A new Veolia North America survey of 245 large U.S. companies shows that more than half will have ambitious goals addressing net zero carbon, zero waste to landfill, zero liquid discharge, and targeted increases in water efficiency, reuse, and waste recycling by 2025, with many firms already setting specific targets. The survey shows reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the top sustainability priority for most firms, but it is clear that priorities to address water and waste reductions are catching up.
While the commitments being made by firms are encouraging, the data in the new Veolia survey shows that the majority of companies have yet to identify specifically what the exact steps are to achieve their most ambitious medium- and long-term commitments. Here are some highlights of the survey, which was conducted over the past year:
- 60% of firms identified specific projects and initiatives to achieve their short term sustainability goals (less than five years), while 37% had not.
- 40% of firms reported that reducing operational costs is a very important driver for pursuing sustainability goals.
- While investments included in the landmark U.S. Inflation Reduction Act have gone far in providing firms with the financial support they need to convert to sustainable practices, it will not be enough to meet all their needs. Based on an analysis by the International Energy Agency and Boston Consulting Group, the overall transition to sustainable energy across U.S. industries will require at least $18 trillion in additional capital by 2030.
“This survey provides many important insights on how firms across America are responding to the growing concern around climate change, and why they are looking to reduce their impact on carbon emissions, waste streams and water use,” said Veolia North America President and CEO Fred Van Heems. “A large number of companies are genuinely committed to achieving sustainability objectives, yet they are not sure how to begin, which is keeping many of them from moving forward. The good news is there are solutions available to get them on track and help them sustain momentum.”
The survey findings point to the need for more urgency in clearing the way for industries to adopt more sustainable practices as soon as possible, according to Charles Iceland, Director of Freshwater Initiatives for the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in the U.S. “It’s clear from this survey that for large companies that are genuinely committed to operating on a more sustainable basis, more resources and data are needed to help them determine where their greatest needs are so they can take effective action,” Iceland said.
The survey found that a majority of companies are committing to sustainability goals primarily because of reporting requirements, regulatory compliance, cost savings and brand reputation. Of the firms surveyed, roughly one-third said the environmental risks to their operations were not a very important driver. The survey findings are being announced one year after passage of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which was meant to kickstart the economy with investments in critical infrastructure, with a special focus on initiatives that will help meet sustainability goals for addressing climate change. The survey found that many respondents are prioritizing sustainability initiatives because of the incentives and opportunities available in the IRA legislation and other factors such as regulatory requirements and investor focus on climate disclosures.
What remains a challenge, the survey showed, is that companies still lack the funding to support the transition and take the concrete steps necessary to achieve their goals. They also are struggling to achieve alignment of internal goals and responsibilities and easy access to data to understand where they are and track progress. “Before firms can invest in reducing their impact on the environment and become more sustainable, they need information on their current baseline, such as data on their energy emissions, waste and water use,” said Patrick Schultz, President and CEO of VNA’s Sustainable Industries and Buildings division. “This will enable them to choose measures that can be immediately and easily implemented, and ones that may require a strategy to mitigate over time.”
Schultz added, “This kind of analysis is only effective if it is conducted holistically, taking into account each firm’s contributions not only to high-profile factors like greenhouse gas emissions, but also equally important considerations like reducing landfill waste and preserving water resources. This is what Veolia North America means by triple zero – achieving net zero goals for energy, waste and water.”