Industrial Contributions Towards U.S. Climate Goals

June 14, 2017 | Neil Kolwey

In the wake of the president’s unfortunate and misguided decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has assembled an alliance of 12 states, over 150 cities and counties, and over 1,200 businesses and investors, with the goal of achieving the U.S. Paris goals despite the president’s withdrawal. Some experts estimate that this alliance could achieve as much as 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. Paris goal.

The industrial sector is very important in these efforts: industry accounts for 30 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. There are a growing number of large industrial and information technology (IT) companies with greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, energy efficiency, or renewable energy goals. Contrary to the president’s statements about the Paris accord, these companies recognize that achieving clean energy goals will not conflict with good business strategy, competitiveness, or profitability. Here are three examples of large companies that are part of the Bloomberg Paris alliance:

BASF is the second largest producer of chemicals in North America. BASF has established a goal to reduce its GHG emissions per metric ton of product by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 2002. The company already had achieved a 37 percent reduction by 2016. BASF focuses on energy efficiency in its operations to achieve this goal, and is implementing strategic energy management and ISO 50001 certification at all of its manufacturing sites worldwide.

IBM is a Fortune 100 IT company, with one of its largest U.S. operations located in Boulder, Colorado. IBM’s climate change goals also focus on energy efficiency, with a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with IBM’s energy consumption by 35 percent by 2020 compared to 2005, and to achieve annual energy savings of 3.5 percent of IBM’s total energy use. In total since 1990, IBM’s energy efficiency efforts have saved more than 7.2 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity and avoided over 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, and saved the company more than $570 million. In addition to its energy efficiency efforts, in 2015 IBM set a goal to purchase at least 20 percent of its annual electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020. 

Unilever is a Fortune 500 company that produces food and other consumer products. In November 2015, Unilever established an ambitious goal to become carbon neutral in its operations by 2030. This means that in addition to reducing emissions as much as possible through energy efficiency, Unilever will purchase (or produce on-site) 100 percent of the energy used within its operations from renewable sources by 2030. From 2008 to2016, Unilever achieved a 43 percent reduction in GHG emissions per ton of product, and renewable energy purchases now account for 32 percent of the company’s total energy use. 

Furthermore, there are now 190 large industrial companies involved in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Plants program, representing about 2,400 facilities and 11.4 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing energy footprint. To participate, these companies set a voluntary goal to reduce their energy use per unit of output by at least 25 percent over 10 years, and the DOE provides technical assistance and recognition. To date, Better Plants Partners have saved 600 trillion British thermal units (TBTU) and $3.1 billion cumulatively in energy costs. 

Improving energy efficiency helps manufacturing and other industrial companies cut costs and increase profits.  Renewable energy purchases also make business sense as the price of wind and solar power becomes more competitive with conventional, fossil-fuel based electricity. There is no conflict between “keeping U.S. manufacturing great” and achieving significant GHG emission reductions. More and more companies are realizing this and stepping up to the challenge. SWEEP encourages all companies, large and small, to establish strong energy efficiency and GHG emissions reduction goals—for the benefit of the company’s bottom line and the planet.   

Neil Kolwey is Industrial Program Director at SWEEP where he promotes best practices in utility energy efficiency programs for industrial customers throughout the region.