Across the world, companies are finding innovative ways to cut emissions and seek out opportunities in the low-carbon economy.
For AkzoNobel, sustainability is not only about the company’s operations and impacts today: crucially, it’s also about how the chemicals giant is positioning itself to create value over the long term. To that end, its use of carbon pricing is helping to change perceptions, behaviors and the investment decisions that will prepare the Netherlands-based firm for a zero-emissions future.
“Sustainability is not an abstract concept to be considered in isolation,” explains head of sustainability André Veneman. “It’s about the transition to sustainable business, focused on longer-term value creation.”
“Sustainability is business, and business is sustainability,” he adds.
In March 2017, AkzoNobel announced a commitment to source 100% of its energy – consisting of around 80% electricity and 20% heat – from renewable sources by 2050. This is particularly notable given the company’s energy use: its industrial chemicals and pulp and performance chemicals units consume large amounts of energy in their electrolysis processes.
What is behind this increased ambition was the realization that, by working with partners to develop renewable energy projects, the company could drive down the cost of renewables to the point where the company could meet its existing needs, while using additional cheap renewable energy to create new business opportunities.
“We now see a pathway where we could eventually source abundant renewable energy, with the excess above that needed for catalyst production used to produce new chemical building blocks, such as hydrogen for fuel cells, ammonia or synthetic gases,” says Veneman. “People are starting to think about new business models that are possible when we have access to large volumes of renewable energy.”
The approach involves AkzoNobel developing projects – in cooperation with corporate partners or governments – that can supply power and steam at lower costs than available from the grid. For example, the company worked with DSM, Google and Philips to strike a power purchase agreement with a new Dutch wind farm. By going direct to projects – and, in some cases, providing some of the investment needed to get them built – AkzoNobel and its partners can reduce the cost of power.
Veneman also cites an example of a fossil-fuelled power plant in northern Netherlands, which has been converted to burn household waste, from which AkzoNobel purchases cost-competitive surplus heat.
“Sourcing renewable energy is an excellent way to drive the longer-term success of our industry,” he adds. “Once we are able to source renewable energy and renewable materials in a cost-competitive way, it becomes part of an industry transition.”
Thus far, AkzoNobel has only entered into these types of renewable energy PPA in Western Europe, says Veneman, but the company is exploring their potential in China, India and the US, he adds.
The company’s renewable energy target is merely one component of a long-term sustainability strategy that puts a high priority on addressing climate change.
“Our common denominator is carbon reduction,” Veneman says. The company would prefer that governments set policy based on carbon indicators, leaving the private sector to find the most efficient ways to deliver.
To that end, AkzoNobel has introduced a carbon pricing policy, based upon two different carbon prices. Its environmental profit & loss calculation, which quantifies the company’s positive and negative impacts, uses a ‘social cost of carbon’ figure of €135/tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. This figure, which is derived from the Environmental Priority Strategy developed by Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology,, incorporates all externalities associated with greenhouse gas emissions, such as the costs of extreme weather events.
AkzoNobel also uses a shadow price of carbon set at €50/tonne, which is the price of carbon the company’s strategy and finance department estimates will help prepare the company in achieving its carbon neutral ambition and to de-risk its operations for a future global price. That price is used in investment decisions, and is applied to raw materials sourced by suppliers.
The internal rate of return (IRR) for new investments is calculated both with and without this carbon price. “If the IRR [with a carbon price] falls below the rate we expect, the business is required to carry out ‘carbon value re-engineering’: they need to come up with a better plan that reduces carbon,” says Veneman.
This process is changing investment decisions, he insists. He gives the example of a new coatings plant, which generated carbon emissions associated with solvent production. “The original proposal was rejected; they reviewed the proposal and included afterburners to reduce emissions. They were therefore able to meet the carbon reduction target and continue with the investment.”
The shadow carbon price is also used to encourage AkzoNobel’s suppliers to improve their carbon performance. The company buys €9 billion worth of raw materials and €1 billion of electricity each year. “We tell our key suppliers that we not only assess them on price, but we add the virtual carbon price, and we want to see their plans to reduce their carbon content year over year.
