Starting November 30, the world’s leaders will meet in Paris at the UN summit for climate change to discuss a common framework to reduce carbon emissions at a global level. Most countries already have plans set in motion to reduce emissions, either by using energy efficiency and new technology to lower the carbon footprint of their own operations, or use legislation to compel residents and companies to do the same. A lot of big and sizable corporations in the United States have taken matters into their own hands, however, by buying more clean energy and less fossil fuel derived energy, regardless of what the government suggests or coerces.
The Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit environmental research outfit, tracked the number of contracts and their value between corporations and large-scale wind and solar farms. For 2015, the nonprofit found 2,100 megawatts, roughly equal to 525,000 home rooftop solar systems, have already been ordered by big US companies, or 75 percent higher than what RMI measured last year. The leaders are tech companies, like Facebook or Google. For instance, Facebook is building a new data center in Fort Worth, Texas, that will be powered entirely by renewable energy. Apple seems to be the most environmental conscious, since 94 percent of its operations are powered by clean energy, even those outside the US. The company installed 40 megawatts of solar projects in the Sichuan Province. These solar installations produce more than the total amount of electricity used by Apple’s offices and retail stores in China.
Of course, tech companies are edgy by nature and using more renewable energy, especially now when it’s extremely cheap compared to only ten years ago, only makes sense. What’s exciting about the RMI report is that other big companies outside of tech are joining like Dow Chemical, General Motors, Walmart, and Kaiser Permanente.
One third of generated electricity is used by companies, and each company’s carbon offset measures will mark a long standing contribution, no matter how big or small the business is.
“The pressure is mounting [for corporate executives] to take action” on climate change, said Hervé Touati, RMI’s managing director. “What they realize is that signing these large deals is the best way to say you are addressing your sustainability agenda.”
Earlier this month, the U.N. calculated by how much the world will reduce its emissions and, conversely, what degree of warming can we expect in the future if government hold by their pledges. As a reminder, the stated goal of the COP21 U.N. summit in Paris is to avert warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 past pre-industrial levels. The climate is already 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer. Calculations, however, show that the collective national pledges amount to a reduction in global average emissions per capita by as as much as 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030. Is that a lot? Not at all. It might avert 3C of global warming over the century, one degree Celsius shy from the declared target.
It’s quite clear that we can’t rely on our governments. Not solely, at least. The private sector has proven a leading vector for innovation and change. If more companies join and buy more clean energy, then we might actually see a massive reduction in emissions. It’s not just some hopeful half guess, either. Wind and solar prices fall again, while fossil fuel energy grows more expensive. Solar energy is already cheaper than the grid for 30 million US residents. What will happen if there will be a high tax on carbon? What if fossil fuel subsidies are torn to shreds? Consider all of these, the world might be in for an energy revolution in the coming ten to fifteen years. When it happens, a snowball effect will rapidly transform the energy landscape once the the critical mass threshold is breached. So, a lot of high hopes set on the private sector. Don’t let us down.