As Washington Flounders, Midwest Businesses Forge Ahead on Clean Energy

June 16, 2017 | 10:28 am
A worker assembling cars at a GM plant. Photo: Wikimedia
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

If you’ve been watching the news lately, it can be depressing.  With President Trump announcing that the United States will back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his executive order to dismantle many climate policies, and the proposed EPA budget cuts, things look bleak for US leadership on climate.

But there’s hope! Despite all the negative attacks on clean energy at the federal level, clean energy momentum is happening, including in the Midwest. Businesses are leading the charge through an effort known as RE100.

What is RE 100?

RE100 is a collaborative, global initiative of influential businesses committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy, and working to greatly increase demand for renewable energy. There are currently 96 RE100 companies that have made a commitment to power their businesses with 100% renewable energy.

This is important because the industrial sector uses more energy than any other end-use sector, approximately 54% of the world’s total delivered energy. Businesses from all over the world, and from an array of sectors, have joined this commitment to support the transition to a clean energy economy. While there are some businesses on the list that may not surprise you like Google, Apple, and IKEA, there are some businesses, particularly in the Midwest, that may.

Midwest businesses are on board

You may not expect to see Detroit-based car giant General Motors (GM) on the list, but they have committed to using 100% renewable electricity across their global operations by 2050. This commitment, combined with their pursuit of developing affordable electric vehicles positions GM to be a clean energy leader in their industry. With a global annual consumption of nine terawatt hours of electricity, equivalent to more than the total yearly energy consumption of Nicaragua, Senegal, and Uganda combined, moving forward with a 100 percent renewable energy goal is no small feat. Their roadmap to achieving this goal includes adding 30 megawatts of solar arrays at two facilities in China, completing an installation of 466 kilowatts of solar at an operations plant in upstate New York, and their largest ever renewable energy purchase in 2016 with a commitment to buy 50 megawatts of wind power.

Salesforce, the Chicago based CRM software solutions and cloud computing company, has committed to increasing the percentage of renewable energy powering its global operations and reaching its goal of 100% renewable electricity. To work towards this goal, Salesforce signed a 12-year wind energy agreement for 40 megawatts (MW) from a West Virginia wind farm through a virtual power purchase agreement. Last year they announced their second renewable energy agreement, a 12-year contract for 24 MW from a Texas wind farm.

Headquartered in Grand Rapids Michigan, Steelcase is an office furniture manufacturer. Their long-term commitment to 100% renewable energy reflects the company’s larger energy strategy which has resulted in a 60% reduction in energy use since 2001. Steelcase has chosen to meet its commitment through the purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs) from a portfolio that includes non-emitting sources like wind and hydroelectric energy. Steelcase has also created a program to encourage the company’s suppliers to purchase RECs from new wind energy facilities. Partners that choose to participate will get Steelcase’s volume discount pricing.

Procter & Gamble (P&G), headquartered in Cincinnati, has also joined RE100, instituting an intermediate goal of 30% renewable energy by 2020. This is in addition to adopting a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2020. Clean energy investments make economic sense: P&G’s energy efficiency improvements alone have resulted in a cost savings of more than $350 million since 2010.

We push forward

President Trump may have announced he is going to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, but hundreds of businesses and investors have vowed to continue to support climate action toward meeting the Paris climate targets. And more and more businesses continue to commit to 100 renewable energy.

Significant action on climate change is happening around the world, its gaining momentum, and it’s exceedingly driven by the private sector.

Renewable energy prices are falling, and investing in renewable energy just makes economic sense for many large businesses. Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) found that 71 of the Fortune 100 companies currently have renewable energy or sustainability targets.

What can you do?

As an individual, you can follow the business community’s lead and you can commit to support the Paris Agreement by reducing your own carbon emissions, support US states, cities, businesses, investors, universities, and other entities taking strong climate action, and urge President Trump to protect federal safeguards for our health and environment.