As Costs Fall, Corporations Reach Renewables Goals Early

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GM will meet a sustainable goal — using wind turbines — four years early. Many companies are achieving their goals early like this. By PanyaStudio/Shutterstock

Not long after Apple announced its massive solar power purchase and Google debuted its bird-saving wind power deal, I was contacted by a PR company touting General Motors' latest renewable energy move, purchasing 34 megawatts of wind power for its Mexico-based manufacturing facilities:

Seventy-five percent of the energy coming from the wind turbines will power most of GM’s Toluca Complex sitting on 104 acres, making it the company’s largest user of renewable energy. The remaining capacity will help power its Silao, San Luis Potosi and Ramos Arizpe complexes. The use of renewable energy helps these facilities avoid nearly 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

This announcement marks yet another major corporation opting to purchase renewable energy directly from the producers, tying in a predictable cost of energy for several decades to come. The purchase also marks a significant milestone in GM's sustainability efforts because, once completed, the company will have reached its goal of powering 12 percent of its North American operations with renewable energy.
On the face of it, of course, 12 percent does not feel like a whopping figure, given that operations like Apple, Ikea and Google are pushing all out for 100 percent renewable energy. But what's significant here is that the 12 percent figure is a 2020 goal.

In other words, GM is going to be achieving this milestone four years early. And they aren't the only ones who are finding previously ambitious goals surprisingly easy to achieve.

The Citigroup Bank recently redoubled its sustainability commitments. Having achieved a goal, set in 2007, of financing $50 billion of green initiatives like solar power and energy efficiency projects three years early, it is now planning on deploying $100 billion on similar projects over the next decade. And earlier this month, health care giant Kaiser Permanente revealed that it had agreed to a massive wind and solar energy purchase, allowing it to achieve its 2020 goal — cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent — in 2016:

Already a leading user of green power, Kaiser Permanente has agreed to support the construction and operation of three new renewable energy projects that will come online in 2016 and generate 590 million kilowatt hours of power a year. That's equivalent to the amount of electricity used by more than 82,000 American homes a year.The renewable energy projects will make Kaiser Permanente one of the top users of green power in the country and will allow the health care system to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goal three years earlier than promised.

From the massive decline in renewable energy costs to a shift in corporate priorities, there are many reasons why corporations are achieving their goals faster than originally expected. Renewable energy purchases are no longer confined to the corporate philanthropy/social responsibility budget, but rather they are a sensible investment in long-term price stability, not to mention brand building.
I suspect we'll continue to see similar environmental goals falling across industries.

Which begs the tantalizing thought, maybe the cities aiming for 100 percent renewable energy will get there sooner than any of us can imagine too.

And maybe, in turn, these cities will inspire entire nations to push harder for clean energy too.