“At first, many of them thought we were crazy. But now, they realize that unless they deliver, we will turn to someone else. And, in a few cases, that has happened,” Veneman adds.
The company’s senior management plays an important role in persuading both suppliers and internal stakeholders that carbon reductions are a high priority, Veneman says. “You need a very strong commitment from the executive committee, because this isn’t a natural way of thinking.
“It’s a battle, but once people see that it contributes to a better business, it gets its own traction.”
Director of Sustainability, Akzo Nobel
For an insurance giant like Aviva, failing to successfully halt climate change is unthinkable. “Our sector has an existential issue with warming above 4 degrees,” says Steve Waygood, Aviva Investors’ chief sustainability office. “It simply won’t be possible to price insurance products at a premium we can sustain, and which economies can afford.
“That’s a profound macroeconomic problem, given the role of insurance in pricing and redistributing risk.”
On the asset side of its balance sheet, meanwhile, Aviva faces challenges relating to the climate risks to which its investments are exposed. He cites a study carried out by Aviva with the Economist, which found that 6 degrees of warming would wipe US$43 trillion off the value of global capital markets. “The entire value of the MSCI World equity index is only US$38 trillion – that’s obviously a clear and present danger.”
For that reason, Aviva has been a prominent voice in the climate change debate: disclosing on climate risk since 2004, incorporating climate risk into strategy and governance, engaging with investee companies, and playing an important role on the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), on which Waygood sits.
“As investors, the TCFD has given us a very powerful mandate,” he says. “It has shifted the burden of proof to companies to explain why climate risk isn’t an issue.” And, for those that recognize climate exposures, the “new norm is that companies should be considering climate risk at the board level. It’s created a new concept of climate risk governance.”
The TCFD recommends that companies disclose how they are likely to perform against various climate scenarios – which Waygood says will provide additional insight, but which are unlikely to tell the whole story. “A good scenario, that has been properly considered by the board, that looks at the downside risk … is [evidence of] good quality management.”
But he notes there is, as yet, no standardized way for each sector to produce scenarios, nor sector reference scenarios against which a company’s scenario reporting might be compared – although he suggests there may be a role for the TFCD to produce these benchmarks.
Waygood also acknowledges that climate disclosure poses challenges for financial services groups such as his, noting that it is still not yet clear what the most appropriate metrics are for investors to disclose against. “We haven’t got it cracked – I’m not happy with the state of the art,” he says, noting that simply disclosing the carbon footprinting of a portfolio “doesn’t cut it”, as emissions can rise and fall for reasons not linked to climate risk management.
“We need a reference scenario for fund management,” he suggests, that sketches out what a transition pathway to 2 degrees looks like, allowing investors to disclose how close their portfolio is to matching it.
Aviva will continue to encourage the companies in which it invests to use the TCFD guidance, but Waygood adds that more system-wide pressure needs to be brought to bear.
“It’s as important that we use our influence in the political process to encourage those in Brussels, Westminster or Washington to use the TCFD in important international processes such as the International Accounting Standards Board, and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO),” he says.
“We need to encourage the system to use this guidance and make it more than voluntary,” he says, adding that he would also like to see the proxy voting firms and credit rating agencies explicitly referencing TCFD data, as well as the regulations that govern the financial sector – Basel III for banks and Solvency II for insurers – taken climate risk into account.
“We have a role as investors, in terms of influencing the companies we own, as well as in terms of advocating how the financial system evolves,” he concludes.
Chief responsible investment officer, Aviva Investors
Few companies have been working to address climate change for as long as BT. The UK-based telecoms giant began its climate program some 25 years ago – and is continuing to lead with a new and ambitious Science-Based Target (SBT) to reduce its direct carbon emissions intensity by 87% by 2030.
“This is a big target,” says Gabrielle Ginér, BT’s head of sustainable business policy. “It’s going to mean some real changes to how BT operates. It’s very challenging in terms of decarbonization.”
The SBT has been two years in the planning, with the company working with the Carbon Trust to model the various scenarios that would allow BT to meet this goal, which is aligned with the more ambitious 1.5 degree Celsius aspiration in the Paris Agreement.
