Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – an event that has historically gathered millions of people across the planet in demonstrations, marches, protests, and widespread clean-up efforts. In 1970, 20 million people took part in events across the United States – one-tenth of the U.S. population at the time.
While the size and scale of Earth Day has evolved since its start, this year is, and must be, different in ways many of us could not have previously imagined. Though the need for strong leadership and change is more urgent than ever before, Americans cannot come together – at least, not in person – to call upon government and business leaders to prioritize the planet. Beyond the challenges presented on Earth Day itself, critical actions like the UN’s November climate conference have also been put on hold while the world’s leaders focus on the coronavirus crisis.
Ironically, while the large scale movement and leadership around sustainability has stepped back from the immediate spotlight, the COVID-19 lockdown has led to a significant drop in global air pollution, showing us on this year’s Earth Day what a cleaner world might look like and deepening our understanding of the massive change that will be needed to address our changing climate. In tandem, corporate America – whose environmental impacts are traditionally sweeping – is largely under fire in the midst of the global health crisis, with some high-polluting industries like Airlines and Oil particularly reeling.
Stakeholder capitalism is being broadly tested as corporate leaders are tasked with protecting their workers, customers, and communities, and JUST Capital has been tracking how companies have been initially responding – particularly through actions like providing paid sick leave, closing stores, and implementing executive pay cuts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have yet to see major action on climate-related or environmental issues. That said, while environmental issues haven’t been center stage as they were earlier in the year, investors like world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, have signaled that they will continue to hold companies accountable to their commitments.
With the effects of coronavirus on our planet becoming clearer – along with the role of corporations and industries with the biggest impact on our climate – we are poised for change. A return to business as usual simply will not be possible once the crisis begins to fade, and alignment across business, government, and markets will be necessary to build a more just, and equitable future for all – including our planet.
This week, as we reflect on these implications for Earth Day 2020, we spoke with five of the leading companies from our 2020 Rankings – all first in their industries when it comes to the Environment – to better understand how they’re thinking about environmental impact during the coronavirus crisis. From each, we heard that, despite the impacts of COVID-19, the environment remains a core priority, and their commitments and targets have not wavered.
Apple, #3 Overall
Apple – our #3 company overall – has always been committed to driving innovation across all aspects of its business. That, alongside its strong commitment to the environment, has led the company to power all of its facilities across the globe with 100% renewable energy – a major accomplishment, and something Apple is encouraging its entire industry and suppliers to do as well.
Today, Apple continues to address the pressing threat of climate change, even as its team works to meet the immediate needs of the current global health crisis. In the midst of COVID-19, Apple closed its stores while continuing to pay employees, and developed new technology to aid in tracking the virus spread while respecting users’ privacy. As part of the company’s continued commitment to innovation, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives shared with us that the company is striving to “meet these challenges head on, and work toward a safer, healthier future.”
Hewlett Packard Enterprise, #17 Overall
HPE, another leading technology company, has historically placed the environment at the core of its operations. In our Quarterly JUST Call with HPE earlier this year, CEO Antonio Neri told us that sustainability is “core to [HPE’s] DNA,” and discussed why it is critically important for technology companies to address their energy consumption today.
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, HPE let us know that, as a purpose-driven business, it is doubling down on sustainability. The company remains focused on the health and safety of its employees and communities, as well as making sure that customers and clients – many of which are using its technology to support businesses of their own – have the tools they need to navigate the crisis.
More than half of HPE’s environmental impacts result from customers’ use of its products. And with the growing need for remote work technology and greater connectivity – despite diminishing budgets and resources – HPE is working to make sure its products continue to support the needs of customers while reducing its own environmental impacts (the company aims to improve the energy performance of its product portfolio by 30 times by 2025).
Intel, #4 Overall
Intel – the leading company for the Environment in its industry – has been committed to environmental stewardship since day one, when the company was founded more than 50 years ago.
Like many companies today, Intel’s top priority is protecting the health and well-being of its employees – which, while requiring a shift in resources, hasn’t changed the company’s overall commitment to achieving its environmental goals. Protecting the environment around Intel’s local communities is more important than ever before, and the company is continuing to prioritize local watershed restoration projects, along with other key goals and targets.
We asked Intel what advice their team might share with other corporate leaders looking to uphold their commitments to the environment today. They shared that the present challenge has offered an unprecedented opportunity for businesses, governments, nonprofits, and individuals to work together – creating a sort of playbook for how we can and must continue to work collaboratively to find innovative solutions to protect our planet.
UPS, #91 Overall
UPS is uniquely positioned as the leading company in Transportation – a traditionally high-polluting industry that includes airlines as well as shipping companies. Operating a growing fleet of more than 125,000 vehicles worldwide, UPS nevertheless aims to reduce emissions by 12% across global ground operations by 2025 through the use of renewable energy, as well as alternative and low-carbon fuel.
Despite the current crisis, UPS remains on track to achieve this and other goals, and will continue to build on investments in its electric and natural gas fleet. Simultaneously, UPS has made health and safety a core focus of its sustainability strategy – providing PPE to drivers, implementing an emergency paid leave program for employees, and partnering with 3M and FEMA to ship millions of masks to essential workers in the U.S., among many other initiatives.
Workday, #14 Overall
Workday is not only the leading company for the Environment in its industry – but also is #1 for the Environment overall in our Rankings. Erik Hansen, Workday’s Director of Sustainability shared with us a powerful quote, “The Earth is what we all have in common” from author and environmentalist Wendell Berry. He let us know that this quote has always served as a statement of purpose for Workday, and today feels truer than ever – serving as a reminder of how connected we truly are as a global community.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Workday remains steadfast in its environmental commitments – including its reliance on 100% renewable energy, adherence to a zero landfill policy, and its achievement of carbon neutrality. Hansen shared that, “With something as important as the health of our planet and its people on the line, it’s our collective responsibility to focus on sustainability and address climate change.”
While it may be years before we fully understand the larger impacts of coronavirus on the environment, we applaud the early commitments from these leading companies in staying the course on their environmental goals today. In this moment of great uncertainty, companies have the unique opportunity to take the lead, supporting each of their stakeholders in need – from workers to customers to the planet itself – both throughout this crisis, and in the long term. We will be continuing to track and analyze what companies are doing in the face of coronavirus, and commitments like these will determine what the future of business looks like across the globe.