COP21: Industry Commitments to Sustainability and Using Consumer Pressure to Keep Promises

Last week’s blog looked at Unilever’s CEO’s attempts to make his company sustainable. Unilever is not alone in promising to be more environmentally friendly in the long term. One of the less discussed achievements of COP21 was the mobilization of major nongovernmental organizations to provide their own commitments to sustainability and post them electronically for everyone to see on the UNFCCC site. As of the day I’m writing this, these commitments include 2,254 cities, 150 regions and 2,034 companies.

UNFCCC Climate Commitments - Cities, Regions, CompaniesThis is one of the most encouraging demonstrations of the bottom-up approach to global energy transition that we need to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. That said, it suffers from the same lack of enforcement authority as the sovereign countries that signed the formal COP21 agreement. A new CEO with some earning difficulties might decide that he or she wants nothing to do with these commitments, and happily revert back to carbon-emitting fossil fuels. However, in many cases, the timeline for these commitments is now; there is no need to wait until 2023 for the initial compliance evaluations.

Table 1 shows some of the commitments from various companies, along with their timing (where available).

Table 1 – Companies with 100% of renewable power targets

Organization Country %Renewable Target Year
Marks and Spencer UK 100 2012
Royal KPN Netherlands 100 2013
CommerzBank Germany 100 2013
Almiral SA Spain 100 2014
Bankia Spain 100 2014
Microsoft US 100 2014
SAP Germany 100 2014
Steelcase US 100 2015
Voya Financial US 100 2015
Hannover Ruck Germany 100 2015
Alstria Germany 100 2016
Infosys India 100 2020
Autodesk US 100 2020
Goldman Sachs US 100 2020
IKEA Netherlands 100 2020
Kingspan Ireland 100 2020
RELX UK 100 2020
Royal Philips Netherlands 100 2020
SGS Switzerland 100 2020
UBS Switzeland 100 2020
Vaisala Finland 100 2020
Yoox Italy 100 2020
JCDecaux France 100 2022
Nike US 100 2025
Elion Resources China 100 2030
Mars US 100 2040
Apple US 100 NA
Avant Garde Innovation India 100 NA
BT Group UK 100 NA
Commercial Limited UK 100 NA
DSM Formula E Netherlands 100 NA
Givaudan Switzerland 100 NA
Google US 100 NA
H&M Sweden 100 NA
Infigen Energy Australia 100 NA
Nestle Switzerland 100 NA
Procter and Gamble US 100 NA
Proximus Belgium 100 NA
Salesforce US 100 NA
Starbucks US 100 NA
Unilever Netherlands 100 NA
Walmart US 100 NA

As with countries, peer pressure (or in this case, consumer pressure) means that being the first to renege on these commitments will probably require some nerve. The public’s response will tell us a lot about what we, collectively, are willing to do to make change happen. It will also be instructive as to how we plan to live with the consequences of our actions or inactions. Public opinion can have a much bigger impact on company policy than it does on sovereign countries. We live in a capitalist society, so consumer pressure and investments (via the stock market or through mergers and acquisitions) make a big difference. In most companies such pressure can result in major management changes and can serve as a very strong deterrent to being the first to back out of a promise.

My next blog (which I’m writing now) will be posted two days after my return from Cuba. I’ll look into two additional actions that sovereign state members of the UNFCCC can take to supplement their COP21 commitments before the scheduled evaluations start.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.

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