Corporate Change Agents Come Clean on Green

Last week, Ceres held its annual conference in San Francisco. The sustainability advocacy organization brings together representatives from non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, major institutional investors, and corporations to discuss climate change and its impacts on economies and the world. Coinciding with the conference, several big companies added their support for climate change policy by signing a public declaration.

Ceres has formed a splinter coalition, Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, or BICEP, which seeks to work with policymakers to pass energy and climate legislation and hurry the shift to a low-carbon economy for modern America. BICEP's Climate Declaration is a vow to coordinate efforts to combat climate change through policy.

Declarations and the drive to change
Already, 40 companies have signed on to the declaration, including Starbucks, eBay, Seventh Generation, Annie's, and Patagonia.

GM (NYSE: GM  ) may not jump to mind as a company that's speeding along on green pathways, but it is one of the latest to sign the declaration, and it's the first automaker to do so. Whether investors realize it or not, GM has already been working on environmentally friendly initiatives even beyond manufacturing more energy-efficient vehicles.

The auto giant has vowed to reduce energy intensity from its facilities by 20% by 2020. In fact, at 54 of its facilities, GM has already reduced its energy intensity by an average of 26% within just two to three years, cutting its energy bills by $90 million. It also boasts two of the five largest rooftop solar arrays in the world, making it the No. 1 automotive solar power user in the U.S.

At the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in April, GM CEO Daniel Akerson talked about the company's major environmental initiatives. Out of its 125 plants, 105 produce zero landfill waste; in his words, "not a drop of paint, not an ounce of steel" goes to landfill. Materials are reused and recycled. The company isn't just cutting its costs; reused materials add $1 billion in revenue to boot.  

Autodesk, Novelis, LUSH, and Method were also among the newest companies to sign the BICEP climate declaration, as announced at the conference.

Good for long-term business and economic health, good for bottom lines
This week and next, I'll cover more of the important discussions and data that emerged from Ceres' conference. The issues ran the gamut from climate change's effects on business, focusing on both the negative and the opportunities at hand, to the gatherings' will to tackle environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues head-on.

In just a few examples, investors can mull Sprint CEO Dan Hesse's forward-looking views on sustainability, including proof that such initiatives do save money and resources for savvy businesses over the long haul. Bank of America executive Catherine Bessant revealed that the megabank supports putting a price on carbon. Coca-Cola sustainability executive Allyson Park discussed the beverage giant's drive to disclose more about sustainability in its Form 10-K, and how sustainability was peppered into the company's last two earnings calls.

The fact that about 600 or so individuals participated in Ceres' conference is a signal for investors. There's an increasingly important -- and urgent -- need to address sustainability, and more and more people are realizing this not only reduces waste and inefficiency but also boosts profits. In other words, sustainability is good business, both for the world and for corporations' bottom lines.

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