The world has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change. Can global companies be part of the solution?
A report published Monday by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.
While often seen as culprits, some businesses are setting a positive example.
The companies with the best track records tend to be consumer brands, according to reports from corporate transparency advocate CDP, public opinion consultancy GlobeScan and think tank SustainAbility.
Unilever (UL) is the global corporate leader in environmental sustainability, according to a survey of experts conducted by GlobeScan and SustainAbility.
The owner of brands including Ben & Jerry’s and Dove will ensure that all of its agricultural materials come from sustainable sources by 2020. It says it will do so by working with farmers to reduce environmental harm.
It has also agreed to eliminate single use plastic packaging in the United Kingdom, where possible, by 2025.
The consumer goods giant wants to become carbon positive by 2030. That means it will eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and support the generation of more renewable energy than it consumes.
“They created a very strategic plan that still is in many ways the best in class. They created these ambitious, clear plans that focus on what they really need to do — on packaging, chemical production, food production,” said Chris Coulter, co-CEO of GlobeScan.
Unilever has found itself under pressure over plastic. Earlier this year, the company was named by the Break Free From Plastic campaign as one of the firms most responsible for plastic pollution in India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Unilever has acknowledged it must “go much further, much faster, in addressing the challenge” of plastic waste.
The outdoor apparel company is big on the environment.
Founded by surfers and rock climbers in California, Patagonia makes clothes using organic cotton and recycled fabrics, including polyester, nylon and wool.
The company has made headlines with its “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign, which was meant to discourage customers from purchasing too many Patagonia products.
Patagonia pledges 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.
It’s also a certified “B Corporation,” meaning it’s legally required to consider the impact of decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
The mega food producer has stepped up efforts to police its supply chain after criticism of its use of palm oil, which is often produced on land previously covered by forests.
Nestle (NSRGF) has committed to using 100% responsibly sourced palm oil by 2020, and to blacklist companies that do not comply with its policies. It will use satellite technology to ensure no deforestation is taking place in its supply chain.
“At the scale they are, the largest food company on the planet, they have been able to manage some of those issues and be part of the solution,” said Coulter.
The Swedish retailer has invested €1.7 billion ($2 billion) into renewable energy projects. It plans to build 416 wind turbines and has already installed around 750,000 solar panels on Ikea buildings.
Ikea has also said it will ban single-use plastic products from its shops and restaurants by 2020.
The company wants to purchase 100% renewable energy by 2020, and use only renewable and recycled materials in its products by the same year. It plans to make its home deliveries emissions free by 2025.
Tesla (TSLA) says its mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
The electric-car maker has a code of conduct for suppliers, which includes a pledge to work to avoid harm to the environment, responsible management of all waste and efficient use of water and energy resources.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday on Twitter that the UN climate report’s findings are a reminder of “why it’s important to accelerate advent of cars powered by electricity made from solar power.”
Unlike other companies praised for helping the planet, Tesla doesn’t disclose many details of its environmental practices.
“No one really knows about Tesla and its strategy, because it is so opaque,” said Coulter. “But it’s a company with a purpose to disrupt the fossil fuel industry — it gets the points.”