Sustainability

Seeking: Leading Companies to Drive Renewable Energy Revolution

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, Walmart joined Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, and Sprint in signing the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Principles. The goal of these Principles is to increase availability of cost-competitive renewable energy to run their businesses and better communicate their purchasing needs and expectations to the marketplace. 

What can rotary dial telephones, cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and door to door milk delivery teach us about the renewable energy revolution? They show us how once commonplace products and services have and will always be replaced by newer ones. It’s not farfetched to say 2014 is to renewable energy what 1955 was to the CRT TV – the golden age of renewable energy is just now upon us.

Many of America’s largest companies are also convinced that a clean energy future is what they want, and they’ve set significant goals to get there. In fact, 43% of Fortune 500 companies have set renewable energy and efficiency targets, and – better still – 60% of the Fortune 100 have set targets.

These corporations are demonstrating real progress toward their goals. For example, Mars, Inc., a food company known for its chocolate products, recently announced that it will build a 200-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Lamesa, TX, which, according to Mars, is the largest long-term commitment to renewable energy made by any food manufacturing business in the U.S. We read about other large deals nearly every day.

In the process of switching to renewable energy, companies have gained a great deal of experience. Unfortunately, this transition hasn’t been easy. Utilities have been slow to respond to their major customers’ needs. When the companies bypass their utilities to purchase renewable energy elsewhere, they are having successes, but face complex deals and financing arrangements making it hard to buy renewables at the scale they need.

What do the companies want? The companies want utilities, utility regulators, and providers of renewable energy to understand that they have large demand for clean renewable energy. The system that exists now makes it difficult to meet their goals. But companies are willing, and in many cases would prefer to work with all these key players to make renewable energy available more quickly.

Wind Energy stock photo

In every other aspect of their business, companies are used to a competitive market for the commodities they buy. The best quality goods at the most favorable terms win the contract. However, where energy is concerned -- and particularly renewable energy -- companies have far fewer choices. In many markets, companies have no choice at all. In others, choices are extremely limited or require a price premium over fossil-fuel produced energy, in quantities too small to meet the company needs, and subject to ongoing price volatility. All in all, this hinders companies’ ability to meet their renewable energy targets and discourages the setting of more ambitious targets. We should be rewarding these corporate leaders trying to do the right thing with their energy use, not slowing them down.

On the upside, there is a huge opportunity available to utilities and renewable energy providers who can bring companies what they need. The companies that have signed onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles alone account for 8.4 million megawatt hours of demand per year, enough electricity to power nearly 800,000 homes each of the next few years. Many of these companies would prefer to meet this need by purchasing renewable electricity through their local utility companies, but if utility companies are unable to provide it, they are -- and will -- continue to go elsewhere.

A more robust, open renewable energy market with innovative tariffs would create the competition needed to encourage other companies to set and meet aggressive renewable targets, something that would literally benefit the entire planet. If that sounds like a good idea to you, we welcome more companies to sign onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles.

Intrigued? Shoot me an email and we’ll talk about meeting your company’s renewable energy targets. For utility regulators, it’s time to find out what your customers want and find a way to meet that need. If you don’t, someone else will.

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Community

Among the Essentials, a Delivery of Hope

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, David Simmons’ first thought wasn’t the minor damage to his home in Mississippi. It was calling the Walmart dispatch station to see how he could help through his job as a truck driver.

He was sure there was plenty of emergency freight that had to be delivered, but that wasn’t a request he was met with on the other end of the line. The operator instead asked how his family fared in the storm, and told him to stay home and take care of his property as there were drivers coming from all over to assist with the recovery.

Later, he did get a chance to help – hauling donated merchandise for the Salvation Army – and says that it remains to this day one of the most fulfilling moments of his driving career.

“From food, clothing and water to even roofing materials, it was all needed and appreciated by the residents of the Gulf Coast,” David said.

Rickey Oliver, too, remembers Katrina as a moment he was proud to work for Walmart. One of the drivers who participated in a convoy of trucks that waited to enter one of the most heavily damaged areas of New Orleans, Rickey thought for a moment that the abandoned-looking area around him was actually empty. 

A man proudly holds a 2005 image of Walmart trucks waiting to enter affected areas of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina

“To my amazement, like in the movie Field of Dreams they came, walking in from every street, every corner, out of buildings I thought for sure no one would be in. All hungry and thirsty and desperate for help, and we … were the help,” Rickey said. “I don’t think a person can truly express the feeling or the honor one receives in doing this kind of thing.”

Gary Mars, another Walmart driver who was part of that same convoy, feels the same way. Carrying water, generators, and food – plus ice, important during hot August weather in Louisiana – was a critical role to fill.

“I remember the sense of pride I felt as we convoyed into New Orleans and surrounding cities, as nearly every vehicle we met was waving at us as we passed, and several had makeshift signs saying, ‘Thank you, Walmart,’” Gary said. “I was relatively new to Walmart, but I knew at that point that this was a place to permanently call home. It’s amazing to me just how quick lives can change, just in a moment. It’s very humbling.” 

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Sustainability

The Makeup of Makeup and More: Improving Ingredient Transparency

Imagine you’re standing in a store aisle looking for a new brand of lotion that won’t irritate your baby’s skin. You find yourself surveying at least a dozen different lotion labels trying to understand and compare product ingredients. The process is frustrating, slow, and confusing – what are some of these things even used for?

