The Power of the Future

Op-Ed: Here’s how companies can strong-arm their suppliers into cutting carbon emissions

I first visited the U.S. at age 12, during a school exchange trip to South Florida. It is not often a child sees such a majestic palm tree—a towering giant whose broad leafy branches cast a blue shadow.

The Florida climate, though, can be surprisingly unforgiving of the young. I was backpacking through Florida for weeks, and the state’s temperature ranged from above 90 to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, all the time, with humidity so low my T-shirt was soaked before I left the apartment. I was in my bathing suit, standing on a beach in Palm Beach County, when the sun began to bake the water into an acid surface.

The trip taught me that it is important to understand the power and potential pitfalls of carbon emissions. With the U.S. and the rest of the world now committed to reducing CO2 emissions to keep global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius—a reduction necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global climate change—we need to learn from how companies around the world manage their suppliers, as well as look at what they can learn from our industry. Let’s do better.

How companies can pressure suppliers to cut carbon emissions

The U.S. Department of Energy has conducted a project to evaluate all major industrial facilities in the U.S., including coal-fired power plants, chemical plants, and chemical manufacturing facilities. The results show that U.S. chemical facilities are among the largest carbon dioxide emitters on the planet — about 15 tons per mile of facility per year.

Many plant managers believe their employees are a critical part of the solution for reducing CO2 emissions. But there’s a problem with this logic. Just because something has been around for a while doesn’t mean it’s doing good work, or is good at doing its job. For example, in the book, The End of Growth, author Nicholas Eberstadt examined several hundred billion dollars in investments in companies that had been around for 50 years and had made those companies as profitable as they were when they started. “And all of those companies—not just the success stories—are on the wrong side of the curve,” he wrote. “They are burning through cash faster than

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