In November, Amazon made a commitment to power its infrastructure with 100% renewable energy over the long term. Among tech companies, Amazon is late to the game in announcing its sustainability goal; Apple, Google, and Facebook had already released similar pledges over the past few years. Although cloud computing is more environmentally friendly than previous computing technologies, according to Amazon, a “significant amount of unused server capacity and wasted energy consumption” still occurs when powering data center infrastructure.
Since 2008, businesses and corporations around the world have begun to more actively pursue sustainability initiatives. Between 1992 and 2012, the number of corporations worldwide issuing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports jumped from 26 to around 7,500.
Fortune 500 Leads the Way
Many of the leaders in corporate sustainability are part of the Fortune 500. In 2013, 43% of Fortune 500 companies had established goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, energy efficiency, renewable energy, or some combination of the three, and 60% of Fortune 100 companies had set sustainability targets. Although large corporations have made progress in establishing sustainability initiatives, only 75 of the Fortune 500 had specific energy efficiency targets in place by 2013. GHG reduction targets made up the greatest share of climate and energy initiatives.
Companies with long-standing commitments to reducing energy use have already seen energy and dollar savings from these initiatives. Walmart, for example, laid out plans in 2013 to save $1 billion globally per year through energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The company has a long-term aspirational goal to achieve 100% renewable energy. In the shorter term, by the end of 2020, Walmart aims to reduce emissions intensity by 30% from 2010 levels and produce or procure 7 billion kWh of renewable energy worldwide.
The Trouble with Long Term
Kohl’s is another leader in corporate sustainability efforts. It has been implementing green building methods since 2005, and it had 432 LEED-certified stores as of June 2014, representing a full 37% of the company’s 1,160 stores across the United States. The 432 stores represent a total floor space of 35,616,240 square feet. Kohl’s plans to reduce absolute emissions and emissions intensity on a per-square-foot basis by 20%, both by 2020, compared to 2010 levels.
Although the growing prevalence of CSR and sustainability goals is encouraging, broad long-term goals have raised concern from some environmental groups. Setting goals without defined milestones makes it more difficult to hold companies accountable for the clean energy initiatives they have in place. Many companies, Amazon included, have not specified a roadmap to achieve their energy goals – an obvious next step to ensure those goals are achieved. Publicly committing to a clean energy future is only a first step.
Tags: Climate Change, Distributed energy, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Buildings Program
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