Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

By: Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships

rp_iStock_Solar_Installer.jpgThis past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals, or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions, and cosmetics.

That policy includes requiring Walmart’s suppliers to disclose the chemical ingredients of their products as well as phase out or declare on their packaging the ten high-priority chemicals of concern. Walmart is also moving to have its private label products meet the EPA’s Design for the Environment safety standards.

Building upon this, Walmart and Target convened a Beauty and Personal Care Products Sustainability Summit aimed at surfacing ways both companies and their suppliers can increase consumer safety, sustainability, and transparency through the entire supply chains of their products.

By engaging early—especially in areas where federal action is expected in the future, as with reform of TSCA—companies can reduce their risks, whether from legal action or public perception, and build greater trust with the public. These efforts also create a lens into companies’ operations that will shape the debate as changes to federal regulations take form.

Curbing methane leakage from the oil & gas sector

Another area where companies have been voicing support and helping guide policy is the push to reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector. Methane emissions are 84 times more potent than CO2 emissions over a 20-year timeline, and are increasingly seen as a major environmental and financial risk by both the energy and investment sectors.

That risk is driving companies in the oil and gas sector and elsewhere to encourage the federal government to regulate methane emissions. For example, in June Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein voiced his support of methane regulation on the Charlie Rose Show. Just two weeks ago, a group of investors managing $300 billion in assets (including the $160 billion NYC pension funds) sent an impassioned letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling for federal regulation of methane emissions.

Your opportunity to lead in the transition to a clean energy future

Engagement starts with being informed. That’s why EDF is eager to help you understand the need and opportunity for leadership on the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (aka the Carbon Pollution Standards or 111d).

This proposed rule is the biggest single action the federal government has taken on climate change, and will help curb carbon emissions from the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Proposed by the EPA earlier this year, the Clean Power Plan is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels, with room for custom implementations on a state-by-state basis so that state and local leaders can decide what solutions best fit the needs of each state’s specific economic, corporate and energy sectors.

Any sustainability officer who has tried to competitively price green power or build the business case for an energy efficiency program has a stake in the outcome. The Clean Power Plan can help shift us towards a lower-carbon economy and expand the demand and market for renewable energy and energy efficiency. But this depends on how the plan is implemented, and getting that right depends on you.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Business blog.

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