One of the top trends in Corporate America today is companies pledging zero-carbon emissions to show leadership on the climate crisis. It seems every week another industry giant is publicly announcing its commitment to this goal by 2030, 2040, or 2050.
This is a step in the right direction, of course, given the magnitude of the problem. Climate change is happening faster than even the most aggressive computer models predicted, and this is made evident with the increase in both frequency and severity of droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods every year.
But company CEOs stating they will go zero-carbon by 2050 – nearly 30 years from now – are greenwashing at best and failing our country and the world at worst. Climate scientists warn us that this decade is critical to turning the tide on this crisis. Once average global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, the warming process will accelerate and become irreversible.
This is why many companies have stepped up and already achieved zero-carbon emissions … or are committing to be zero-carbon by 2030. Apple, for example, is carbon neutral for its direct emissions right now and pledges to be carbon neutral from its supply chain down to the energy used by its products by 2030. This is real leadership.
Does this mean that only rich and super-large companies can do this now? Well, my company isn’t rich or large … but we have achieved zero-carbon too. We did this by mainly installing solar on our rooftop and carport and then purchasing clean energy from our utility when the sun isn’t shining. My home is zero-carbon too using these same two strategies.
So, how is achieving zero-carbon by 2050 a show of anything but complacency, disrespect for science and humanity, and pathetic leadership without vision or accountability? The United States went to the moon in less than 9 years back in the 1960s with the most nascent of computer and rocket technology. Now certain companies need 30 years to go zero-carbon when all the solutions – from solar and wind power to batteries and electric cars, are widely available?
President Biden is planning to make our entire electric grid operate on clean energy by 2035. And it is committed to making our entire country carbon neutral by 2050. How is a CEO showing any leadership by stating he/she will follow the slowest conformer to this goal? The poorest of schools, non-profits, and communities can make this claim.
The 2050 climate pledge by company CEOs is a full-scale cop-out. It makes clear they are deferring any climate leadership to his/her successors and the next generation. We can do better. We must do better. And markets should push back on these companies by taking their business elsewhere. Because going zero-carbon is not only proven, practical, and profitable – today. It’s the right and necessary thing to do.