Livable Planet

Businesses, Not the Government, Are Leading the Way to a Renewable Future

In the United States, Apple, Google, Ikea, and over 100 more leading companies made commitments to switch to 100 percent renewable energy sources.
September 19, 2017, 2:30pm
Image by Aaron Barksdale, Photo via Flickr User Gage Skidmore

RE100, the global initiative of influential businesses committing to 100 percent renewable energy, was officially launched in 2014. Now, three years later, the group has more than 100 leading companies making commitments to switch to 100 percent renewable energy sources. It may sound like an unattainable goal, but if you ask Google, Ikea, Apple, or General Motors, they're making it look easy.

"We reached the milestone of having 100 members three years ahead of the target we set," said Helen Clarkson, CEO of the international nonprofit The Climate Group, to VICE Impact. "Lots of businesses thought this was an impossible target. But we monitor and track progress against the companies' commitments, and we've found good progress. More than half of them either already are 100 percent renewable or will be before 2020."


Part of that, ironically, is thanks to President Trump. When he announced that the US would pull out of the Paris agreement, which was the first major collaboration between such a huge number of countries to work towards combating climate change, individuals and businesses alike decided to take a stand. Through measures like America's Pledge, governors, mayors and business leaders were able to publicize their intention to acknowledge and act to combat climate change. But RE100, a project of UN Environment, is the first collaboration between business leaders worldwide.

"You can't fudge a 100 percent commitment. It shows that you're ambitious and sends a powerful signal to the market."

"In the run-up to the Paris agreement, we saw a lot of lobbying by businesses [in support of Paris]," said Clarkson, "and now we see a recommitment to Paris. Businesses now really understand the case for action on climate. They understand that their long term business is future dependent."

The case for committing to 100 percent renewables is manifold for companies. The most obvious is the public good – the private sector accounts for half of the world's electricity consumption. So if leading businesses switch to renewables and others follow suit, that will have a huge impact both in the actual need for fossil fuels and in creating a culture of sustainability.
But what businesses are starting to realize is that it also makes good sense, and if they intend to have long-term business success, they will need to embrace the changing face of energy consumption.

"We're seeing the cost of renewable energy falling," said Clarkson. "Businesses are signing up on these investments because they make business sense."

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Setting the ambitious public goal of 100 percent renewable may seem daunting at first. Companies are expected to set a timeline for when they will reach their goal, and they disclose their electricity data annually to keep the public and the RE100 informed. But it's important to set the goals that high, because it's attainable.

"What a 100 percent commitment does is puts a mark in the sand and shows the mission of a business," said Clarkson. "You can't fudge a 100 percent commitment. It shows that you're ambitious and sends a powerful signal to the market."

"Businesses now really understand the case for action on climate. They understand that their long term business is future dependent."

One of the founding members of RE100 is Ikea, a company that has installed 23 wind farms and 758,000 solar panels to work towards creating as much energy as they consume – and they are planning to reach their goal of 100 percent renewable by 2020.

"At IKEA we've gone all-in for renewable energy because really electricity and energy is just a cost, unless you start internalizing it. So, if you generate your own from wind turbines or solar panels on your rooftops, then something that would have been a cost becomes a profit center," said Steve Howard,. Chief Sustainability Officer of Ikea, in an interview with Climate TV.

READ MORE: A Switch to Renewable Energy Gives Power to the People

On September 13, 2017, Kellogg became the newest company to officially join RE100, and Chief Sustainability Officer Diane Holdorf, thinks it was a logical next step. The company set the goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent.

"As one of the first 10 companies to have approved Science-Based GHG targets in 2015," she told VICE Impact, "we've already invested in energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. Working towards 100 percent renewable is the obvious next step, lowering business risk, generating financial savings and helping other companies make the switch as well."


Joining this initiative is a chance to publicly put their money where their mouth is.

"Sustainability isn't just a catchphrase for Kellogg," said Holdorf. "The consumer is our focus, and today's consumers want to know more about their food - where it comes from, who grows it and who makes it, and they will buy from companies and brands that share their values."

Howard emphasized that this matter is not unique to the sustainability departments, but relevant across the board for businesses' success.

"It's a great thing not just for the Chief Sustainability Officer but also for the Chief Financial Officer," he said. "RE100 is a fantastic initiative because it's setting ambitious, broad time frame, and stimulating the market for ambitious deployment of renewables. I think we can decarbonize the power sector within a very short amount of time if we really go for it."'

Learn more about how to support the work of the Climate Group. If you want to support renewable energy in your hometown, support the Sierra Cub's Ready for 100 campaign.