Corporate America and the Sustainability Tipping Point

Anything environmental or climate related has become a dirty word in the nation's capital, where in the last few days Jon Huntsman, the one Republican presidential candidate who openly acknowledged climate change, suddenly reversed course.

But a groundswell is moving under their planted feet, which ultimately could force a renewed focus on clean energy and the environment. And that groundswell is caused in large part by the big stick of Corporate America.

Climate Counts, a nonprofit that ranks businesses according to their climate policies, says major brands are taking the whole climate thing much more seriously, according to this blog by Marc Gunther.

A tipping point?

In fact, Gunther quotes Climate Counts Project Director Mike Bellamente as saying: "There's evidence to suggest we have reached a remarkable tipping point. Global corporations are increasingly acknowledging climate change as reality and are adopting measures to reduce their emissions and environmental impact.”

Tipping point. Gee, those are words we don't hear used in this context very often in this campaign year.

Corporations such as Unilever, Nike, Southwest Airlines, Hasbro, AstraZeneca, UPS and Bank of America get the best scores from Climate Counts. Many of these businesses are voluntarily launching deeper into sustainability, but Gunther and Bellamente, noting that greenhouses gases increased record levels last year, suggest that voluntary efforts only go so far.

In this Washington Post piece, clean-energy consultant Sunil Sharan says America needs to put the pedal to the metal because it is lagging in the clean energy race, despite the best efforts of corporations. Sharan says, "Congress refuses to budge even as America continues to lose ground, and its intransigence could continue for years."

Call for national RPS

Sharan and Bellamente make the case for a national climate policy, with Sharan recommending that President Obama pass an executive order mandating a nationwide renewable portfolio standard.

California's 33 percent renewable standard is one the most ambitious in the nation - and is one of the reasons why the San Joaquin Valley and the deserts of Southern California are swamped with proposals for solar energy and why Warren Buffett bought a mammoth under-construction solar plant in California. Here is the third quarter RPS report from the state Public Utilities Commission.

An energy and climate policy may be lost in the political chatter now, but with Big Business picking up the mantle, it may not be long before it becomes a bigger part of the national conversation.