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More U.S. businesses making changes in response to climate concerns

A logging truck in Patten, Maine, in August 2017. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Lindblad Expeditions has made its name as a leader in responsible tourism, taking its ships to sensitive areas such as the Galapagos, Alaska and Antarctica. But to get to those destinations, its 13 ships have been burning enough fuel to account for nearly all of the 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it creates every year.

Last week, Lindblad said it would offset 100 percent of its carbon footprint by investing in projects that will reduce emissions elsewhere. The carbon offsets, or carbon credits, will include solar projects in Mexico and India, wind power in Vietnam, reforestation efforts in Peru and Zimbabwe, and a cookstove project in Rwanda.

Sven Lindblad, chief executive and founder of Lindblad Expeditions, said in a statement that “global climate change is arguably the greatest threat humanity has ever faced,” adding that “we all need to urgently step up our efforts whether big or small.”

Many U.S. companies are taking note of the urgency of recent climate reports and are changing corporate policies. From carbon credits to eco-labeling to energy use, companies are responding to warming temperatures and consumer concerns. Those that do not can run into unflattering public relations issues, as Procter & Gamble recently discovered when it was accused by an environmental group of cutting down trees in Canadian boreal forests to make Charmin toilet paper.

Clean up climate change? It’s just good for business.

In a survey by the consulting firm Deloitte, 84 percent of business decision-makers said they were aware of grave U.S. and global climate-change reports issued in late 2018. And two-thirds of those familiar with the reports have reviewed or changed their energy management strategies in response, the survey said.

Those companies, for example, have directed more of their energy purchases toward wind and solar, especially as those sources become cheaper than fossil-fuel-driven power.

Half of the business decision-makers surveyed by Deloitte said that cutting costs was their top priority, but 39 percent said they made some decisions because they were just the “right thing to do,” an increase of 11 percentage points over the previous Deloitte survey.

The poll covered 600 business decision-makers at companies with 250 or more employees, as well as 1,500 individual utility customers.

“Business is all in,” said Marlene Motyka, a principal at Deloitte focused on renewable energy. “They are looking to reduce costs and set goals across the spectrum.”

Stanley Porter, a Deloitte vice chairman focused on U.S. energy and industrial firms, said that when it comes to renewable energy, “technology has increased the options. And technology has increased their visibility.”

Microsoft is one of those companies. Since 2009, Microsoft has made commitments to shrink its carbon footprint. But in April, company president Brad Smith said in a statement that “the magnitude and speed of the world’s environmental changes have made it increasingly clear that we must do more.”

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Smith said that the tech behemoth would nearly double its ­seven-year-old internal carbon fee to $15 a metric ton, subjecting its own project evaluations to a test that is not yet government policy.

The company will also trim carbon associated with construction materials and slash carbon-intensive electricity use. It hit ­renewable-energy targets for its data centers well ahead of schedule and has set a new target so that renewable energy will make up at least 70 percent of its usage by 2023, Smith said.

CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, has also found shifts in corporate attitudes and choices­ related to climate change — even as the Trump administration denies the existence of a problem.

“The risk and the threat is here. It’s now, and it’s urgent,” said Bruno Sarda, president of CDP. “It requires action that goes faster than the current trajectory. The risk of inaction is greater and is likely severely underpriced. The good news is we do believe there’s a lot of benefit to be gained.”

CDP said that 225 of the world’s 500 biggest companies say that climate change could generate more than $2.1 trillion of potential new business. More than half of that money would flow to financial institutions, which can move money into low-carbon projects and manufacturing. And more than a quarter of the money could flow into manufacturing ventures, such as electric-car makers.

“What business is telling us is that they see a lot of upside in pursuing that transition,” Sarda said.

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CDP was founded in 2000. At the time, 245 companies provided information about their impact on the environment at the request of 35 major investors. Today, more than 7,000 companies provide information on climate, water supplies and deforestation at the request of 525 investors with $96 trillion in assets.

Companies see huge risks — and see them coming within the next five years. CDP said companies think that about $970 billion in assets are at risk. Approximately $250 billion of that would be linked to writing off assets, including “stranded assets” that will no longer be needed as a result of climate change. Those could include fossil fuel reserves or power plants that might be shelved as the planet moves to a low-carbon economy, CDP said.

As companies look to curb the pace of climate change, they are vowing to take steps now. Many of them are retailers or food and beverage companies that are sensitive to consumer pressure, as well.

In March, U.S. retailer Target pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent below its 2017 base. Target said the reductions would apply to emissions from its operations, to direct purchases of things such as electricity and to its extended independent supply chain. Target first made disclosures about its greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010, but it has earned lackluster scores from CDP.

In April, mobile-phone company T-Mobile said it would reduce emissions from its wholly owned operations and direct purchases by 95 percent by 2025 from a 2016 base. T-Mobile said it would also reduce emissions from suppliers by 15 percent per customer by 2025 from a 2016 base year.

While many companies see opportunities, others are under pressure to do more.

P&G’s Charmin brand is marketing a new “Forever Roll” that comes in a giant size designed to last a month. The roll contains 850 sheets and has a diameter of 8.7 inches. It’s also available in a 12-inch-diameter roll. The classic Charmin Ultra Strong roll has 286 sheets.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council said that the “issue with the tissue” was that P&G was relying on trees from Canada’s boreal forests, undisturbed areas that store large quantities of carbon.

“By cutting down trees in these intact areas, industry forever changes the ecosystem, unleashing the carbon stored in the soil,” said Shelley Vinyard, an NRDC campaign manager. She said P&G — along with Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific — should use recycled paper.

P&G vice president for global communications Damon Jones said in an email that 100 percent of its wood fiber supply comes from third parties certified by groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council. “We do not participate in any deforestation practices, and for every tree we use, at least one is regrown,” he said.

But NRDC’s Vinyard said that some other third-party certification groups have loopholes.

“Furthermore, because boreal trees grow so slowly, it often takes decades for the replanted trees to come close to any semblance of the prior undisturbed forest,” she said.

P&G’s Jones said the company had a responsibility to make sure “no one has to choose between the products they use and enjoy today and what they hope to preserve for tomorrow.”

Vinyard, unconvinced, said the company was “flushing forests down the toilet.”