News Sustainability A Look Back at My Trip to COP21

A Look Back at My Trip to COP21

A Sustainable Innovation Forum 2015 program booklet sits on a woman's lap

In December, I was lucky enough to represent Walmart in Paris at The Conference of the Parties (COP21), also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. I was there to lend our voice to the conversation and share how doing good for the environment is also good for business.

Typically attended by diplomats and civil society, this event was the first Conference of the Parties where the business voice felt palpable. I’ve been working on environmental issues for more than 16 years, and I’ve found it rare to see a convening of all three sectors – government, civil society and industry – when it comes to sustainability. And we need all three working together if we’re to solve a shared and urgent issue like climate change. In fact, this is where my day job comes in. My role at Walmart is to help build bridges between our business and external stakeholders, and drive toward consensus-based solutions to pressing challenges.

Kathleen Neebe and Rob Walton stand together at a conference

But it wasn’t just me who got to attend talks and speak at events (and wander the streets of Paris during my downtime). I was joined by Rob Walton, Walmart’s former chairman, who is also passionate about sustainability. Not only did I get to hear firsthand from Rob about how our work on sustainability is rooted in our culture of saving people money and helping them to live better, but he also shared that message at a Conservation International and UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) roundtable, and highlighted the important role that nature plays to address climate change.

Because of the hard work of the negotiators, we now have an agreement, known as the “Paris Agreement” as a result of COP21. The Paris Agreement includes an objective to limit global warming to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels” and “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C. Countries set out plans to avert climate change every five years, with the goal to reach a “global peaking of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” as soon as possible and “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”

Also while I was in Paris, Walmart announced that we would be joining the We Mean Business coalition to set science-based GHG targets for our business operations and our supply chain. In other words, we’re committing our business and supply chain to reduce GHG in line with the level that the world’s leading scientists are recommending to keep global temperatures within the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. And it’s not just Walmart, as 115 other companies have also signed on. Hopefully even more will join now that the Paris Agreement is in place.

Solar power panels are spread across a store rooftop

It is my hope that outcomes from COP21 will help us to build on the sustainability work we've done for the past 10 years, and accelerate our ability to achieve our goals in the future -- for our business, for people and for planet.

For a decade now, we have been working toward a goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy. Our work to meet this goal is focused on two global energy commitments – a 20% energy intensity improvement and a 600% increase in renewable energy by 2020. Our work on energy intensity is all about running a more efficient operation, taking advantage of things such as daylighting (e.g. skylights). And our work on renewable energy looks at power sources like solar and wind. Did you know that Walmart has the most installed solar capacity of any company in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association? Combined, these goals are projected to save Walmart $1 billion a year once fully implemented. That’s real money. These commitments will also avoid 9 million metric tons of GHG emissions, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road by 2020. For the first time, we are projecting a GHG decrease even as we anticipate significant growth in stores and sales, showing that it is possible to reduce GHG while also running a growing business. 

Sustainability is a core part of our mission and our culture. It’s certainly a rare day that I get to travel to Paris to take part in a global negotiation, but it’s one of the many reasons I’m proud to work at Walmart and help make our business and our planet better.

Editor's Note: Lead image courtesy of The Sustainable Innovation Forum 2015.