Industryweek 13596 Pollution

Largest Manufacturing Companies Stick with Climate Pledge after Trump Pivot

March 30, 2017
Companies say their pledges reflect their push to cut energy costs, head off activist pressure and address a risk to their bottom line in the decades to come.

Many of America’s biggest corporations including Apple Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are sticking by their pledges to fight climate change even as President Donald Trump guts his predecessor’s environmental policies.

Companies say their pledges, coordinated by the Obama administration, reflect their push to cut energy costs, head off activist pressure and address a risk to their bottom line in the decades to come.

“This work is embedded in our business,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner. It’s “good for the business, our shareholders and customers; if ultimately we are able to positively impact the environment in the process, that’s a win too.”

Wal-Mart was one of 81 companies that promised to reduce emissions in the run up to the 2015 Paris global climate negotiations. The company upped its targets last November, saying it would get half its power from renewable sources by 2025.

Trump signed an order on March 28 that tells the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider former President Barack Obama’s climate rules, and rescinds a series of orders Obama issued to embed consideration of climate change in government actions from where to lease buildings to whether to allow oil pipelines to be built.

“Most big companies in the U.S. recognize that climate change is real,” said Geoffrey M. Heal, a professor at Columbia Business School. “They need to move ahead on the climate change front no matter what Trump’s government does.”

Business’s biggest lobbying force supports Trump on this issue. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed Trump’s order calling that shift “vital to stimulating economic growth.” The group argues that Obama’s regulations held back economic growth, preventing business owners from constructing needed pipelines, roads and other infrastructure. It also warned that the climate push would lead to a jup in energy prices.

But many of the group’s members and other corporate titans supported Obama’s Clean Power Plan, or have set their own goals. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer-maker, also announced on March 29 that it would get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Nearly 90 companies have made similar pledges, according to the Sierra Club.

"We believe climate change is real and the science is well accepted," General Electric Co.’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt, wrote in an internal blog post shared by the company. "We hope that the United States continues to play a constructive role in furthering solutions to these challenges, and at GE, we will continue to lead with our technology and actions."

Mars Inc., the maker of M&M’s, committed to eliminating its emissions entirely by 2040. Andy Pharoah, vice president of corporate affairs, said that Mars is “disappointed the administration has decided to roll back climate regulations.”

‘American Competitiveness’

Technology companies including Apple, Inc, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp. also expressed their support for Obama’s policies.

“We believe that strong clean energy and climate policies, like the Clean Power Plan, can make renewable energy supplies more robust and address the serious threat of climate change while also supporting American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth,” the companies said in a joint statement after Trump’s order was signed.

Other companies, while stopping short of criticizing the Trump administration, said they would keep pursuing lower emissions in their own operations. Procter & Gamble, Nestle Inc., Ikea, Levi Strauss & Co. and Best Buy Co., which all signed the 2015 pledge organized by the Obama administration, said they still intended to honor their commitments.

“We will continue to integrate sustainability into our business practices, operations, innovation, brand building and culture,” Damon Jones, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble said.

Many energy businesses welcomed Trump’s rollback. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents oil and natural gas producers, joined the Chamber of Commerce in praising his move. So did the National Federation of Independent Business, which challenged the Clean Power Plan in court.

“People are going to freeze in the dark because of the destruction of the reliable electric power grid under Obama and the Democrats,” Robert Murray, the president and CEO of coal-mining company Murray Energy Corp. said in an interview. “Mr. Trump is doing the right things.”

Some environmental groups cautioned that action from the private sector, wasn’t enough to make up for the pullback in federal policy.

“Policy is going to be required to get us where we need to be,” said Karen Palmer, research director at Resources for the Future.

By Christopher Flavelle

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