National Geographic : 2015 Nov
ART: ROMUALDO FAURA. PHOTO: DBIMAGES/ALAMY In 2009, when MIT’s Sloan Management Review first surveyed businesses about sustainability efforts, it found most “doing only what is necessary to meet regulatory requirements.” Five years later the survey told a different story: Nearly two-thirds of companies said sustainability was at the top of their agendas, which fewer than half had said earlier. What changed? The CEOs’ sense of green initiatives’ worth, say Patricia and Jack Phillips, authors of The Green Scorecard. “Today, most (if not all) businesses recognize that climate change is a problem,” they write. “Smart companies use their environmental strategy to ... build competitive advantage.” REPOWERING To move toward cleaner energy without sending power plants into premature retirement, companies are making over plants, switching fuels, and boosting ef ficiency. Some utilities are “repowering” coal plants like this one in Newburgh, New York (left), to run on cleaner natural gas or biomass; nearly 50 units are slated for retrofits in the U.S. alone. “Repowering” is an industry term, but the concept also applies to trucks, buildings, and land. For businesses loath to see valuable assets become obsolete, it’s a nobrainer. California garbage hauler Ratto Group is replacing the guts of 17 diesel trucks with electric systems that will meet state air regula tions. “This gives me the ability to keep the vehicles that I currently have,” says COO Lou Ratto, “and keep these things going for as long as I want to.” BIG DATA Many answers on climate change might lie in a cloud—the virtual one. As part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are lending their computational muscle to crunch data on the environment and help communities plan for an altering landscape. The results—from drought maps to sealevel charts—can help farmers manage crops or officials steer construction projects away from flood zones. “ We are guests on this planet, so conservation is important to help ensure our resources are sustained for generations to come.” Stephanie Linnartz executive vice president, Marriott International The hotel company has cut its greenhouse gases 12 percent since 2007 and aims to cut energy and water use 20 percent by 2020. Airbus hopes to create silent, CO2 free, hybridelectric pas senger aircraft by 2050. It’s now experimenting with prototypes. Office buildings gobble energy even when no one’s at work. By 2020 spending may triple on systems that sense empty rooms and turn off lights. Businesses Per acre, microalgae can produce up to 60 times as much oil for fuel as plants that are grown in soil.