• Nike, J&J, Starbucks also join 100% renewable energy pledge
  • Climate pledges spread, raising questions about credibility

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and seven other U.S. companies joined a growing list of businesses vowing to use only electricity produced from renewable sources, a sign of the corporate world’s increasing willingness to help curb global warming.

They bring to 36 the number of companies worldwide that have made the so-called RE100 pledge since it was introduced a year ago by The Climate Group, the non-profit organization said in a statement Wednesday.

More than 190 nations are sending delegates to Paris in December, where years of United Nations-organized talks are expected to culminate in a global pact to reduce greenhouse gases. Businesses have realized they have a role to play in shaping global climate policies, according to Climate Group Chief Executive Officer Mark Kenber. Johnson & Johnson, Nike Inc., Starbucks Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. also signed the pledge.

The companies are sending a signal to climate negotiators “that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see a strong climate deal in Paris,” Kenber said in the statement. 

While corporate participation in the fight against climate change is critical, pledges by businesses, cities and other “non-state actors” bring their own complications, said Angel Hsu, a professor at Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Non-binding Pledges

The pledges sometimes aren’t specific enough about timelines, funding or goals to determine whether they’re achievable. Different companies may not use the same measures of energy use or emissions, making it harder to compare, and businesses must be willing to reveal information about internal operations to gauge progress, she said in an interview.

“There’s not the same checks and balances,” she said. “You can’t hold a corporation legally bound to a non-binding voluntary pledge.”

The nine new RE100 companies set targets ranging from 2020 to 2050 for reaching their green-energy goals. Also signing on Wednesday were Steelcase Inc., Voya Financial Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc. Some of the other companies that have already joined the effort include Nestle SA, Unilever and Ikea.

Verifiable Plans

The RE100 effort includes requirements to ensure companies are serious, according to the Climate Group. Participants must provide a “verifiable road map” to reach the 100 percent goal and make yearly progress reports available to the public. Energy must come from corporate-owned wind, solar or other power plants or be purchased from third parties.

An expanding list of businesses have vowed action to help the climate in recent months. In July, the Obama administration announced 13 U.S. companies, including Apple Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. and Coca-Cola Co., had pledged to spend $140 billion to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution. Last month, food company General Mills Inc. said it would invest $100 million over 10 years to cut its emissions.

P&G, the world’s largest consumer-products maker, doesn’t have a specific target date for getting all its power from renewables, according to Len Sauers, vice-president for global sustainability. The Cincinnati-based company gets about 8 percent of its energy from clean sources and has set an interim goal of 30 percent by 2020.

“To really achieve meaningful results in your emissions, you need to be switching away from fossil fuels,” he said. “That’s how we think we will get the step-change that we need.”

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