For most of the world, and for most of history, perhaps the greatest single driver of human activity and behavior has been money: getting it and then getting more.

Of course, for many, getting some money or something worth trading is a matter of survival. But economies, as a generality, are all about organizing the pursuit of money and sometimes its distribution. There are winners and losers and, again generally, the winners like to keep the laws, rules and regulations governing acquisition of money in their favor.

Much of the headwinds against building a sustainable economy based on renewable sources of energy are generated by those with something (money) to lose.

On the other hand, a substantial chunk of the public resolve to transition to a sustainable economy is coming from people and companies that recognize the risks, financial and otherwise, of sticking with a fossil fuel economy and see opportunities to make money from the transition.

The last column detailed efforts by investors to align corporate policy and moneymaking activity with the Paris Accords by organizing shareholders to pressure executives and boards of directors.

This column, the second in a series of three, is about little-known but significant actions being taken around the world to respond to the climate crisis. In many cases, these actions result from shareholder pressure. But many are just examples of businesses acting on their own, whether out of a calculation of risk avoidance or just because they have concluded it’s the right thing to do — and, oh, by the way, they can make money at it.

There are organizations that collect information on corporate spending on sustainability and share that information on their websites. Much of what follows comes from these sources or from media sources such as the New York Times.

First, the big picture. According to the New York Times, in 2018 the Carbon Disclosure Project asked companies to calculate how the climate crisis might affect them financially. They received 7,000 responses and analyzed more than 200 from the world’s 500 largest companies. This analysis showed that “these companies potentially faced roughly $1 trillion in costs related to climate change in the decades ahead unless they took proactive steps to prepare. By the companies’ own estimates, a majority of those financial risks could start to materialize in the next five years or so.”

Hitachi indicated floods and rainfall in Southeast Asia could knock out suppliers. Brazil’s Banco Santander said increasingly severe droughts could adversely affect the ability of people to repay loans. Alphabet (Google’s parent company) worried that increased global heat would put their data centers at risk. Bank of America worries that floods and fires will result in defaults on mortgages. Walt Disney thinks their theme parks could get too hot for people to want to visit. AT&T can see disaster if cell towers are blown over. Coca-Cola is worried that there may not be enough fresh water to make all the Coke they would like.

Each of the businesses mentioned above described actions they were taking to avoid or mitigate the risk they identified.

Now, on to a few specifics. These are examples of literally hundreds that have come to my computer in the last few years.

Ralph’s Grocery, a subsidiary of Kroger Co., is installing more than 7,000 solar panels on its distribution center in Paramount. The system will produce 4.28 million kWh of clean power every year, roughly 50 percent of the facility’s total usage. Kroger has also installed solar at distribution centers in Oregon and Utah, for a total in 2018 of 14.59 million kWh of renewable, clean power.

The Golling Auto Group, with multiple care dealerships in Michigan, installed LED lighting at four locations, saving more than $1.4 million (car dealerships use a lot of light) over 10 years with a positive cash flow in only 14 months.

Kyocera TCL Solar recently began operation of what is now Japan’s largest “floatovoltaic” syscorporate sustainabilittem — more than 50,000 solar panels floating on more than four acres of the Yamakura Dam Reservoir. The system produces more than16 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 5,000 “typical” homes. In their press release, the company noted that, “Since its establishment, Kyocera TCL Solar has constructed 61 solar power plants across Japan,” including “seven floating power plants using Japan’s fresh-water dams and reservoirs rather than agricultural land, for it is becoming more difficult to secure tracts of land suitable for utility-scale projects.”

Lastly, at least for now, major retailers are adopting “science-based” reduction actions to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial temperatures. In terms of our local area, this includes Walmart, CVS, Best Buy, Gap and Target.

In Target’s case, they have undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from 2017 levels by 2030. Perhaps most notable, they have required 80 percent of their suppliers to also set and enact science-based reduction “targets” (couldn’t resist). Target will meet its targets by transitioning to solar and wind for energy used in manufacturing, distribution, corporate travel, and even what “guests” at Target stores use.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears in the print edition on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on August 21, 2019 | Printed in the August 21, 2019 edition