“We’ve managed to decouple the use of data and IT services from our energy consumption,” Ginér notes, primarily by making BT’s network and data centers more efficient, but also through purchasing more renewable energy. In 2016, BT announced that it is aiming to purchase 100% renewable energy globally by 2020, where markets allow, up from around 80% at present.
In addition to the renewables target, how BT decarbonizes its fleet will be crucial to meeting the SBT, she adds.
As well as its 87% target, which covers its own emissions and those from its electricity purchases, BT has also set a target for reducing emissions in its supply chain to 29% below 2016/17 levels by 2030.
Even calculating those emissions – from some 18,000 suppliers – is a complex undertaking. The company uses an environmentally extended input-output model, as well as CDP supplier data from around 200 of its most important suppliers to estimate supply chain emissions.
As part of its supply chain work, BT has struck an agreement with npower for the electricity company to offer renewable electricity to key suppliers in the UK. BT has written to suppliers to promote the agreement, which should allow companies to buy clean energy at roughly the same rate as conventional power. Ginér observes that BT has managed to switch to renewables at a negligible increase in cost.
“Working with suppliers is the most rewarding part of my job,” says Ginér. “I can see companies changing because of the conversations we are having with them.”
Not every company considers climate change a priority, Ginér concedes, but BT favors carrot over stick. “The suppliers who come with us on this journey get more business from BT, and a lot more positive engagement. … We will collaborate with them on projects and they will see revenue growth.”
There are other benefits to suppliers engaging with BT, she adds. Where it has led on sustainability, other large companies have tended to follow, giving engaged suppliers who have embraced this type of thinking a competitive advantage. And many of the emissions-reducing measures save money. BT itself has generated £221 million (US$280 million) in energy savings since 2009.
Underpinning its supply chain work are close relationships between Ginér’s team and procurement, who are typically “hard-headed” about sustainability work. “It’s important to find some early wins” to encourage their engagement, such as delivering cost reductions or uncovering areas where climate action can drive innovation.
The company has also set a downstream target, to facilitate emission reductions among its customers. It has set a 3:1 goal to help customers reduce carbon emissions by three times the end-to-end carbon impact of BT’s business by 2020. These products and services – which include for example broadband access, videoconferencing, and machine-to-machine solutions – generated £5.3 billion in revenue for the firm in 2016/17.
That target represents the sweet spot of corporate climate action: reduced emissions and increased profitability. “What people often forget is that, for companies like BT and other ICT companies, climate change presents a revenue opportunity,” concludes Ginér.
Head of sustainable business policy, BT
Given the dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid dangerous climate change, the prospect of setting targets aligned with climate science can seem daunting. But, if climate considerations are incorporated into a company’s long-term business strategy, the objective becomes less challenging, as EDP found.
The company – a leading wind developer and operator, the largest generator, distributor and supplier of electricity in Portugal, the third largest in Spain, and fifth largest private operator in Brazil – set a 2030 target approved by the Science-based Target (SBT) initiative in February 2017.
“The Science-based Targets initiative sets a new standard, and we think it’s a very strong message to demonstrate that our ambitions are recognised, credible and aligned with climate science,” says Rui Teixeira, a member of EDP’s Executive Board of Directors.
Under the target, EDP has committed to reducing its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electricity production by 55% per TWh by 2030, compared to 2015 levels, and cut its Scope 3 emissions by 25%, in absolute terms, over the same period.
Asked if winning board support for the target was challenging, Teixeira answers simply: “No … It was perfectly aligned with our long-term business strategy.” The company recognizes, he says, that “the heaviest burden” of the shift to a low-carbon economy is falling upon the electricity sector, and that it behoves companies in the sector “to show we are on this path”.
The company produced some 65% of its electricity from renewable energy in 2016; by 2020, that figure is forecast to rise above 70%. It is projecting that its relative CO2 emissions will be 30% below 2015 levels by that date, on course to meet its 2030 target.
Equally, EDP sees enormous commercial opportunity from decarbonization. “Focusing our business growth on renewables, energy efficiency services and expanding electrification to other sectors (for example, transport and heating and cooling), we are empowering millions of consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.” Delivering energy efficiency products and services – it plans to deliver more than 1TWh of savings between 2014 and 2020 – will also help the company meet its Scope 3 target.
