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Recognizing Corporate Climate Progress on Earth Day

Earth Day 2020—the 50th anniversary of the world’s largest civic event—is looking a lot different this year than celebrations of years past. Although we cannot come together in person, there’s never been a more appropriate time to reflect on this year’s theme: Climate Action. The collective progress made in the past 50 years, and the growing role of corporations on climate action, has been monumental.

Let’s take a look back over the past decade to appreciate just how far corporate climate action has come.

2010 – 2020: A Period of Significant Change & Complexity

At the beginning of the last decade, the global economy was facing challenges similar to our present circumstances. We were in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression and many advancements in energy and sustainability were still in their infancy. Today, amid the weighty concerns of economic downturn driven by COVID-19, the energy and sustainability evolutions of the past decade have become the new norm. From the transformation of the electric grid to the explosion of corporate goal-setting to the rise of the data and service economy, these changes have made the energy and sustainability landscape of 2010 nearly unrecognizable.

“When I think back over time and see how much things have changed, it’s sometimes hard to even envision what things will look like 10 years from now.”

- Global Food Producer

The grid transformation began

The most dramatic shift over the past decade has been in energy management. At the onset of the decade, few organizations were yet using renewable energy. In 2010, renewables only made up about 20% of the global grid. Most electricity could not be stored, and utilities were struggling to accommodate distributed energy resources and a “smart” future.

Today’s electric grid looks very different. Distributed energy resources have evolved and are finding their place in utility-scale installments. The role of the energy manager has grown significantly in both scope and complexity. Renewable technologies have advanced in both efficiency and scale and dropped dramatically in price as a result. The growth has been so significant that, by the end of 2018, renewables had jumped to one-third of total installed global generation.

The electric grid of 2020 is comprised of more networked, more digital, and more distributed assets than ever before.

Corporate goal setting took off

The modern environmental movement may have begun in 1970 with the first Earth Day celebration, but it matured in the past decade, when corporate sustainability practices began to proliferate.

In the early 2000’s, only a handful of companies were tracking and disclosing impact data through agencies like CDP and GRI. By 2010, there was new vigor around corporate sustainability, ranging from decarbonization to product responsibility. This movement would only grow through the successive decade. In 2010, 2,903 companies disclosed their emissions to CDP; by 2019 that number jumped to 8,361.

Today, organizations are considered laggards if they have not set goals around energy and sustainability (and, in fact, 90% of respondents to our recent survey say they have). To remain among the league of climate leaders, these goals have become progressively more ambitious and comprehensive, driving companies to greater progress on energy decarbonization and resource management than ever before.

The data and the service economy came to life

In 2010, organizations were just beginning to tackle energy and sustainability data. Most energy data was gleaned from utility bills and sustainability data managed on spreadsheets. However, as both energy and sustainability management grew in their reach and complexity, new needs for data management systems emerged.

As internet of things (IoT) technology developed, organizations began to implement control software, hardware, and smart meters, allowing customization and analysis of energy usage and operations. The combination of smart tools and access to robust data paved the way for intelligent systems that would give professionals the means to manage the complexities of data. Today’s technological edge is machine learning, with increasing numbers of companies using artificial intelligence to deliver efficiency and accuracy in their day-to-day management of assets and processes.

Climate Action: More Important Than Ever

While each decade brings its own surprises and challenges, 2010-2020 was unprecedented for energy and sustainability professionals. And although we find ourselves yet again facing extreme uncertainty in the beginning of a new decade, recounting the energy and sustainability triumphs that have risen from periods of past strife gives us hope for the future. The new decade has already delivered new and unimaginable challenges, but today’s struggles will inspire the ingenuity required to make 2020-2030 the next best decade for climate action!

To learn more about what’s facing today’s energy & sustainability professionals, and to get expert insights on the transformations we believe are yet to come, we invite you to explore our 2020 Corporate Energy & Sustainability Progress Report.