GM shocked the entire gas-guzzling global economy when it announced in January a plan to phase out the internal combustion engine by 2035. Though it was stated as an “aspiration” rather than a “pledge,” the maker of low-mileage leaders earned heaps of Wall Street cred for daring to dream of such a sustainable goal.
The auto giant is just the latest among giant corporations to make such proclamations. How much of it is greenwashing? To figure that out, we looked at the goals they’ve set and what moves they’ve made to reach them. Most are making the right moves, but the jury is still out on whether they’ll meet the timelines.
General Motors: Eliminate the internal combustion engine by 2035, carbon neutrality by 2040
When they said it: January 2021
How they’re doing: The car giant is investing $27 billion in “non-tailpipe” emissions technologies and making battery-electric vehicles 40 percent of its models by 2025. It is also committed to funding renewable energy to charge these vehicles, including a deal with EVgo to add more than 2,700 clean energy-powered, fast chargers to its network.
PepsiCo: Sell all products in recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025
When they said it: January 2018
How they’re doing: The latest report from June 2020 showed the beverage maker made no ground on its pledge during 2019, holding at 88 percent recycled plastic in its bottles. Hoping to spur progress, PepsiCo announced in December 2020 that it will only sell Pepsi brand drinks in recycled plastic beverage bottles in nine European countries, a move that will cut carbon emissions per bottle by 40 percent. Indeed, the company appears to be making progress there, growing the recycled plastic content of all of its EU beverage brands from 13 percent in 2018 to 30 percent in 2020.
Google: Operate 24/7 on carbon-free energy by 2030
When they said it: September 2020
How they’re doing: Google has long been a sustainability overachiever. The tech giant achieved carbon neutrality in 2007 and 100-percent usage of renewable electricity in 2017. In 2020, they neutralized their historical carbon footprint and issued $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds with proceeds to support investment in environmental and social initiatives. Next up? :A “sustainability moonshot:” Google wants to source round-the-clock carbon-free energy (not just match its consumption post-use with renewable sources) and become the first company to do so. If past performance predicts future success, expect champagne popping in Mountain View sometime in 2030 – if not before.
Delta: Become the world’s first carbon-neutral airline by 2030
When they said it: February 2020
How they’re doing: The airline is investing in the development of aviation biofuels – the linchpin to greener skies – and joined other airline CEOs to lobby the White House for federal R&D support in February. It has also replaced a quarter of its planes with new aircraft that achieve 25 percent better fuel efficiency per seat and will upgrade another quarter of its fleet in the next few years.
Apple: Use only recycled and renewable materials in products and packaging
When they said it: April 2017
How they’re doing: Apple set no specific deadline for this goal, but after analyzing its raw material usage and identifying 14 for priority attention, the tech giant is now tackling green manufacturing on a variety of fronts: developing robots to harvest materials from recycled iPhones, increasing usage of recycled materials in new products, and achieving 100-percent deployment of recycled rare-earth elements in parts of the iPhone 11, iPhone 12, AirPods Pro, and iPad 7. Apple is also developing stronger recycled materials, including a custom aluminum alloy to enclose its MacBook Air, Apple Watch and iPad products.
Ikea: Become a circular business by 2030
When they said it: January 2021
How they’re doing: Circular businesses do three things: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use as long as possible and regenerate the natural systems involved in the manufacturer. In November, Ikea began buying back used products from customers in the U.K. and is setting up partnerships to improve its ability to “close the loop” on its products in other markets. During its fiscal 2019, the home goods maker reduced its climate footprint by 4.3 percent even as its revenue grew by 6.5 percent.
P&G: Carbon neutral by 2030
When they said it: July 2020
How they’re doing: The company’s different brands have doubled down on efforts to dial back carbon use. In March, Tide said it had reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020 by 75% and announced an education plan to get consumers to use cold water when using Tide, to reduce further GHG emissions. Also in March, it announced it had joined a European initiative to increase use of recycled materials.