World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Scaling Business Action for Climate and Nature: A CEO Dialogue

  • Date: 23 April 2021
  • Author: Marcene Mitchell, Senior Vice President, Climate Change, WWF

On the eve of President Biden’s Global Leaders Summit, where forty heads of state are convening to discuss their commitments to address climate change, WWF hosted “Scaling Business Action for Climate and Nature: A CEO Dialogue.” The event brought together top business leaders who have made significant science-based targets and climate commitments reflective of the Paris Agreement. CEOs from Walmart, McDonald’s Corporation, HP Inc., The Hershey Company, and Gap Inc. spoke about what the private sector needs from government to accelerate their climate action, and the support business can provide to the public sector in tackling climate change.

21-0421 WWF A CEO Dialogue from EMTProductions on Vimeo. Background image © Shutterstock/Taras.

We were honored to be joined by former US Secretary of State and current US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, who played a significant role in the Paris Agreement. We also heard from Dame Karen Pierce, United Kingdom Ambassador to the United States, whose country is hosting the next major climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow this November.

This event highlighted the essential role of the private sector to achieve the transition to the clean and equitable economy we need. The remarks from Special Envoy Kerry conveyed the Administration’s commitment to an aggressive climate agenda which can only be achieved through the active participation of the private sector. Our CEO, Carter Roberts, engaged the corporate leaders around how to bring the power of industry to support the Biden agenda and demonstrate that an ambitious emission reduction target is achievable.

The overarching message from the CEOs to Special Envoy Kerry and the administration was that they cannot take on this challenge alone. We heard that climate change is an existential threat even for business, and there is a clear need to influence global markets to assist in decarbonizing supply chains and to enhance low carbon competitiveness. And ultimately, we heard universal support for a bold commitment from the administration to reduce emissions in the United States.

All the participating companies spoke to the action they have taken to reduce their emissions based on science and the push for reductions across their value chain. We heard how they are transitioning to renewable energy in company operations and delivering nature-based solutions that address the emissions in their supply chains Each of the companies spoke about their unique contributions to tackling the climate crisis:

  • Gap Inc. highlighted their goal of 100% renewable energy in their 3,000 plus stores, distribution centers and headquarters through a first of its kind collaborative renewable energy deal with other major companies.
  • Hershey connected the global challenge of deforestation to local support of farmers and projects ensuring they have title to their land to spur investment in rejuvenation of the farms and environmentally sound farming practices.
  • HP spoke to their new climate commitments, including Net Zero by 2040 and setting a pioneering goal to address deforestation across the use of its products and services so that every page printed on an HP printer helps protect, restore, or improve the management of forests.
  • McDonald’s discussed how they’re in the process of bringing online renewable energy in the U.S. that will power the equivalent of 8,000 out of 14,000 U.S. restaurants, which is an innovative approach to cover the footprint of their franchisees.
  • Walmart discussed Project Gigaton, a program designed to prevent a billion metric tons of emissions out of its supply chain by 2030.

Despite these bespoke approaches to climate change, there were common threads in their approaches. These common threads provide guideposts for the broader private sector to follow, and we urge other companies to incorporate these strategies to increase the pace and ambition of climate action. Here’s how:

  • Set targets with the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), ideally aligned with a 1.5-degree pathway. A recent analysis showed 388 companies that adopted science-based targets collectively reduced their emissions by an average of 25% between 2015-2019.
  • Increasingly, leading companies are going beyond reducing value chain emissions and investing in nature-based solutions on the path toward net zero. For guidance on making meaningful and verifiable investments, we developed the “Beyond SBT Blueprint,” a new framework for corporate climate leadership of the future. WWF is developing a pipeline of high-integrity nature-based projects that not only lead to reduced or sequestered emissions but provide benefits for people and nature.
  • Apply the latest financial innovations to unlock the investment needed for nature-based projects. The WWF looks forward to working with our corporate and government partners in expanding the use of the latest financial instruments such as green and sustainability bonds, blended finance (where private sector investment leverages public funding), performance-based payments, the issuance of carbon credits and impact investing.
  • Raise the bar on policy engagement. Advocate for policies consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; align trade association advocacy with that goal; and allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them. We call this the AAA Responsibility Policy framework. 

These private sector climate actions, combined with the renewed federal commitment we're seeing from the White House, and broader society-wide engagement, position the United States to be once again a leading voice on climate change as we move toward COP26 this November.