Eye-Catching Stories from 2021

For more than a decade, I’ve written a year-end article for Harvard Business Review on the big stories in corporate sustainability from the year gone by. I used to feel like I could capture most of the interesting and important stories in a single article. But that’s now impossible — there’s way too much is going on. Sustainability has finally mainstreamed (which is my grand conclusion for this year’s HBR article, which is out now). I can’t even keep up with the news in a given week. If you’d like to try, I strongly recommend the Corporate Eco-Forum Weekly Briefing. It captures a huge array of corporate goals, announcements, partnerships, government action, and more.

As a companion to the HBR article, I wanted to provide a longer list of links to stories that grabbed me this year. Some are large and thematic, others small examples of a trend. This is in no way scientific — and on reflection, it’s far too heavily weighted to climate and the E side of ESG (I’ll set a resolution to do better in 2022!). Scan through and see if you agree that these represent some big ideas from the year…

Signs of tipping points & mainstreaming sustainability

  • Almost One-Third of Europe’s Largest Listed Companies Have Pledged to Reach Net-Zero by 2050…here
  • 92% of S&P 500® Companies and 70% of Russell 1000® Companies Published Sustainability Reports in 2020…here
  • Court orders Shell to slash CO2 emissions in landmark climate ruling…here
  • A bad day for Big Oil: ExxonMobil, Chevron lose key shareholder votes and Dutch court orders Shell to cut emissions faster…here
  • ConocoPhillips shareholders back proposal to set Scope 3 targets…here
  • AICD research confirms directors want the government to prioritise climate risk…here
  • Building New Renewables Is Cheaper Than Burning Fossil Fuels…here
  • End of era as FPL plans teardown of its last coal-fired electric plant…here
  • Climate crisis causing seismic shift in business priorities…here
  • G-7 Nations Sign Pact To Make Corporations Pay Fairer Taxes…here

Climate change and COP26 (results are not enough)

  • Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’…here
  • The largest iceberg in the world just broke off from Antarctica…here
  • World economy set to lose up to 18% GDP from climate change if no action taken…here
  • Cop26 pledges could limit warming to 1.8C, says energy agency boss…here
  • Amazon rainforest now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs…here

Corporate ambitions and goals (a small sample)

(A tiny sampling of hundreds of announcements this year. A few grabbed me because they are a bit unusual — like Forescue’s target for its customers. Big scope 3 goals, especially for customers, are new-ish.)

  • WPP makes industry-leading net zero commitment…here
  • Fortescue targets net zero emissions from customers by 2040…here
  • Alibaba Group Announces Carbon Neutrality Goal by 2030…here
  • Maersk Seeks $150-a-Ton Carbon Tax on Shipping Fuel…here
  • Apple announces racial equity and justice initiatives as part of $100 million program…here
  • PepsiCo Announces 2030 Goal to Scale Regenerative Farming Practices Across 7 Million Acres, Equivalent to Entire Agricultural Footprint…here
  • Ikea Has More Renewable Energy Than It Can Use, and That’s Just the Beginning…here
  • HP Inc. Commits to Accelerate Digital Equity for 150 Million People by 2030…here
  • Comcast RISE to Support 13,000 BIPOC-Owned Small Businesses With Tech Services, Marketing Resources and Millions of Dollars in Grants by 2022…here

Business, democracy, and misinformation

  • Corporate America halts donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the election…here
  • How the Capitol Riot Thrust Big American Companies Deeper Into Politics…here
  • Donald Trump should be removed from office to preserve democracy, business leaders say…here
  • Simon & Schuster Cancels Plans for Senator Hawley’s Book…here
  • Georgia business community expresses concern over voting restrictions…here
  • MLB moving 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia voting law…here
  • Japan’s Kirin to end joint beer ventures in Myanmar after coup…here
  • Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before Senate Commerce Committee (video)…here
  • Facebook’s whistleblower report confirms what researchers have known for years…here
  • Google cracks down on climate change denial by targeting ads…here
  • Report: Corporations are tanking America’s best shot at fighting climate change…here

Rapid Increase in ESG in Finance

  • BlackRock Chief Pushes a Big New Climate Goal for the Corporate World…here
  • Citi Commits $1 Trillion to Sustainable Finance by 2030…here
  • JPMorgan Chase Targets More Than $2.5 Trillion over 10 Years to Advance Climate Action and Sustainable Development…here
  • Morgan Stanley Announces Commitment to Mobilize $1Trillion to Support Sustainability Solutions by 2030, including $750 Billion of Low-Carbon Solutions…here
  • Bank of America Increases Environmental Business Initiative Target to $1 Trillion by 2030…here
  • HSBC announces thermal coal phase-out policy…here
  • Global ESG Debt Market Tops $3 Trillion as Virus Spurs Issuance…here
  • Carney Unveils $130 Trillion in Climate Finance Commitments…here
  • World’s biggest banks to play a role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions…here
  • S&P Global makes over 9,000 ESG Scores publicly available…here
But, some ESG backlash…
  • The ESG Mirage…here
  • Blackrock’s former sustainable investing chief now thinks ESG is a ‘dangerous placebo’…here
  • We Need Corporate Patriotism To Defeat American Marxism…here [this is a scary one — a US senator is saying that ‘woke’ companies are not patriotic and calls for a crackdown on, essentially, things like ESG investing]

Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity

  • Banking On Us: Fulfilling Our Pledge to the Black Community…here
  • Black Santas are appearing in US Disney parks this season for the first time…here
  • Sephora Elevates BIPOC­ Owned Brands Through Its Incubator Program…here
  • Unilever to drop word ‘normal’ from beauty products to support ‘inclusive vision’…here
  • Starbucks expands initiatives to advance opportunity, equity and inclusion in the communities it serves…here
  • What abortion bans could mean in the war for talent…here

Supply pressures

  • Salesforce Suppliers Must Maintain Sustainability Scorecard or Pay ‘Climate Remediation Fee’…here…and the “contract” here
  • Tesco set to become first UK retailer to offer sustainability-linked supply chain finance…here
  • Porsche calls on its suppliers to use 100% renewable energy to manufacture its components…here
  • Organic Valley launches RE financing program for farmers…here
  • Iberdrola promotes ESG criteria among its more than 22,000 suppliers worldwide…here

Clean economy transition (specifically auto industry)

  • 6 Automakers and 30 Countries Say They’ll Phase Out Gasoline Car Sales…here
  • Volvo says it will make only electric cars by 2030…here
  • Honda to electrify European line-up by 2022, not 2025…here
  • General Motors to eliminate gasoline and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035…here
  • Government publishes world’s first ‘greenprint’ to decarbonise all modes of domestic transport by 2050…here
  • Washington State bans gas cars by 2030 – the earliest in the US…here
  • Volvo’s plan to drive the green steel market…here
  • Major Companies Are Calling for Federal Standards Ensuring Open Access and Simple Payment Methods for Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure…here

Reporting and standards

  • IFRS Foundation announces International Sustainability Standards Board…here
  • An introduction to the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation…here
  • UK to Require Pension Holders to Disclose Climate Impacts of Investments…here
  • OCC Seeks Feedback on Principles for Climate-Related Financial Risk Management for Large Banks…here
  • Too many boardrooms are climate incompetent…here
  • GRI revises universal sustainability standards, with focus on human rights…here

Youth and Employee Voice

  • Greta Thunberg on COP26: ‘No More Blah Blah Blah’ (video)…here

Partnerships

  • Global insurance and reinsurance leaders establish alliance to accelerate transition to net-zero emissions economy…here
  • Nestlé joins others to set up first UK-wide coffee pod recycling scheme…here
  • The B2B sharing revolution…here
  • Six Global Banks Come Together to Decarbonize Steel…here
  • Advancing Diversity through the Alliance for Global Inclusion…here
  • 10 Global Companies Take Action Towards Living Wages…here

Some other hopeful, fun, or random stories

  • The corporate climate migration has begun…here
  • Record-Setting 81% of DuPont Shareholders Approve Plastics Pollution Proposal…here
  • JPMorgan Shares Patents to Spur Low-Carbon Technology Development…here
  • Intuit Launches Platform to Help Small Business Cut Emissions…here
  • Apple announces Self Service Repair…here
  • Lululemon is experimenting with the first fabric made from recycled carbon emissions…here
  • The Planet on the Plate: Why Epicurious Left Beef Behind…here
  • The New Menu at Eleven Madison Park Will Be Meatless…here
  • Cargill will sell cow face masks to catch burps full of methane…here
  • Pandora to ditch mined diamonds over sustainability concerns…here
  • World-first laundry capsule in market made from industrial carbon emissions…here
  • Joe Biden signs bill to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang into law…here
  • Walmart now offering free college tuition and books to its 1.5 million U.S. employees…here
  • Google launches more ways to help people make sustainable choices…here
  • Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory…here [such a strange, fun story…]
  • Reasons to be hopeful: the climate solutions available now…here

As always, the year was filled with progress against a backdrop of worsening challenges. But companies are getting more innovative (cow masks?), and ambition levels are growing. Companies are coming together more and more to collaborate on our biggest problems. This next year will bring more turmoil for sure as the fight for democracy and our climate continues.

So here’s to a 2022 where we move down a path toward building Net Positive companies and a thriving world.

Stay safe and happy holidays!

______

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