It is disheartening to learn that the US, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gases emitters, is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, denying that climate change is devastating the planet. However, other nations are determined to stand by the agreement and have the consensus to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This solidarity sends a clear signal to businesses, investors and local communities – countering climate change is a top priority. For businesses with a more expansive vision than just making short-term profits, they have already adopted various measures to help meet carbon emissions reduction target in their respective industries.
In the renewable energy field, major corporations such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and General Motors Co have become the biggest consumers in the country. General Motors Co has even committed to obtaining full power from clean resources by 2050. As they have set a good example for other businesses to follow, the number of corporate wind power users in US leapt from 5 to 40 percent within a year in 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association Trade Group. Businesses going sustainable not only serves to entertain public expectations of their corporate social responsibility, but it also brings tremendous benefits in the long run. General Motors Co. has already been saving USD 5 million a year worldwide due to the plummeting costs of solar and wind energy.
Leading aviation companies have also shifted from fossil fuels to sustainable energy resources. In 2011, The Boeing Company set up their first factory in South Carolina operating under 100% renewable energy. Their commitment to phasing out the burning of fossil fuels and adopting sustainable fuel sources has paid dividends. By launching new aircraft built with less hazardous materials and have better fuel efficiency, the company has been able to cut costs. On a macro level, Boeing has fostered an industry wide reduction of carbon emissions. On the other hand, United Airlines has been operating power flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco with biofuels generated from waste materials such as spent oils and agricultural waste. The use of biofuels for regular commercial flights can reduce carbon emissions by 60%, compared with standard jet fuels; this not only marks a paramount milestone in the aviation industry, but is also revolutionary to clean transportation all over the world. The airline did face some struggles of not being able to break even during the transition as biofuels are usually unsubsidised and are three times more expensive. However, their pledge to fulfilling their corporate responsibility is palpable, prompting other airlines to do the same.
Tech giants are also trying to reach their renewable energy target under the Paris Agreement. Dedicated to operating an environmentally responsible business, Google, for instance, plans to offset all the electricity required by its data centres and offices worldwide with wind and solar energy by the end of this year. As aforementioned, the costs of renewable energy have been dropping because of the continuous growth of the industry. In fact, the cost of solar energy has plummeted to a level that is as competitive as coal in the US, Germany, Australia, Spain and Italy. It is expected to slide further below coal in China, India, Mexico, the UK and Brazil in 2021. The same trend is also applicable to wind energy. The decrease in cost provides a strong incentive for businesses to start integrating green energy into their operations.
The wave goes beyond the business sector as cities are also putting unremitting efforts in transforming themselves to be more sustainable. In the US, people in the California area embrace not only lower electricity bills, but also the ownership of renewable energy infrastructure which creates clean job opportunities, especially for minorities and the disadvantaged. According to The Solar Foundation, a non-profit solar advocacy group, the solar industry employment rate fares 17 times better than the overall US economy; the clean energy field is predicted to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the next decade.
Astute minds are also seeing investment opportunities in different industries to alleviate the situation. Bill Gates’ investment in Beyond Meat delivers the message that plant-based protein is a space to watch out. Richard Branson has recently invested in Memphis Meats which cultures beef, chicken and duck in laboratories using 8 times less energy than factory-farmed meats. “I believe that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone,” Branson said in an email response to press about this investment.
The future may not look too bright with the effects of climate change looming large. However, this crisis presents an opportunity for us to reflect on the capitalistic business model. Is it the way to go forward? Or is there a way out of the climate quandary? The above-mentioned examples do give us some insights. We cannot afford not to take the environment into account as too much is in fact at stake.