Trust us: Savvy businesses understand their role in fighting climate change

Dan Upham

Environmental Defense Fund has spent more than 20 years working with businesses to mitigate climate change, so we were pleased to learn that a GreenBiz survey of sustainability executives at large corporations ranked us as one of three “Trusted Leaders” among environmental nonprofits. (Kudos are also in order for World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, the excellent organizations with whom we share this honor.)

“We work closely with business leaders and hold them accountable to ambitious goals while also celebrating their environmental gains to show other companies how to follow in step,” Tom Murray, vice president of EDF’s Corporate Partnerships Program, explains. We believe in the transformative power of markets, and Murray shared some of the ways we turn this aspiration into action:

  • Pioneering the partnership approach. Take our first corporate partnership with McDonald’s in 1990, which resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the restaurant chain’s waste and 300 million pounds of avoided packaging in the following decade. We worked with McDonald’s to trade foam clamshell boxes for more sustainable paper containers, which catalyzed an industry shift away from foam to recycled paper packaging.
  • Developing the next generation delivery truck. Our project with FedEx to develop the first “street-ready” hybrid truck planted the seeds for hundreds of corporate fleets to adopt hybrid delivery trucks, from UPS to Coca-Cola to the US Postal Service.
  • Leveraging the power of private equity. Our Green Returns program challenged private equity firms like KKR & Co., The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital to improve the financial and environmental performance of the companies they own – to the tune of nearly $1 billion in financial benefit and 1.8 million metric tons of avoided greenhouse gas pollution, as of 2013. The result is a green race to the top with leading private equity firms hiring sustainability staff and building robust environmental, social and governance programs. 
  • Greening the global supply chain. Our partnership with Walmart has resulted in commitments to achieve zero waste, cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from its supply chain and eliminate toxic chemicals from the products on the shelves of the world’s largest retailer.
  • Inspiring the next generation of leadersEDF Climate Corps started 6 years ago with a brainstorm that smart young professionals, armed with the right training and a laser focus on efficiency, could find huge opportunities to cut costs and emissions. To date the program has identified opportunities to avoid more than 1 million metric tons of carbon pollution, worth nearly $1.3 billion in energy savings for over 250 participating organizations. Just a few weeks ago, a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow was the only environmental “hero” to join First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2014 State of the Union address. And in April, three EDF Climate Corps fellows will be featured in the upcoming Showtime documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously.

The proof, it seems, is in the partnership-oriented pudding.  It might be tempting to rest on our laurels with the GreenBiz honor (not to mention The Denver Post editorial board’s inclusion of EDF on its list of Colorado’s top thinkers of 2013), but we’re just getting started.

“More aggressive private sector leadership is needed to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our energy system and turn the corner on greenhouse gas pollution in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Murray notes. Hopefully EDF’s work can help shatter the false dichotomy between “economic benefits” and “environmental benefits,” and bring corporate sustainability fully into the 21st century.

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