Leading Consumer Brands Pledge to Power Economy with Renewable Products and Energy at COP21

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At COP21 heads of some of the planet's biggest brands - Unilever, Google, IKEA, Philips and Marks & Spencer - along with policymakers from around the world, shared their core commitments to decarbonizing. Collectively they send a clear message that  business is expecting a long-term goal from the global climate talks in Paris next week, in order to make longer-term low carbon investment decisions.

Speaking first from the company's Paris headquarters, Nick Leeder, Managing Director of Google France, said Google has been 100% carbon neutral since 2007, with 30% of its energy sourced from renewables. He explained that data centers take up the bulk of Google's energy use, and urged policy signals to encourage greater renewables investment: “If the incentives are right we can make enormous changes.”

Last week Google committed to going 100% renewable as part of The Climate Group's initiative in partnership with CDP, RE100, which supports the world's most influential companies in their journeys to 100%. Unilever, Marks & Spencers, IKEA and Philips are also part of RE100.

Nick Leeder, Managing Director of Google France. (Photo courtesy of Climate Change Group)

John Woolard, Vice President Energy, Google also applauded the low carbon leadership of the search giant, but warned of the wider private sector buy-in needed. “Solar and wind prices have dropped dramatically over the last decade but it’s not enough. There is never a single solution.” He called for business leaders and investors in the room to generate a broad portfolio to advance renewables. “We need diversity and to keep that entrepreneurial spirit going, investing in new tech to keep driving costs down.” He added: “Google is the largest corporate renewable power buyer in world but we still need every company in the world to follow us, as the scale needed is staggering.”

Offering a policy perspective, Dominique Ristori, Director General for Energy, European Commission emphasized that energy for production and use globally makes up more than 60% of emissions and “without adapting a new energy system it will be impossible” to reduce this number. “We are convinced this century, the 21st century, should be the century of renewables. Renewables play a key role in the development of a real low carbon economy, not only in Europe but globally.”

Moderating the session, Sandrine Dixson Decleve, Director, The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change agreed renewable energy “is here to stay and one of the most important solutions for moving to a low carbon economy. But with governments we need to make sure we have the right standards in place to make sure that’s going to happen.”

Businesses were keen to showcase their own progress in adopting renewables. Marc Bolland, CEO, Marks and Spencer animatedly talked about how the leading retailer is engaging customers on low carbon issues and has cut down energy use by 35% in the UK and is "now fully powered by renewables".

Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever said his company, products of which are used by 2 billion people around the world each day, "will be carbon positive by 2030 and get all electricity from renewables" as well as exit from coal by 2020.          

Iterating that the private sector uses half of the world’s electricity, Keith Weed said companies can start demanding cleaner energy by going back to supply chains, to “set the agenda.” He added: “Some people ask me, how can you have a business case for low carbon? I say how can you have a business plan for wrecking the planet!”

Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group introduced the next panel by pointing out that “over 60% of fortune 500 companies have some kind of renewable energy or climate target in place", and invited such gathered business leaders to explain how they are making such commitments.

Gary Demasi, Renewable Procurement at Google explained that most of the tech giant’s 4.4TWh of energy consumption a year is used in data centers in its 14 campuses around the world. Based on needing to make the smartest decision for the company “at reasonable prices from a portfolio perspective”, Google is aiming to have power supplies as close to data centers as possible.

“The ultimate would be to supply directly but that’s not always possible, so we have set the initial framework”, Gary Demasi explained. About 2 GW of renewables is currently under long-term contracts at Google, which positions it at 37% of the way toward its goal of 100% renewables based on 2014 consumption.

Beginning his speech proudly, Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA stated: “We produce more energy than we consume.” While about half of this is thermal, the Swedish furniture retailer has 20 wind farms and 700-800,000 solar panels around the world, he said. 

Supportive of the companies' progress, Marie Donnelly, Director of Renewables, Research and Innovation and Energy Efficiency at the European Commission's DG Energy illustrated simply the twin objective of developing efficiency and renewables as “reducing demand by plugging a leak in the bucket before you put anything else in, and what you put in: make it renewable.”

Bruce Carter South Australia Premier’s Climate Change Council also represents forward-looking governent leadership. In 2007, the Australian state legislated a target for 50% renewables by 2025. “Today we’re at about 41%. If you treat South Australia as a country we have the highest percentage of wind per capita in the world behind Copenhagen.”

Steve Howard from IKEA picked up on the government’s leadership and explained how longer-term commitments like this can accelerate already falling renewable energy prices. “If we want to build this as part of the 21st century green growth and jobs, we need common sense long-term policymaking like that we can see from South Australia.”

The low carbon business pioneer outlined how the price on solar has seen a “radical” 99% reduction since 1979, with 80% of this in the last 7-8 years alone. Projecting this trend to 2030, he said we can expect about 0.2 cents per kilowatt hour. “Every roof is a powerstation”, he affirmed. “And the end of the combustion engine is not that far off. Most new cars will be electric at some pint in the not too distant future because you can see performance and price improvement in the same curve for [EV] batteries.”

Bruce Carter responded to the IKEA chief: “It is companies the size of yours that need to lead some of the debunking of the scare tactics around renewables that exist in South Australia." Despite this culture though, “we have 1 in 4 households with solar so there is understanding of renewables on a micro basis.” Everyone agreed it is getting this micro acceptance to a mainstream scale in all regions of the world that is most sorely needed, but which businesses are helping steer.

Mark Kenber closed the session by echoing all business leaders' call for longer-term goals. The most important thing for Paris to be a success he said, is "a really robust long-term goal”, because a clear trajectory from national governments will allow business and investors to unlock trillions of dollars of new investments in innovative technologies that will enhance competitiveness and drive equitable access to sustainable development.

It is clear from the world's most influential businesses speaking at today's event at Google France's HQ that the Paris Agreement is more than a diplomatic settlement among nations. It is a stimulus to the real economy with the potential to generate trillions of dollars of investments in clean energy, enhanced mobility and livelihood creation.

A long term goal for emissions reduction from COP21 will ensure the world’s most powerful business and investors are keen implementation partners of a global climate deal.

This article was originally published on The Climate Group.


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