Ag Policy Blog

Looking at Corporate Climate Initiatives and Agriculture

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The White House announced Monday it was launching an initiative highlighting the "American Business Act on Climate Pledge. The effort spotlighted 13 large American companies pushing for action on climate change. The initiative included an event with those corporations and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The companies involved, totaling more than $1.4 trillion in revenue, included Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart. The companies combined to pledge more than $140 billion in investments in low-carbon energy or technology by 2020.

The announcement had some emphasis on agriculture, food processing and continued opportunities for landowners to make money through renewable energy, particularly expanded wind production. Companies ranging from Walmart to Cargill to PepsiCo detailed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water efficiency throughout their food-production supply chains.

The White House also noted all 13 companies spotlighted on Monday would "voice support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations" later this year. White House officials also said they plan to hold a large event later this year highlighting more companies that are "taking the pledge" to act on climate change.

Kevin McKnight, chief sustainability officer at Alcoa, noted the company's support for Obama administration efforts. McKnight said higher auto fuel economy standards have the potential to reduce U.S. emissions by 500 million tons over the next decade. Alcoa provides aluminum to help auto manufacturers produce lighter cars that would help meet such standards. Alcoa wants to see such efforts expand internationally.

"It is critical that we have a climate agreement globally that creates a level playing field for all companies so we have an opportunity to compete effectively," McKnight said. "So we are very supportive of any effort that will bring global agreement that relies on a level playing field around the world with respect to how we decarbonize the Earth."

Food and Farm-Related Efforts

Cargill Inc. has comprehensive goals regarding climate change, energy and water. The company already has a track record of improving energy efficiency 16%; reducing carbon intensity 9% and improving freshwater efficiency 12, based on goals set in 2000 and 2005. Over the next five years Cargill plans to reduce its greenhouse-gas intensity by 5%; improve freshwater efficiency by 5%; improve energy efficiency 5%; and increase renewable energy to 18% of total energy use, up from 14%.

Cargill is building out its supply chains to address climate concerns. That includes tracing and tracking its palm-oil supply to prevent deforestation on conservation lands of lands considered to have high carbon stock. The company also is working with partners in Brazil as part of the Brazilian Soy Moratorium, an effort to reduce or eliminate Amazon deforestation. In the beef arena, Cargill is focusing on improving efficiency and mitigating greenhouse gases.

Walmart declared "climate change is an urgent and pressing challenge" and everyone must work to reduce and mitigate the impact of higher greenhouse gas levels. Walmart is current on track to exceed its 2015 goal of eliminating 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain. That's essentially the equivalent of taking about 5 million cars off the road. Walmart on Monday put forward a pledge to procure as much as 7 billion kilowatt hours from renewable energy by the end of 2020. The company also will double solar projects at its stores in the U.S. On the farm, Walmart stated the company is now working with suppliers representing 70% of its food sales "to report their yield, water and GHG footprints all the way back to the farm." Also, the company is working to "establish joint agricultural partnerships with 17 suppliers, cooperatives and service providers on 23 million acres of land in the U.S. and Canada, with the potential to reduce 11 million metric tons of GHG by 2020."

Coca-Cola pledges to reduce the carbon footprint of "the drink in your hand" by 25% by 2020. The company plans to make comprehensive changes across the supply chain and invest in technology to reduce emissions 25%. This will involve changes in Coca-Cola's entire supply chain, including ingredient sourcing all the way through to refrigeration equipment.

Rival PepsiCo stated it would push its "Sustainable Farming Initiative" by expanding the use of sustainable farming practices to 500,000 acres used by PepsiCo's North American suppliers "in our corn, oats, potato, and citrus supply chains by the end of 2016." PepsiCo also will "strive for zero deforestation in our business operations and global supply chain by 2020.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the company owned by Warren Buffett, pledges to double its $15 billion investment in renewable energy generation. The company plans to build another 552 megawatts of wind power in Iowa, increasing subsidiary MidAmerican Energy's portfolio to more than 4,000 megawatts of wind power. Berkshire also will add more than 1,000 megawatts of solar and wind through purchase agreements to another subsidiary, PacifiCorp, and its current power capacity.

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7/31/2015 | 1:26 PM CDT
Jay, do you golf?
Jay Mcginnis
7/31/2015 | 7:03 AM CDT
There is Bonnie, my other biz uses corn starch "peanuts" instead of styrofoam! There are alternatives but they are "too expensive", just like solar energy and no one wants to make a sacrifice for the environment, how else would they buy all that crap from Walmart?
Bonnie Dukowitz
7/30/2015 | 7:10 AM CDT
Isn't packaging the largest waste producer? Just waiting for organic plastic bottles.
Curt Zingula
7/28/2015 | 6:49 AM CDT
All of these commitments raise the question of what will farming do? Tillage releases GHG. Putting the kabosh on tillage would be a death blow for organic production. Would they get an exemption like wind energy gets for killing eagles and endangered bats?! Ain't politics fun!!