In addition, he adds, the company’s climate strategy helps it to reduce its risk exposure, particularly to climate-related regulation, while a focus on reducing emissions has driven cost reductions from increased internal efficiency. He gives the example of how the company reduced its distribution grid losses by 600 GWh over the past 3 years, avoiding 150 thousand tons of CO2 emissions and contributing significantly to reducing its scope 2 emissions.
Indeed, the company argues that adopting an SBT gives the company a competitive advantage, by clarifying its position to investors and key stakeholders, who expect companies – particularly those that are large emitters – to clearly elaborate how they are positioned for the low-carbon transition. As Teixeira notes, "Having a SBT gives companies credibility, brings robustness to their strategy, clarifies what is their real contribution in solving the huge challenge of CO2 emissions reduction and their position as a global partner for sustainable development.”
Looking across EDP’s areas of operation, he says that Europe and Brazil provide a positive policy environment, noting that Portugal has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, the EU expects to reduce emissions by 80 and 95% by that point from 1990 levels, and Brazil is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, with a target of a 45% share of renewables in the total energy mix by 2030
In the US, EDP operates 4.600 MW of renewable energy capacity. “EDP has been investing strongly in renewables in the USA and will continue to do so in the coming years. The current main concern regards the possible withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreement and the impact that such a decision may have on competitiveness and other unforeseen consequences on trade in the long-term. To make forward-looking investments, companies benefit from effective economic incentives and from long-term policy certainty on this issue”.
Nonetheless, companies like EDP do rely on a supportive policy environment to meet its goals: “Combining decarbonisation and sustainable growth requires clear definition of the main decarbonization levers … so that investors have the confidence to invest in clean technologies over the long term”.
“To promote renewables and security of supply, it is important to reformulate the market design of the electricity sector and to have a robust CO2 price mechanism that gives the right incentives,” he adds, highlighting the importance of having a fiscal policy that recycles revenues from the internalization of the cost of CO2. In addition, governments need to address perverse subsidies that encourage carbon-intensive energy use, while investing in low-carbon infrastructure such as electric vehicle charging, smart grids and energy storage.
While the buzz around Tesla may have recently jolted the majority of the automobile sector into action, Nissan Motor Co. made its low-carbon intentions clear more than a decade ago. In 2006, the Japanese carmaker unveiled an ambitious goal of reducing the ‘well-to-wheel’ life cycle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its vehicles by 70% by 2050, compared with 2000 levels. That science-based goal was revised up to 90% following updated guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The target set the company’s direction of travel and helped it define its strategy, says Hitoshi Kawaguchi, its chief sustainability officer. “The vision clearly identifies the path we need to follow, so that we can back cast the objectives necessary to achieve over the mid-term.”
“The scenario to realize the long-term vision is the widespread use of zero-emission vehicles, which produce no CO2 emissions during operation, and provide an effective way of achieving sustainable mobility,” Kawaguchi says. “We believe that zero-emission vehicles should play a key role by 2050 to help mitigate the effects of climate change.”
The company launched its Nissan Leaf electric car in 2010 – since when it has sold almost a quarter of a million electric vehicles (EVs), becoming the leading manufacturer of mass-market EVs.
Despite these numbers, initial sales disappointed, Kawaguchi acknowledges, although a combination of greater climate concern following the Paris Agreement, increased industry competition and improved vehicle capabilities are set to supercharge the market’s growth.
But building a market for EVs is beyond the capacity of any one company: “The auto industry must go beyond producing and selling zero-emission vehicles to help put the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that the vehicles are economical to use. No company can achieve this on its own,” Kawaguchi says.
The Alliance (partnership between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi) has benefits in collaboration of technology development, purchasing, and logistics, and engages in a comprehensive approach that involves boosting the production, sales, mobility service development, and other activities coordinated through a variety of partnerships for the popularization of EVs.
The car company has joined the project with its competitors BMW and Volkswagen to help develop rapid-charging infrastructure which is co-financed by the European Union's Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) program. “The aim of the project is to accelerate the growth of EV charging infrastructure, seen as a key enabler towards making zero-emission mobility a market reality,” it says in its submission to CDP.
