As the incoming Trump administration promises a retreat on the issue of global warming, executives of major corporations gathered in Fort Lauderdale this week to discuss how businesses could reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The Companies vs. Climate Change conference at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 attracted representatives from Citigroup, Ingersoll Rand, Nasdaq, Avery Dennison, AmerisourceBergen, Bacardi, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, JM Family Enterprises, Hertz, Office Depot, Subway, Amtrak, Walgreens and many other companies.
There were no representatives of oil companies or automobile manufacturers among the 200 or so participants, but the conference’s organizer said the turnout from major corporations showed that large segments of the business community were serious about dealing with climate change.
“In the wake of the election, it’s pretty clear that that climate solutions must – underline three times – must, be business driven,” said Jason Youner, chief executive officer of Companies vs. Climate Change, which organized the three-day conference that ended Friday. “The government’s not going to do it. The private sector has to do it. Corporations have to take the lead, and they really are. They’re doing a lot in this area. They know their customers want it. They’re making it happen, and that’s why we’re having a conference like this.”
Several corporate representatives said that reducing their environmental footprint has turned out to be good business.
“We are in touch with our key stakeholders – our employees, customers, our shareholders, and all of those constituents tell us that this is what they want to see,” said Joe Doolan, head of environmental affairs at TD Bank, founding sponsor of the event, which has 1,300 branches in the United States. “Quite frankly, it’s quite profitable.”
The company has achieved LEED certifiction at about 200 of its branches, a third-party verification that the buildings are energy efficient and meet high environmental standards for water use and sustainable materials.
“We’re realizing great efficiencies,” he said. “Our operating expenses are reduced.”
At Alaska Airlines, the company now uses one-third less fuel per passenger than it did 10 years ago, said Jacqueline Drumheller, the company’s sustainability officer.
The airline has ranked No. 1 for fuel efficiency among major U.S. airlines for several years by the International Council on Clean Transportation. But she said the company is experimenting with liquid fuel made from wood waste, corn and other sources, as it pursues its goal of achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020. Such a reduction would be both good for the environment and good for the company’s balance sheet, she said.
“Airlines are big users of liquid fuel. We emit a lot of carbon,” she said. “Twenty-five to 50 percent of our operating costs are in terms of fuel.”
One reason the conference came to Fort Lauderdale is the city’s growing and well-publicized vulnerability to sea-level rise. Coastal neighborhoods have experienced worsening fair-weather flooding, forcing the city to spend millions to try keep out the water through means such as one-way flow valves that stop seawater from flowing up through storm sewers.
“It’s great to see so many people from the business community stepping up on this issue,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told the group. “You’re absolutely right. Government’s not going to solve this problem. Government can only facilitate a solution.”
He described how Hurricane Sandy’s passage up the coast in 2012, combined with high tides, generated powerful enough waves to rip out a section of A1A.
“We lost a state road, as a result of Sandy being off the coast of Fort Lauderdale,” he said.
“This issue for many years was strictly an environmental issue. It was always, that’s for tree huggers, that’s for environmental extremists, that’s the issue for the people who were crying it was the end of the world. And the minute this issue became an economic issue, it became a mainstream issue.”