30 July 2015 16:38:24 IST

The ‘Elders’ show the way

US, European corporate giants make binding green power commitments

What the elders do, says the Bhagavad Gita, others follow. Today, ‘elders’ in the corporate world are setting a precedent that we need to take note of.

You’ve heard of The Dirty Dozen, right? The Clint Eastwood super-hit of the 1960s. Now, here is the opposite of it: The Clean Thirteen.

On Monday, July 17, 13 American companies went to a party in the White House. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted them. President Obama was there, of course. Here are their names: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Walmart, General Motors, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Alcoa, Cargill and UPS. I don’t have to tell you folks that they are big. Their combined revenues in 2014 came to $1.3 trillion, slightly more than India’s GDP. Their combined market share was $2.5 trillion.

In the White House

Why were these biggies invited to the White House? Other than being American, these companies had one thing in common: they all made their own commitments in support of President Obama’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge. These companies unveiled their action plans to fight climate change. The value of their pledges has been estimated at $140 billion.

These commitments are mind-boggling, even though a few of them had been announced earlier.

Warren Buffet-owned Berkshire Hathaway Energy has decided to close down its coal-based plants by 2019. The company had earlier acquired majority stake in another company that owned these plants.

All of Apple’s American operations run on power produced by wind or solar plants. Only last year, Apple signed up with another American solar power company, called First Solar, to buy electricity for the next 25 years — worth $800 million. It is the biggest solar ‘power purchase agreement’ ever.

Renewable energy

Google is on the way to go 100 per cent renewable energy. The company has committed to buying power from 1,100 MW of renewable energy sources and says “we commit to tripling our purchases by 2025.” You should read what else Google is doing — from telling its employees to avoid single-occupancy cars to growing drought-resistant plants, the company that touches our lives so much every day, is doing a lot to protect the lives of our progeny.

Incidentally, Google, because of the very nature of its business, is offering something unique. Here it is, in its own words: “Our Google Earth Engine geospatial analysis platform makes more than 40 years of satellite imagery available online, so that scientists and researchers can analyse real-time the changes on the Earth’s surface. Through the Climate Data Initiative, we provided one petabyte of cloud storage for data and climate/weather models, plus 50 million man-hours of higher-performance of cloud computing.”

Look at what Cargill is doing. It is building a “traceable and transparent” palm-oil supply chain to ensure that there is no deforestation in ‘high carbon stock’ areas, or places where there are more or thicker trees. Cargill has worked for reforestation of the Amazon region, where people were cutting trees to make way for soy plantations.

Setting a precedent

The commitments of the ‘Clean Thirteen’ go on like that. Clearly, the ‘biggies’ are setting a precedent. (Truly, at least in the case of many of the 13, it is atonement for their own past sins, but let us applaud what they are doing today.)

These are only the American companies but it is not as though companies in other regions are laggards. For instance, European companies such as Nestle, Swiss Re, IKEA, Phillips and BT, have all either gone for 100 per cent green power, or have committed towards moving towards it.

The message embedded in this high-profile, big-bucks commitment is clear and simple: if you don’t do something to stop global warming and the consequent climate change, you are in for big trouble. It is a message that those who will get into corporate employment in the next few years will need to bear in mind.

Will other companies follow the precedent? To find out, we go to a movement called RE100 — for ‘Renewable Energy 100 per cent’ — which was launched by a non-profit organisation called The Climate Group, in New York in September 2014. The idea is to engage with companies so as to make them commit to power their entire operations by energy from clean sources. So far, some 25 companies have joined the RE100 club.

Guess how many Indian companies are on the list?

One! Infosys!

Corporate India seems to pay as much attention to climate change as you would give to safety announcements in aircraft. It is kind of fun to read leading Indian companies’ commitments. One leading private sector power producer proudly boasts its commitments to ‘sustainable development’: use recycled paper, plant trees, switch off fans and lights when not in use…..

Perhaps we should wait a bit longer to see if Corporate India validates the Bhagavad Gita!