It is also working with a range of other stakeholders to promote EVs. “We are promoting the development and production of zero-emission vehicles and the construction of infrastructure, forging numerous zero-emission partnerships with national and local governments, electric power companies and other organizations,” says Kawaguchi.
For example, the company has set up a program to lend its e-NV200 electric van free of charge to 500 municipal governments and companies for up to three years, to help improve urban development and to solve administrative and corporate issues involved in running electric fleets, he says. “Through this activity, Nissan is aiming to realize zero-emission society,” he adds.
The next stage of the vision involves the rollout of autonomous-drive and robo-vehicles, which promises to further improve the efficiency of mobility systems. By drastically increasing the amount of time each vehicle is in use, valuable parking space in cities will be released for other purposes, while traffic congestion could be reduced.
The company is working with 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), an initiative supported by the Rockefeller Foundation to help cities prepare for physical, social and economic challenges. “Together, Nissan and 100RC will help cities lay the groundwork for autonomous driving, electric vehicles, and new mobility services,” says Kawaguchi.
Chief sustainability officer, Nissan
The potential of innovative technologies to help cities respond to climate change is enormous; unlocking that potential will require groundbreaking collaboration between city authorities and private companies.
In southern California, the City of San Diego is blazing a trail with just such a collaboration. Its Smart City initiative brings together cleantech businesses, technology and telecoms giants, academic researchers and city government to reduce emissions and promote economic growth.
“It’s about the future of our city, and building a city that people want to live in,” states Cody Hooven, the city’s chief sustainability officer. While the environmental outcomes – clean air, renewable energy, sustainable transport – might provide the headline objectives, an equally important goal is involving and providing support for the city’s growing cleantech sector.
The business community has provided strong support to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s ambitious climate and clean energy targets, notes Hooven. San Diego has set a target of halving its carbon footprint and reaching 100% renewables by 2035. “You don’t often see the business community advocating for strong environmental goals, but they did,” recognizing the opportunities created by a clear, ambitious and stable policy framework, she says.
“Our mayor, a Republican, really liked that: he felt that if the business community says they can do it, and they want these ambitious goals, why wouldn’t he support it?”
The city authorities are now in the process of drawing up a plan to achieve the renewables goal; among other things, it is talking to the local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and it is exploring the potential to tap the community choice aggregation system, which allows local authorities to strike collective clean energy supply contracts on behalf of residents and businesses within the city.
Perhaps the most innovative element of San Diego’s Smart City initiative is a collaboration with GE Current, AT&T, Intel and others on the world’s largest smart city Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensor platform. The US$30 million project will convert 25% of San Diego’s outdoor street lighting to Adaptive Control LEDs, slashing energy use and costs. Part of those cost savings will be used to install 3,200 sensors on street lamps across the city, generating a wealth of audio, video and environmental data.
The system has enormous potential for traffic management, notes Austin Ashe, general manager of the intelligent cities unit within Current, which is a GE subsidiary focused on energy management. “The parking and traffic data [the sensors will collect] is going to drive behaviors and change the neuro-network of the city,” he says. It could track delivery trucks to help optimize their routes to reduce congestion, for example, and he observes that vehicles looking for parking places generate almost a third of traffic carbon emissions. “If you had live data, through an app, that told people where there are open parking places, you could eliminate a large part of those emissions.” In addition, the system is ‘shotspotter’ enabled to detect gunshots and uses sensor technology to collect live environmental data that is connected and accessible to the city to meet and improve sustainability goals and positively impact citizens.
“Another goal is to unlock the creativity and innovation … of the local San Diego development community, which is passionate about getting involved in helping the city address some of its challenges,” says Ashe. Around 20 apps have already been developed that use the Smart City data. “It’s about creating jobs and driving digital education,” he adds, citing a ‘hackathon’ hosted by San Diego and its technology partners in June 2017 to develop IoT apps that could be used in a Smart City.
The project emerged from an initial proposal to improve energy efficiency, but Ashe praises “an extremely visionary” leadership team within the city that encouraged GE to develop a pilot program in 2015. “We proved what IoT and sensor data could do when you couple it with LED lighting,” he says.
