Fewer than 200 global companies are leading the world in responding to climate change, including U.S. technology giants Apple, Google and Microsoft, and three domestic energy firms -- electric utilities Entergy Corp. and Pepco Holdings Inc., and Spectra Energy Corp., an oil and gas pipeline firm.
Those firms are among 34 American companies that the British nonprofit CDP, formerly the Climate Disclosure Project, included in its 2014 "Climate Performance Leadership Index," released Wednesday.
Other major U.S. brands that earned CDP's highest marks for corporate efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change are General Motors Co., Bank of America Merrill Lynch, CVS Health, Goldman Sachs Group, DirecTV and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
General Motors, for example, has made deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by developing and promoting more fuel-efficient vehicles, adopting energy efficiency programs at its plants, and tweaking its supply chain to move more vehicles by rail instead of on highways. As a result, GM recorded greenhouse gas emissions savings of 244,000 metric tons a year and cost savings of $287 million, according to CDP.
Companies like Wal-Mart, meanwhile, have aggressively adopted renewable energy to power retail stores and distribution centers, resulting in significant reductions in energy-related CO2. Wal-Mart is also collaborating with its large network of suppliers to collectively reduce 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas from its supply chain by the end of 2015.
Paul Simpson, CDP's chief executive officer, said the index reinforces earlier reports from CDP and others showing that the world's largest private-sector companies are responding to the threats of climate change, even if governments have been slow to act.
"The bottom line is at risk from the climate crisis," Simpson said in a statement. "The unprecedented environmental challenges that we confront today are also economic problems. This irrefutable fact is filtering through to companies and investors.
"However," he added, "global emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate. Businesses and governments must raise their climate ambition. The data shows that there is neither an excuse nor the time for lethargy."
Leaders aim for big reductions
The 2014 results show that 9 percent of nearly 2,000 companies that responded to CDP requests for information on greenhouse gas emissions and other measures of climate change performance received the group's highest grade.
The leading firms represent a broad spectrum of the global economy, including carbon-intensive sectors such as oil and gas producers, electric utilities, and transportation firms, as well as makers of consumer goods, banking and financial institutions, health care companies, and information technology providers. A cigarette company also made the cut.
Collectively, the 187 climate performance leaders have reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by 33 million metric tons in the past reporting year, roughly equivalent to removing all of London's cars from the road for 2½ years, according to CDP.
The IT sector was particularly well-represented by U.S. firms, with nine of the world's 30 best performers coming from the United States. In addition to perennial top performers like Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, the new leadership index included lesser-known firms like Akamai Technologies Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based cloud services provider, and Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., which provides computer network solutions in a variety of sectors.
Nicole Peill-Moelter, senior director for corporate sustainability at Akamai, said in a telephone interview that the company has committed to reducing its carbon intensity by 30 percent year over year through ongoing energy efficiency and server productivity initiatives, and that carbon emissions and energy consumption have remained largely flat even as the company has experienced significant growth in network traffic.
In the future, she said, Akamai is exploring ways to drive down emissions even further by collaborating with its data center providers to incorporate more renewable energy resources. She said the company was honored to be included in the CDP index "alongside peers who have been leaders both inside and outside our sector in targeting climate change."
One of the more surprising entries on the carbon leadership index was Philip Morris International Inc., the tobacco giant that sells cigarettes and other products into 180 markets around the world.
While Philip Morris netted $20.8 billion in profits in 2013 by selling smokable tobacco products, the company has pledged to achieve a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from its manufacturing facilities along with a 30 percent CO2 reduction across its entire value chain using a 2010 base line, according to its website. Roughly 40 percent of the company's carbon footprint is tied to the growing of tobacco, PMI said.
"Our excellent results in this year's CDP Leaders Report are an important and welcome recognition of our efforts," the company's CEO, André Calantzopoulos, said in a statement.
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