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The 100 Percent Solution

Major companies such as Apple and Mars commit to a long-term, monogamous relationship with renewable energy.

The Rockefellers are getting out of the oil business. Yes, those Rockefellers, card-carrying members of the John D., Standard Oil descendants club.

The family's Rockefeller Brothers Fund said it would divest itself of coal and tar sands investments by the end of 2014 and then over a period of time sell other fossil fuel stocks. The fund said this was in alignment with its sustainable development goals to "advance energy efficiency, decrease dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change."

If you saw the pictures of 300,000 people marching through New York City demanding action on climate change, you know that the days of speed dating with sustainability are drawing to a close. Business leaders increasingly are coming to the same conclusion -- it's time to tie the knot with renewable energy.

On September 22, the RE 100 campaign announced the goal that "by 2020, 100 of the world's largest businesses will have committed to 100% renewable energy."
 

“We struck sun and we struck wind before we struck oil, and it will be here a long time afterwards.”

—Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer, IKEA Group

At a Climate Week NYC event, Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer for IKEA Group, called renewable energy "common-sense energy." IKEA has spent 1.5 billion euros on its renewable efforts to date. To reach the 100% renewable goal for the growing company by 2020, Howard said IKEA will need to spend about the same amount again. The company has committed to 700,000 photovoltaic installations on its rooftops and 224 wind turbines. In fact, Howard noted, IKEA has actually become a renewable energy company with 19 wind farms in nine countries.

"There is no peak sun. There is no peak wind. We have billions of years of sun and wind reserves," Howard said. "We struck sun and we struck wind before we struck oil, and it will be here a long time afterwards."

Joining IKEA as a charter member of the RE 100 group is Mars Inc., the private manufacturer of candy, pet food and other food products with sales estimated at more than $33 billion annually. Kevin Rabinovitch, global director of sustainability for Mars, said the company in 2010 committed to 100% renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases in its operations by 2040.

To do that, Mars has been working on improving its energy efficiency, but Rabinovitch said that can't be the whole answer in a growing business. That's why the company has committed to generating 2 million megawatt-hours of electricity and almost 4 million megawatt-hours of thermal energy from renewable sources. In April, Mars announced that it was joining with Sumitomo Corp. of Americas on a 200-megawatt, 118-turbine wind farm in Texas that will generate 100% of the energy needed by Mars' U.S. operations, which include 37 factories.

Major corporations committing to a low-carbon strategy affect not only their own operations, but those of their suppliers. Apple (IW 500/4) CEO Tim Cook discussed this journey at the Climate Week NYC event. Apple has set a goal to have its corporate offices, retail stores and data centers powered by renewable energy -- solar, wind, micro-hydro and geothermal. The company's data centers have reached that goal, and Apple says its new corporate headquarters will run solely on renewable energy. This year, 140 of the company's retail stores are powered by renewable energy.

Cook noted that Apple had taken steps with each new product introduction to eliminate toxins and make products more recyclable and more energy efficient.

Extending that environmental consciousness into its supply chain is, in Cook's words, "dirty and … detailed work." Key to progress, he said, was that Apple was not accepting a tradeoff between the economy and the environment.

"If you innovate and you set the bar high, you will find a way to do both," Cook said.

Apple launched a program with 13 of its suppliers to increase water reuse and recycling. The company has also established a Supplier Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) Academy to increase the number of qualified EHS managers in its supply chain.

Will the business march to renewable energy move from a trickle to a torrent? As we have seen with issues such as domestic violence, one transformative event can lead to rapid and unexpected change. Manufacturers should keep that in mind as they follow the progress of the 100% renewable energy movement.

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