The Corporate Clean Energy Wave Gains Speed

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on June 19, 2018
Vicky Harris
Home  / Blog  /  The Corporate Clean Energy Wave Gains Speed

Shopping without guilt. Browsing with no impact. Driving with no trace. Soon, the activities that we do every day may cease to have a negative impact on our environment. There is a silent wave of corporate clean energy initiatives around us. As more corporations continue to take ownership of their sustainability responsibilities, the role that renewables play in powering everything from browsing to driving will grow exponentially in the coming years. This is a welcomed development because “companies in the commercial and industrial sector account for two-thirds of the world’s end use of electricity,” according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Today’s corporate awakening is being driven by some of the world’s largest and most respected brands in all categories. Amazon, Google, Unilever, Walmart, General Motors, and Nike, to name a few, have shared audacious plans to go completely green in the next few years. The New York Times recently reported that these corporations are driving a major clean energy wave at home: “Dozens of Fortune 500 companies, from tech giants like Apple and Google to Walmart and General Motors, are voluntarily investing billions of dollars in new wind and solar projects to power their operations or offset their conventional energy use, becoming a major driver of renewable electricity growth in the United States.”

This week, we explore some of the initiatives that are putting major companies, and their customers, on a path to zero impact.

A growing corporate clean energy wave we can all ride.

Amazon: The Push to Run Completely on Renewable Energy is Underway

When interviewed by Inverse about the sprouting solar arrays in their distribution centers, Tom Chandlee, Amazon’s Senior Manager of Renewable Energy explained, “These projects are important steps toward our renewable energy goal and we hope they inspire our employees, customers, and communities as we work together to bring more renewable energy online in the coming months and years.” In just over a year after announcing their plan to build 50 solar arrays in their facilities by 2020, Amazon is beginning to deliver on their promise. According to Inverse, “Amazon’s vision to run completely on renewable energy took an 813,000 square-foot-sized step forward on Tuesday when the company announced it is building a solar array the size of 3.5 NFL fields in North Las Vegas.”

Amazon’s stated commitment to run their operations completely on renewables, now backed by 3.6 million megawatt-hours of renewable energy that is either installed or close to coming online, will have a far-reaching effect beyond their distribution centers and transportation systems. For instance, as the world’s second most valuable company becomes green, their consumers will demand the same from the other brands they interact with. Their suppliers will be pressured to adopt similar zero-impact business practices. Other industries related to their operations―such as data centers―will follow suit. (Amazon itself, through AWS, is one of the largest cloud players in the world).

Google: Global Operations Running 100% Off Renewable Energy

Last October, Google announced it was three months away from delivering on its promise to run 100% of their business on renewable energy. As Inverse reported then, “after 10 years as a carbon-neutral company, Google will be able to brag about running on entirely renewable energy at the end of 2017. That means that all of the electricity the company consumes in both its data centers and offices are provided by wind and solar energy.”

Google’s path to net zero emissions took ten years of focused work and the willingness to innovate as they went along. In their 2017 Environmental Report, the company wrote that their vow to become sustainable was not without uncertainties: “When we committed to being carbon neutral in 2007, we knew that aggressive energy-efficiency initiatives, renewable energy, and carbon offsets would all be critical to our ongoing strategy, and over time we’ve learned and innovated across these areas in ways we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago.”

Importantly, the effect of Google’s sustainability initiative will multiply, positively influencing everything the company touches. In the same report, Google highlighted their adoption of “new energy purchasing models that others can follow” and the role they played in helping to “drive wide-scale global adoption of clean energy.”

Unilever: Making Sustainability Core to its Corporate DNA

Unilever, another giant corporation that touches most of our lives (think Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Axe, and Lipton), continues to make waves when it comes to delivering more sustainable products. As Virgin’s report on “10 Global Companies that Are Environmentally Friendly” indicates, the company has long made sustainability a central tenant of its corporate DNA. Specifically, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan “sets targets for sourcing, supply chain and production on everything from energy and water use to treatment of suppliers and communities where they operate.” This plan was established in 2010 with the stated goal of “doubling the company’s business while halving its environmental impact in just 10 years.”

Today, they report “three-quarters of Unilever’s nonhazardous waste does not go to landfills and the share of its agricultural suppliers that use sustainable practices has tripled. The United Nations awarded the company’s CEO its Champion of the Earth Award in 2015 for his efforts toward reaching this goal.” In terms of the company’s use of renewable energy to fulfill their sustainability vision, according to RE100.org, Unilever “aims to be ‘carbon positive’ in its operations by 2030.  To achieve this, the company is committed to sourcing 100% of total energy across its operations from renewables by 2030, and to sourcing all grid-purchased electricity from renewables by 2020.”

Follow the Sustainability Leaders

Other corporate giants across a broad swath of industries that touch our lives every day, such as Nike, Facebook, Apple, Allergan, Panasonic, and Microsoft, are on the path to renewable operations. Just last week, Samsung announced its plans to use 100% renewable energy across all of their operations worldwide by 2020. The company will use a mix of renewables, from geothermal to solar, depending on location. In what the New York Times calls a “corporate energy wave,” last year in the U.S. “19 large corporations announced deals with energy providers to build 2.78 gigawatts worth of wind and solar generating capacity,” which is “equal to one-sixth of all of the renewable capacity added nationwide” in 2017. According to CNBC, this is enough energy to power a country the size of Iceland.

Although carbon neutral is a lofty goal―and one that Google achieved 11 years ago by offsetting its emissions with the production of clean energy they could offer others―the real destination is to get to where Google just arrived: 100% renewables. To achieve this, new technologies that solve for the variability of wind and solar, such as Hydrogen 2.0, are coming to market. The renewable solution of the future is a mix of power sources that can make clean and affordable energy available to anyone, anywhere.

The pace of renewable energy powering everything from shopping to browsing is gaining serious speed. The same New York Times article cited above reports that in the first half of 2018, U.S. companies have already announced deals for nearly the same amount of renewable power as all of last year. Happily, this movement goes well beyond the need to feel and look good. This corporate wave is being driven by economics (see the article we recently wrote about the economics of renewables). These companies are taking advantage of the declining cost of renewables, which is a wave that can carry us all to a more sustainable level of progress.

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