation today include Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart.

The pledges come ahead of international climate talks slated to take place in Paris this coming December.

In terms of publicity for attempts to protect the environment and stem the tide of climate change, it’s a landmark agreement. The thirteen businesses are all national and global leaders in their fields — huge, well-known brands across a variety of industries. In terms of actual impact, though, there’s a lot of variety in the promises.

The thirteen businesses have not all signed on universally to the same, single goal; each is, instead, making some promise relating to its own strengths and line of business.

Bank of America, for example, doesn’t exactly have widespread manufacturing operations they need to improve the efficiency of. Instead, they plan to move money around: their pledge is to increase lending, investing, and advisory services in their “environmental businesses initiative,” as well as to make investing in clean energy financially attractive to other parties. A similar plan of investment and lending comes from Goldman Sachs, which also pledges to achieve carbon-neutrality across all its operations this year and to use 100% renewable energy by 2020.

The energy and physical goods businesses do all promise some more direct actions to increase energy efficiency, increase their reliance on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, or both, to varying degrees. Apple’s pledge is to keep doing what they’ve already been doing, for example, as they point out that all of their U.S. operations already run on 100% renewable energy.

Alcoa’s pledge includes a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025, and also to prove by then that the products they make and sell (to other industries) will result in an emissions reduction equal to three times that of their production. That is to say, if an aerospace widget takes 2 tons of carbon emissions to make, then that aerospace widget will create 6 fewer tons of carbon emissions than you would spend by not using that aerospace widget.

Coke and Pepsi both promise improvements up and down their supply chains, from farming to bottling to shipping. Coca-Cola’s specific promise is to reduce the carbon footprint of “the drink in your hand” by 25% by 2020; PepsiCo plans to halt deforestation in their global supply chain and to eliminate hydrofluorocarbons from all their new equipment in the U.S. by that same year.

UPS also promises to increase their efficiency, promising to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (as compared to 2007) by 2020. Walmart also plans to reduce the amount of energy their buildings use by 20% by 2020, along with increasing their renewable energy use by 600% as compared to 2010.

Google and Microsoft both pledge to shift 100% to renewable energy for their data centers, offices, and labs. Although neither provides a target year for meeting that goal, Google commits to tripling their purchases of renewable energy by 2025. Both companies also pledge to reduce their carbon footprint in business transportation.

Perhaps most notable is Berkshire Hathaway’s pledge, however: the energy business not only plans to keep investing in solar and wind power actoss the west and midwest, but also to retire more than 75% of their coal-fueled power plants in Nevada over the next few years.

Many of the pledges are essentially statements that businesses intend to keep making a profit, and that renewable energy and increased energy efficiency are seen as ways to make and save money as much as they are ways to save ecosystems. In the end, though, that’s a good thing: business goals and environmental goals must become aligned in order to get the world’s largest industries actually to make serious moves on emissions reductions and increased use of renewable fuel.

As Google pointed out on their blog, “We’re serious about environmental sustainability not because it’s trendy, but because it’s core to our values and also makes good business sense. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use in the first place.”

The full fact sheet, detailing all 13 businesses’ pledges, is available on the White House official site.

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