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Big companies look beyond net-zero goals; politics put US EV future in flux


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Big companies look beyond net-zero goals; politics put US EV future in flux

The ESG Insider newsletter compiles news and insights on environmental, social and governance developments driving change in business and investment decisions. Subscribe to our ESG Insider newsletter and listen to the "ESG Insider" podcast on SoundCloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

In recent weeks we have been following the rise of net-zero commitments around the world. That led us to ask: After you set the target, what comes next?

In today's newsletter, we are looking at how some of the world's largest companies are turning their decarbonization goals into action. Earlier this week, e-commerce giant Inc. announced the issuance of a $1 billion sustainability bond that will use proceeds to fund projects related to renewable energy, clean transportation, sustainable buildings, affordable housing, and socioeconomic advancement and empowerment.

The chief sustainability officer from another of the world's largest retailers — Walmart Inc.— told us in a recent webinar interview how the company aims to meet its ambitious goal of zero emissions by 2040 by working with suppliers on everything from product design and packaging to food waste reduction, sustainable agriculture practices and promoting better forest management.

“Each of those areas has some very practical actions that businesses can take. We help identify those, make them easy for suppliers to pursue those and then report on them,” said Kathleen McLaughlin. McLaughlin was speaking alongside executives from AT&T Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and State Street Global Advisors about the path to net-zero. You can hear highlights from that webinar in the latest episode of S&P Global's ESG Insider podcast.

Chart of the Week:

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US proxy season a 'watershed moment' for ESG issues

The 2021 shareholder season is in full swing and this year — 14 months into a global pandemic and amid a national reckoning over social inequities — publicly traded companies face a new set of pressures from emboldened activist investors. According to data compiled by the Sustainable Investments Institute, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under President Joe Biden has agreed with just 41% of company efforts to exclude shareholder resolutions focused on ESG policies. That is a drop from 50% in 2020.

Electric vehicle ambitions buffeted by political crosswinds in US market

As the world transitions to an electrified transportation fleet, the U.S. remains a wild card on electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, largely due to the political polarization gripping Washington, according to industry observers. Right now, under the Biden administration, momentum for EVs and batteries in the U.S. is strong. But these tailwinds might not last. World governments are wary of U.S. commitments to climate action after the Trump presidency sharply reversed an array of environmental regulations deployed under former President Barack Obama, including fuel economy standards for new automobiles. Efforts by the Biden administration to establish the U.S. as part of the global EV supply chain have yet to manifest in the creation of cathode production or battery manufacturing jobs.

ESG pressure builds on energy sector as investors, lawmakers raise climate goals

As renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydroelectricity gather steam, "we're heading for a future where at some point oil will be a depreciating commodity ... and that shift really upends the whole approach the industry has taken to capital allocation and risk management," Andrew Logan, director of the oil and gas program at sustainability nonprofit Ceres, tells S&P Global Platts in an interview. Logan sizes up President Biden's climate policy progress so far, how oil and gas producers are responding to these pressures, whether carbon capture solutions are being oversold, and what rapid decarbonization could mean for the energy sector.

Postal banking gains momentum with financial inclusion in mind

With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, the long-debated concept of postal banking appears to be gaining traction in the U.S. Advocates argue that leveraging the U.S. Postal Service's more than 34,000 locations to offer low-cost, basic banking services like checking accounts and low-interest loans is the best way to reach low income and underbanked consumers. It is a form of public banking that has been successful in several countries, including Japan, Germany, France and China. But opponents of postal banking believe it would create an unfair competitive environment for community banks, pitting them against a government entity with a virtually unlimited budget.


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How 4 of the world's biggest companies are turning net-zero goals into action

In the latest ESG Insider podcast from S&P Global, we hear sustainability leaders from Walmart, AT&T, Duke Energy and State Street Global Advisors share their strategies for cutting emissions.

The clean energy transition will need to account for social as well as environmental concerns, says Katherine Neebe, chief sustainability officer at U.S. utility Duke Energy.

"How are we going to do this in a way that's affordable and equitable?" asks Neebe, who worked for Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund prior to joining Duke. "That's really kind of front and center in my mind as we advance on this clean energy transformation."

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