Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Giant corporations that make sustainability pledges have long faced justified skepticism over greenwashing, but several recent moves look somewhat more "green" and less "washy."

Driving the news: We're in the midst of a burst of new pledges by big multinationals, some of them around the annual "climate week" gathering of policymakers, companies and advocates.

Catch up fast: The many moves yesterday and in recent days and weeks include...

  • Walmart's pledge to zero out its operational emissions by 2040.
  • Banking giant Morgan Stanley's vow to have net-zero "financed emissions" by 2050.
  • Google's goal that within a decade its data centers will run around the clock on zero-carbon power.
  • Amazon's start last week in spending money from its big climate tech VC fund.

Why it matters: Climate pledges are getting less airy and, if carried out, would see companies accomplishing more tangible actions.

  • For instance, BP's long-term plan to diversify away from its dominant fossil fuel business will steeply cut its oil production over the next 10 years.
  • On the energy user side, consider that Walmart is vowing to reach its goal without buying offsets.
  • And this Vox piece looks deeply at Microsoft's recent moves.

What they're saying: "Lots of people were right to criticize early efforts as more marketing than material, but I think we have reached an inflection point and corporate climate commitments will get more ambitious and robust," says Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the think tank Niskanen Center.

He sees several forces at play, including...

  • Corporations understanding that "young, dynamic, and intelligent job candidates want to work for a company that is leading on climate."
  • The "economics and risk management" side of things. "For a lot of companies, clean energy is the cheaper and more resilient option," he says, while others are "getting ready for a transition they expect will only accelerate."

The intrigue: Corporate ethics expert Alison Taylor said companies are being pushed to address ongoing "contradictions" in their climate plans, such as how banks have renewable energy funds and oil industry clients.

  • "I think there is a ton of pressure to join these dots and address these contradictions, both because shareholder activism is increasingly focused on political spending, and also because employee activists often have enough passion and access to highlight these gaps," adds Taylor, who's with NYU's Stern School of Business.
  • "Both these trends push for more ambition and more disclosure on reputational grounds," she says.

Yes, but: "I don't think these issues are being addressed adequately, to date," Taylor tells me.

  • But she also sees some interesting developments occurring amid escalating pressure.
  • Taylor points to how several European oil giants have pulled out of some lobbying groups over their climate stances, and notes that "pressure on Amazon with regard to oil and gas clients is not going away."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 25, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Canadian oil heavyweights team up in $18 billion deal

Cenovus Energy is buying Husky Energy in an all-stock deal valued at $18 billion including debt, the latest step in a wave of industry consolidation amid a pandemic that has sapped oil prices and demand.

Why it matters: The agreement will create Canada's third-largest oil-and-gas producer, with 750,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in combined production, the company said, which includes lots of oil-sands and heavy oil output.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 26, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Trump reaches for oily lifeline

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's campaign is making energy policy a prominent part of its closing swing state attacks against Joe Biden — especially in Pennsylvania, a state critical to Trump's reelection effort where he's trailing in the polls.

Driving the news: Trump's efforts include a new ad in Pennsylvania alleging that his Democratic presidential rival would crush the state's gas industry, and his campaign has aggressively deployed surrogates talking about energy in recent days.

What Matters 2020

The missed opportunities for 2020 and beyond

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Jason Armond (Los Angeles Times), Noam Galai, Jabin Botsford (The Washington Post), Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the 2020 presidential campaign draws to a close, President Trump and Joe Biden have focused little on some of the most sweeping trends that will outlive the fights of the moment.

Why it matters: Both have engaged on some issues, like climate change and China, on their own terms, and Biden has addressed themes like economic inequality that work to his advantage. But others have gone largely unmentioned — a missed opportunity to address big shifts that are changing the country.

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