Opinion | Corporations must be more active in fight against climate change

By Paige Lawler, For The Pitt News

The United Nations held a summit Monday to discuss the ever increasing threat of climate change and the importance of taking aggressive action to combat it.

The climate emergency has also been recognized by individuals, many of whom have cut their consumption of single-use plastic and other non-sustainable resources with the hope of reducing their carbon footprint.

While this is an admirable goal, individual sustainability is not enough to save the planet from climate change. It is imperative that corporations join the fight to stop climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and adopting sustainable practices.

Studies have shown that since 1988, 71% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 100 corporations, with ExxonMobil, Shell and BP among the most notable investor-owned companies on the list. If corporations do not reduce their emissions, earth’s average global temperature could increase by 4 degrees Celsius within the century.

This increase in temperature would be detrimental to the planet, especially considering that scientists predict that a 2-degree increase would make the effects of climate change irreversible. Such an increase would be accompanied by catastrophic effects, including droughts, rising sea levels, violent hurricanes and a lower crop yield.

Given the massive impact of corporations’ emissions, movement towards more sustainable business and operational practices would have a far greater and more immediate impact than smaller actions by individuals. Fifteen food and beverage companies in the United States — including Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Nestlé — are reported to produce 630 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually.

For comparison, the average North American’s carbon footprint is 20 tons of greenhouse gasses emitted annually. It should also be noted that the North American average is significantly higher than the global average, which is about 4 tons annually. From this data, it is clear that reductions in corporate emissions will have a larger effect than any reduction in individual emissions.

Some companies have argued that switching to more sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy or otherwise limiting emissions, would be damaging to the business and the economy. However, this is not necessarily the case. The News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, announced in 2011 that it had gone completely carbon-neutral and had not suffered financial setbacks. In fact, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, noted that the company was actually saving millions of dollars thanks to more energy efficient and sustainable practices.

“Our efficiency projects pay for themselves in less than two years, on average, and span from simple solutions like lighting retrofits and automatic PC shut-down to systemic changes like installing telepresence and videoconferencing technology to reduce the need for air travel,” Murdoch said in the company statement.

This clearly demonstrates that small adjustments, which can be as simple as using power-saving electronics, can make a massive difference in the sustainability of a large organization. If more companies followed the News Corporation’s example, it would certainly make a noticeable impact on overall global emissions.

Similarly, Volvo announced in 2017 that starting with their 2019 models, every car they sold would be either a hybrid or an electric model. Volvo’s goal with this shift is to reduce their environmental impact as they move towards carbon-neutral manufacturing methods, which they are expected to achieve in 2025.

Both of the previous examples are excellent steps towards a more environmentally sound future. Other corporations ought to be putting in the same thought and effort to reduce their own carbon footprints. Even if several corporations took small measures, the combined effect would drastically decrease emissions and positively affect the planet in the long run.

None of this is to say that it is pointless for individuals to be conscious of their carbon footprint, and I do not discourage anyone from limiting their consumption of single-use plastics. Corporations must be held accountable for their high levels of emissions and act now to reduce their environmental impact. Individual sustainability is no longer good enough.