6 Big Corporations That Are Taking Climate Change Action Seriously

CDP releases its 2017 A-List, that reveals more companies making serious efforts to combat climate change.

Some good news about climate change, for a change. Last year, CDP, formerly called the “Carbon Disclosure Project,” took a look at how — and if — high-environment-impact businesses were responding to the 2016 Paris Climate agreement. The companies’ initial actions were a bit disappointing, with many companies not responding or not having plans in motion for meeting the Paris accord’s climate goals. Taking a second look this year, however, CDP found the picture is changing, as more companies are mapping out a low-carbon future. While some politicians continue to stubbornly ignore climate change, businesses are, nonetheless, getting down to work.


The CDP is a major source of company carbon emission data for more than 800 investors managing assets of over $100 trillion. It tracks corporations’ environmental behavior, including their transparency, philosophies, and actions. The non-profit organization also measures companies’ efforts to protect water and forests. Over 6,200 companies disclose environmental data to the CDP.

The first encouraging sign in this year’s CDP findings is that 58% of the high-impact combines responded to CDP’s requests for information. These companies frepresent the entire global economy, weighted towards higher carbon emitters and big companies. Together they account for 47% of market capitalization and 12% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

(CDP)

Even more positive is the number of companies now joining CDP’s A List, 112 companies whose environmental leadership earns them CDP’s highest score. Many are familiar names, such as Unilever, L’Oréal, Owens-Corning, Fujitsu, Nissan, and Ford.

According to information provided by CDP to Big Think:

  • 89% of high-impact companies now have carbon emissions targets, with 68% to at least 2020 (up from 55% in 2016), and 20% with targets to 2030 and beyond (up from 14% in 2016).
  • 14% of of the companies are committed to aligning their targets with climate science, a 5% increase since last year. 300-plus more companies (30%) plan to set targets within two years.
  • Current targets are taking the companies 31% of the way to a two-degree world, up from 25% in 2016.
  • (CDP)

    Working to protect the climate is changing how these companies do business altogether. Again, numbers from CDP:

  • 36% are offering low carbon products, including electric vehicles and zero-energy buildings (up from 30% in 2016).
  • 75% assert that their efforts help third parties reduce emissions (up from 64% in 2016).
  • 32% now use internal carbon pricing, with 18% more intending to implement it within two years.
  • 36% more companies have set renewable energy consumption targets for their production lines in the last year (75 companies on 2017, up from 55 in 2016).
  • Some of the Companies Leading the Climate-Change Charge

    Unilever (Scores A in carbon emissions, water use, and forest protection)

    (UNILEVER)

    Unilever, the Dutch-British consumer goods company, has a multi-faceted approach to combatting climate change. It’s committed to the 100% use of renewable energy across all of its operations by 2030. The company set a target of reducing per-production-tonne CO2 emissions by 40% of 2008 levels by 2020, and it’s already reduced emissions by 43%. Unilever also endeavors to engage its customers in protecting the environment, with new products that, for example, reduce water or energy use. Unilever’s complex supply chain depends on agricultural raw materials, and is therefore especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, so its environmental efforts are in part motivated by a desire to future-proof its materials supply.

    L’Oréal (Scores A in carbon emissions, water use, and forest protection)

    (CPP-LUXURY)

    French cosmetics company L’Oréal has committed to “zero deforestation” by 2020, and already sources 100% of its palm oil derivatives via Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification and helped develop Sustainable Palm Oil and Traceability (SPOT), a tool for evaluating the environmental and social performance of the company’s products. The company also leverages the Global Forest Watch Tool to track deforestation risks down its supply chain — L’Oréal can trace back 91% of raw materials to the refinery level and 74% of raw materials to the palm oil-mills level. L’Oréal supports 500 small farmers in Sabah, Malaysia, as a source for certified sustainable palm oil. They’re now working in Indonesia to gain access to an additional 30% of the palm oil derivatives they use.

    Owens-Corning (Scores A in carbon emissions)

     (THE BLADE)

    U.S. insulation, roofing, and fiberglass composites company Owens-Corning set itself a target to reduce greenhouse-gas intensity by 20% in 2020. To meet it, the company had to invent new blowing agent blends for use in manufacturing, resulting in less emissions intensity and more sustainable insulation products. They hit their 20% target six years early. The company has now upped that target to 50%. Owens-Corning has also implanted sweeping operational changes and is developing a residential builders’ guide for building net-zero homes.

    Fujitsu (Scores A in carbon emissions)

    (GLASSDOOR)

    Information and communication technology (ICT) company Fujitsu has achieved its emissions target while simultaneously bringing to market more energy-efficient products — their goal is to achieve top energy efficiency in 50% of all new products they make. In May 2017, they launched their Climate and Energy Vision program to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.

    Nissan (Scores A in water use)

    (WWW.IBEC.OR.JP)

    Japanese carmaker Nissan was one of the first companies to consider and begin mitigating its environmental impact, setting a goal way back in 2006 of reducing CO2 emissions from “well-to-wheel” by 70% of 2000 levels by 2050. It has since increased that target to 90%, and is now the leader in mass-market electric vehicles.

    Ford Motor Company (Scores A in water use)

    (MYAUTOWORLD)

    U.S. car company Ford, has undertaken a range of programs to reduce its footprint. Its 2014 Partnership for a Cleaner Environment (PACE), inaugurated a system between Ford and its Tier 1 suppliers for reporting their water use and adopting water saving initiatives in multi-year phases. Suppliers are encouraged to learn from each other, establishing best practices, and implementing PACE across their own supplier networks.

    Dare to Hope

    The heartening word that companies are taking climate change seriously is reinforced by other entities, as well, says the CDP: The city of San Diego, for example, is taking an highly pro-active stance against climate change: It plans to halve its carbon footprint and convert to 100% renewables by 2035, and is already engaging with energy and technology partners to plan for this goal and make life better, and more sustainable, for its citizens. Says Cody Hooven, the city’s chief sustainability officer,”“It’s about the future of our city and building a city that people want to live in.”

    What CDP’s 2017 A List report is suggesting is that we may be at the dawn of a new era regarding this overwhelming threat to our survival. Among scientists, the debate abut climate change is long over, and people — and corporations — everywhere are seeing that something must be done to slow down or reverse it. We may be getting there late, but, just maybe, we may finally be getting there.

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    New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

    Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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    • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
    • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
    • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

    Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

    A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

    Rethinking humanity's origin story

    The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

    David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

    The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

    Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

    He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

    It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

    "Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

    Migrating out of Africa

    In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

    Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

    The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

    The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

    Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

    Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

    Did we head east or south of Eden?

    Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

    Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.