You are not alone. A lack of product ingredient information is a very common problem. Fortunately, the situation is improving. In the past few years, more and more companies have taken action to make product information more transparent to consumers, including the sharing of ingredients online. Walmart is one of these companies.  

As outlined in its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, Walmart has started an effort to list the ingredients contained within its private label consumable products – personal care and household products that you use up, such as aftershave, baby lotions, cleaners, or pet shampoo – on walmart.com. Walmart’s policy also asks national brand suppliers, like Procter and Gamble, Revlon and Pro-Sense, to follow this lead and include product ingredient information on their own websites.

Sharing lists of ingredients on Walmart’s website is a positive development for customers. Greater online access to this information makes it easier to find out what’s in products and to compare ingredients across products so that customers can ultimately make more informed purchasing decisions. For an example, consider cleaning products.  If you’ve ever tried to figure out what’s inside a cleaning product while shopping, you know it can be difficult – for the most part, ingredients are not required to be disclosed on the packaging of cleaning products.

Today, you can find on Walmart.com a list of ingredients for most private label products covered by the policy.  See for example, “ingredients” listed under “about this item” for a bottle of Equate body wash. According to Walmart’s implementation guide, product ingredients are to be listed in descending order of concentration using a standard naming convention called INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). This standard is already in use by many product manufacturers and helps create consistency that is designed to allow for easier identification and comparison of ingredients across products. Walmart’s policy is being implemented in steps, so not all of Walmart’s product listings disclose ingredients as outlined in the policy and implementation guide.  Walmart continues to build and improve upon this important first step.  

We’re encouraged to see that product ingredient transparency is becoming more standard practice in the marketplace. We’re especially pleased with companies like Clorox and Seventh Generation that have taken leadership steps on ingredient disclosure by providing ingredient information in multiple languages and identifying an ingredient’s function, or purpose, in a product. This is good news for the growing number of consumers interested in making informed decisions about the products we buy and use every day.

But the benefits of ingredient disclosure may well extend far beyond our everyday shopping trips. Businesses that commit to consumers on ingredient disclosure provide valuable information that can ultimately help drive safer chemicals into the marketplace.

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a senior scientist, and Alissa Sasso is a research consultant. Both contributors work for the Environmental Defense Fund.    

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Community

One Nurse, 16 Infants, and a Storm’s Ultimate Test

Medea Gabriel is not a hero, she insists.

During Hurricane Katrina, there were many others she believes are equally deserving of that title. Her fellow medical staff at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center who worked while separated from their families. Her best friend, Monique, who took Medea’s ailing mother to evacuate on her own. Also, the strangers she remembers driving their personal boats to pick up patients and staff from the hospital and navigate them to dry land.

But as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, Medea helped wrap up 16 babies and move them to shelter through a hole in the wall that led to a truck bed. The truck bed was to take them to a helicopter and then, safety, but once Medea passed each infant through the wall, she had no idea if outside realities would let that happen.

Today, she knows that nearly all of those babies somehow survived on the way to their destination, Baton Rouge Women’s Hospital. While one of them did pass away, she doesn’t know how or when, because that hospital has since closed. She recently got a Facebook message from one of the mothers who wanted to thank her for what she did that day.

“It was surreal to know how much I impacted her life and that she remembered me,” Medea said. “Just knowing that these kids are now 10 years old lets me go on.”

Photo shows the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit

When Medea transported those infants that day, she says she was simply doing her job. Once the job was complete, she turned her full attention toward her mother, whom she sent with her best friend to get on a boat to safety. She had to pack up her mother’s medicine, waterproof her medical records and dosage instructions and staple them to the inside of her mother’s clothes so they didn’t get lost. She then sent her two loved ones off to stay with a college roommate whom she believed in her heart would take them in, but she didn’t know for sure. It was the second big moment that day where she had to simply act.

Thankfully, two days later – after Medea herself had to leave the hospital not knowing her next resting place – she found out that her mother was, in fact, alive.

While many things have changed for Medea since then, like a new job and also a new husband, she has returned home to New Orleans and works with pediatric patients once again, this time doing HIV research.

“I’m in a totally different place than I was before Katrina,” she said. “I’ve found peace and joy in this recovery.”

Editor’s Note: You can hear more of Medea’s story in a four-part podcast created by Good360, a disaster relief organization that works to improve the way communities can connect with much-needed supplies.    

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Community

With Grit and Heart, Two Mississippi Stores Return

Pass Christian, Mississippi, is a small town of only a few thousand people, but it has always been a huge part of Kim Claycomb’s life. It’s where she grew up and went to high school, and later built a career at the local Walmart.

In the last few days of August 2005, Kim’s community was forever changed as Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Kim’s home was damaged, not destroyed, but her workplace – the supercenter she and her colleagues affectionately named “The Store by the Shore,” was ruined beyond repair.

After the storm hit, many Walmart associates went to work at other stores. Several in the Pass Christian area headed to another nearby small community, Waveland, to serve local residents in a makeshift store they created inside a tent in the parking lot.

Today, Kim works at a Neighborhood Market in Gulfport, but as her store in Pass Christian was being reconstructed, she drove by every day and took photos of its progress. When the building was complete, she recalled the mayor talking excitedly about the grand opening on the local news.

“I never thought a Walmart would have that big of an impact, but it did,” Kim said. “Seeing customers who remembered us from before … those people are like family to me. Coming back was a big deal.”

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