President Obama hosted a roundtable for CEOs from five Fortune 500 companies and five supply chain companies on Monday, as part of the White House’s Act on Climate Initiative, which urges businesses to make carbon-reduction pledges before the upcoming United Nations climate conference.
Leaders from Johnson & Johnson, Intel Corp., Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., Hershey Co., and PG&E Corp., as well as five other companies that act as suppliers to those corporations, attended.
“This conversation has confirmed what we’ve known for quite some time, which is that considerations of climate change, energy efficiency, renewable energies are not only not contradictory to their bottom lines, but for these companies, they’re discovering that they can enhance their bottom lines,” Obama said in remarks released after the meeting.
Mars, Nike, and Bloomberg are among the companies that announced new carbon-reduction targets. As of Monday, 81 companies had signed on to the Act on Climate pledge, and more are expected, a White House official said.
Today’s announcements are a “significant milestone, but by no means the end,” Senior White House adviser Brian Deese said on a call with reporters Monday. So far, companies represented operate in all 50 states, employ more than 9 million people, and have more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, according to the White House.
The pledges are submitted by the companies and are tailored to their specific business practices. PG&E, a utility serving 16 million people, will achieve a 60 percent renewable mix by 2020. Nike announced that it would use 100 percent renewable energy in all its owned or operated facilities by 2025, while Nestle has water-reduction goals included in its pledge.
The prevailing message behind all the pledges, though, is that action on climate change is a boon to business.
“We believe a focus on business and climate change can go hand in hand,” Todd Brady, global environmental director for Intel, said on the call with reporters.
While American businesses might be coming around to that message, it has been more difficult to get Congress on board, despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly accept the scientific conclusion that climate change is happening.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called Congress to task Monday, after the announcement.
“While I appreciate these efforts from corporate America for a good outcome in Paris and to reduce their own carbon footprints, in my experience none of this is filtering through to Congress in the form of lobbying or advocacy,” he said in a statement. He went on to suggest that advocacy from the business community is going to be critical in changing policy.
“The massive American corporate lobbying effort in Congress is at best silent on climate change, and at worst adamantly hostile,” Whitehouse said. “For that to change, these companies will have to take responsibility for the advocacy efforts of groups that represent them in Congress, and align their advocacy with their policy.”
The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to reduce carbon emissions without Congressional action. The Clean Power Plan, finalized this summer, requires states to figure out how they will reduce emissions from the electricity sector — which currently accounts for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The administration has also announced deals with China, Brazil, and India, all major polluters.
But how the international community will develop and enforce climate goals remains to be seen. Negotiators are in Bonn, Germany this week, hashing out final details before the Paris conference in December. Some have speculated that putting a price on carbon might be an option.
Melissa Lavinson, chief sustainability officer at PG&E, called a price on carbon “absolutely” something the country needs during a roundtable hosted by Ceres and Huffington Post on Monday.
Ann Kelly, a senior program director at Ceres, suggested putting a price on carbon — a mechanism that has been successfully deploying in New England, for example, would be the best way forward.
“It would be infinitely easier if we could put a price on carbon,” she said. “You tax the thing you don’t want. It’s that simple. And all the economists agree.”
The head of the International Monetary Fund called for such a system earlier this month.