What do Bank of America, Amazon, Coca Cola, Facebook, Google, Nike, Salesforce, Starbucks, T-Mobile and Walmart have in common?
In addition to being brand names that have footprints across the globe, they have all committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy. By doing so, these companies are taking a major step toward fighting climate change. The good news is that they also have an opportunity to help conserve and protect wildlife while doing so.
The private sector has committed to making a difference in the effort to fight climate change in absence of federal leadership or mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to move toward more renewable energy. More than 200 companies worldwide with a combined revenue of $5.4 trillion have committed to 100% renewable power either through production or purchase. Many companies are choosing to buy renewable energy from independent suppliers or in the market to achieve their 100% goal, and groups like the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) are helping companies do so.
In partnership with REBA, Salesforce, a cloud-based software company headquartered in San Francisco, recently published the white paper “More Than a Megawatt” that provides a starting framework on how to maximize the positive impacts of renewable energy purchases while minimizing the negative impacts. This white paper was an incredible endeavor by Salesforce as they sought to create a scoring system for their procurement process to ensure its renewable energy sources are truly sustainable. Not all renewable energy is created equal, in terms of its impact on local communities, emissions reductions, and, importantly, wildlife. In addition, by making it public, Salesforce is challenging other corporations to think more holistically and responsibly about where they are procuring their renewable energy from. As a key contributing organization to the paper, Defenders of Wildlife, provided guidance on how to ensure that the renewable energy being purchased is wildlife-responsible.
“Given that we are facing a climate crisis that is exacerbating the biodiversity crisis, it is imperative that we do everything we can to protect our planet and the species that live here. We also need to find innovative ways to deal with the new climate reality,” said Joy Page, director of Renewable Energy and Wildlife for Defenders of Wildlife. “Procurement of responsibly sited and operated and operated renewable energy by corporations can be a great tool to both increase renewable energy adoption and protect our valuable biodiversity.”
An analysis in 2019 suggests that corporate renewable energy procurements will play an increasingly important role in the U.S., driving the growth of wind and solar energy as shown in the graph below.
Research published in October estimates that corporations will be responsible for purchasing about 20% of all utility scale renewable energy developed in the United States by 2030.
“As more wind turbines and solar panels are installed to support the corporate demand, we also need to realize that these projects will take up hundreds of thousands of acres of lands and could impact our lands and wildlife, especially if they are not sited or operated responsibly,” said Joy. “Projects that are not responsibly sited and operated can pose serious risk to species like birds and bats and can destroy important wildlife habitat.”
Fortunately, corporate buyers have an opportunity to ensure that the projects they support and buy energy from are sited and operated responsibly and the ability to require that negative impacts to wildlife are avoided, minimized or mitigated. Doing so not only ensures that the projects supported by corporate buyers are truly sustainable, but also reduces environmental and reputational risk for buyers. Nothing is worse than finding out that a project that a corporate buyer has committed to buying energy from will negatively affect habitat for desert tortoise (a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act), for instance, or contribute to declines of bat species.
The whitepaper provides guidance on how to incorporate wildlife and other environmental and social values into procurement decision-making for renewable energy buyers. Beyond that, here are some of the ways corporate power purchasers can consider and address environmental impacts of renewable energy projects in their procurement process:
Ask questions about the project developer’s commitment to biodiversity and sustainability during the bidding process.
Show preference for projects developed in low conflict areas such as designated energy development zones, landfills or other previously disturbed sites
Establish a scoring system to evaluate projects based on measures taken to avoid, minimize or mitigate the project’s impacts like the one detailed in Salesforce’s white paper.
While all energy sources have impacts, taking steps to ask questions and encouraging project developers to do good by wildlife can go a long way in ensuring that renewable energy projects are low impact beyond just being carbon-free sources. Defenders stands ready to work with large and small buyers of renewable energy in their procurement process to ensure that their purchase of renewable energy results in wildlife conservation while also fighting climate change.