Companies begin to teach climate advocates how to reduce CO2

By Benjamin Hulac | 02/24/2015 08:11 AM EST

In early 2013, Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled head-turning results about the company’s carbon footprint after tallying its greenhouse gas emissions, which came from HP’s supply chain, the energy used at company facilities and the power that customers consumed by using their products.

Internally, said HP’s Bob Mitchell yesterday at the Climate Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., company leaders were surprised to learn how much of the organization’s carbon footprint accumulated outside of the company’s reach — after buyers unpacked, plugged in, turned on, used and disposed of their HP products.

The report two years ago found HP spends less than half its total energy footprint manufacturing its products (34 percent) and maintaining its facilities (5 percent), according to their own assessment, and 61 percent of its footprint after HP’s products are sold.


"These things year after year are putting out carbon," Mitchell, the global manager of supply chain responsibility at HP, said yesterday of products that tap into the power grid, distinguishing between emissions connected to customers’ energy habits and the amount of energy HP uses to make and sell its goods.

Financial lessons learned

Businesses worldwide increasingly view climate change as a threat to their supply chains and financial models, Mitchell said, citing recent flooding in Thailand — home to large-scale computer chip manufacturing facilities — that hampered the tech industry.

"It’s important for us to address climate change as a supply chain resilience problem," he said.

Ceres, a nonprofit organization of investors that presses firms worldwide to share the risks they face because of climate change, began 25 years ago. Today, Ceres has attracted companies from many different sectors, such as Ford Motor Co., Bank of America Corp., Sprint Corp. and Nike Inc., to become more environmentally sustainable and limit their climate risk.

And the Carbon Disclosure Project, a U.K.-based organization that sends corporations around the globe a questionnaire to describe their emissions and policies to combat climate change, mailed out its first forms in 2003 and received responses from about 250 companies. Last year, CDP received forms back from more than 5,000 firms.

As adapting to and planning for the impacts of climate change become more common within business circles, the conversations between private corporations and nonprofit groups pushing for greater disclosure — such as Ceres and CDP — have evolved.

"It’s getting to the point where a lot of the companies are doing the teaching," Matt Banks, a manager at the World Wildlife Fund, said of climate policies and carbon-cutting programs.

Climate change viewed as a business risk

Starbucks, which ranked at the top of a recent survey of recycling programs and practices among 47 major U.S. brands, acts to address global climate change because it is business risk, not a deserving cause, said Jim Hanna, the coffeemaker’s director of environmental affairs.

"We approach climate change as a threat to our supply chain," Hanna said.

Addressing congressional lawmakers about climate change with the argument to limit the risks American businesses face due to rising temperatures is more effective and less politically divisive than pressing politicians to vote a certain way to protect the environment, Hanna said.

"It enhances your lobbying position," he said. "What’s best for your business is probably good climate policy."

Moreover, arguing to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, such as flooding, water scarcity, extreme heat and diminished crop yields, can be an easy case to make on financial grounds alone, Mitchell said.

"That’s an easy sell," he said. "You save energy, you save money. And there’s a positive reputational benefit."