Why U.S. businesses want strong climate action in Copenhagen

This post, by guest blogger Mindy S. Lubber, President, Ceres, was first published here.

So why are Nike, Johnson Controls and Sempra Energy sending top execs to Copenhagen to monitor the international climate talks.

To block a strong climate deal, right? No, wrong.

Dozens of U.S. companies are here advocating for a tough international pact that reduces pollution and accelerates clean energy innovation. The political uncertainty surrounding climate change regulation — both in the U.S. and globally — is stifling their businesses.


“We’re looking to come out with a deal,” said Clay Nesler, vice president of global energy and sustainability at Johnson Controls Inc., a Wisconsin-based company with 133,000 global employees. “We’d like to see the uncertainty reduced. Businesses around the world want this to be settled so they can start reducing their emissions.”

Many of the companies here are unequivocal about the need for dramatically reducing global carbon emissions.

North Face sees the climate threat first-hand through its customers who are skiers, hikers and rock climbers. “U.S. ski resorts are closing at a dramatic pace. Our winters are two weeks shorter,” said Letitia Webster, the company’s director of corporate sustainability.

The company’s suppliers — including Nepalese farmers who provide soft Cashmere fabric for its clothing — are also seeing the effects. “Droughts and flooding are impacting these communities,” she said.

But, like a climber scaling the North Face in the Swiss Alps, the companies are confident of their ability — of corporate America’s ability — to solve the climate challenge. They simply need the right equipment.


Even without a clear map, these firms are finding ways to lower water use, energy use and pollution levels across their entire businesses. Johnson Controls recently teamed up with Jones Lang LaSalle and the Rocky Mountain Institute to achieve a 30 percent reduction in energy use at New York City’s iconic Empire State Building. The project will pay for itself in three years.

Nike recently opened a new distribution center in Tennessee that uses 50 percent less energy per square foot than its predecessor facility. An even bigger focus is cutting energy use at hundreds of factories in China, Vietnam and other countries. “We need to be aggressively pursuing efficiencies across our entire supply chain,” said Hannah Jones, Nike’s vice president of sustainable business and innovation.

But, without stronger policies that reward and incentivize such efficiencies, the large-scale pollution reductions that are needed — in developed and developing countries alike — will never be possible.

Before heading out of Copenhagen, Jones wants to be sure our U.S. negotiators get this message:

“The U.S. delegation, ‘We’ve got your back,” she said. “We need the policy signal to unleash the next wave, the next economic revolution. Copenhagen is crucial.”