Public-private collaborations are not without their challenges, especially when cities are trying to push the innovation envelope. Procurement rules can present challenges. As an example, Hooven notes that if a company has developed an idea in partnership with the city, it be may precluded from bidding on the subsequent tender. “You can see how that can stifle creativity.”
Such collaborations also produce challenges for the private companies involved. City governance is often not well suited to implement holistic policies, such as those associated with smart city technology. “Cities are very siloed in the way they are supposed to procure and value services,” says Mike Zeto, general manager of the Smart Cities business unit within AT&T, the technology company that provides the connectivity for the San Diego project. “This offering will touch many entities within the city.”
For that reason, he adds, cities seeking to develop successful smart city initiatives need a leadership team that takes ownership, with the mayor able to supply political leadership, while other senior executives, such as the Chief Information Officer or Chief Operations Officer, ensure the strategy is successfully executed, he says.
Such programs also require companies to collaborate with their peers and, at times, their competitors, says Ashe. “When you’re creating a market as complex as smart cities, you have to accept that no-one can do this on their own; you have to form an ecosystem and alliances,” he says.
“It’s by no means easy,” adds Hooven, “and we haven’t solved all the problems. But it’s very exciting – there’s huge potential to be innovative in government, and we’re trying to show that.”
General Manager, Smart Cities, AT&T
General Manager, Intelligent Cities, GE Current
Chief Sustainability Officer, City of San Diego
For businesses planning strategy and investment, the lack of long-term and stable climate policy can be a frustration. But, as far as consumer goods giant Unilever is concerned, that need not constrain its long-term planning.
“We have enough of a consensus on the levels of emissions reductions needed in the global economy by 2050 that we can set pathways for our business to be consistent with that,” says Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer. “Every industry is different, and not every business can reduce emissions at the same speed, but we all have to get to the same destination.”
Adopting a Science Based Target has helped provide the context within which its longer-term targets can be set, says Jeff. “Science tells us that small, incremental and arbitrarily set target reductions in emissions will not be sufficient to reverse the effects of climate change. Having a Science Based Target gives us all a common framework in which we can reduce emissions in line with the 2 degree scenario.”
Unilever’s extensive supply chain, dependence on agricultural raw materials and enormous customer base – its products are sold in more than 190 countries & are used by 2.5 billion consumers worldwide every day – makes it vulnerable to the physical implications of climate change. However there are opportunities too, and it is well positioned to respond to consumer demand for lower carbon and resource efficient products.
In its response to the 2017 information request from CDP, Unilever notes that its climate strategy is designed to “future-proof [its] raw material supply,” with many of the crops it buys at risk from changing weather patterns. But its response to climate change allows it to differentiate its brands, help its own customers respond, by providing them with products that reduce water or energy use, for example, and access new markets, by helping consumers adapt to climate change, in particular responding to water scarcity needs in a growing number of countries.
The company has already found that the technology it needs to reduce its environmental impacts is developing faster than anticipated. In 2010, the company set a target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy by 40% per tonne of production by 2020 compared with 2008. It met that target four years early, when it achieved a 43% reduction.
A big part of the reason was the rapid growth of renewable energy. At the start of this program, Unilever’s use of renewable energy across its manufacturing operations stood at 15.8%, but with the increased availability of renewable energy sources and the growth of renewable energy certification schemes, 31.6% of the energy the company was using was from renewable sources by the end of 2016.
“Reaching our original target four years early gave us the confidence to commit to an even more ambitious Carbon Positive programme”, says Jeff. That programme involves: increasing energy efficiency, building on a 24% reduction in energy use per unit of production since 2008, which has delivered cost benefits of some €400 million; sourcing all the electricity it buys from the grid from renewables by 2020; eliminating coal from all direct and indirect sources of energy by that date; and going 100% renewable in its operations by 2030.
“These four elements will help us to achieve our carbon positive ambition” says Jeff.
The final element is to directly support the generation of more renewable energy than Unilever consumes, making the surplus available to the communities and markets in which it operates.
“Our focus is not only on our business, but on the transformational impact we can have on the broader systems in which we operate. We believe this is the future of sustainable business”.
Chief sustainability officer, Unilever