Companies Are Ready: Where Is a Carbon Tax?


With each passing year the world loses another 365.25 days to combat climate change. You may not agree on the causes of climate change, but I find it highly unlikely that an overwhelming majority of the world's scientists are involved in an epic conspiracy. Companies across the globe in every sector of the economy have adopted strict emissions diets. Why? Because reducing emissions is directly related to improving energy efficiency and lowering costs (it helps your brand's image too!).

At the same time, the world economy is suffocating under massive piles of debt and the Earth's atmosphere is reaching alarming levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, or GhG. Yet somehow, despite an avalanche of data, no one has the guts to kill two birds with one stone. Where is a comprehensive carbon tax?!

In protest, I have made a list of four of the world's largest companies and their respective sustainability goals. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Anheuser-Busch InBev is known for selling Budweiser, the King of Beers, but perhaps it should be known for being the King of Sustainability. The company was the top-brewer in point score and combined grade in the Carbon Disclosure Project's 2010 environmental rankings. In 2009, AB InBev announced ambitious goals of reducing energy use per hectoliter by 10%, CO2 emissions by 10%, and water use to an industry-leading 3.5 liters for every liter of product. The company also aims to increase waste and by-product recycling up to 99%. The target date for these goals? How does 2012 sound?

Featured project: Kudos to AB InBev for including direct and indirect CO2 emissions in its reported figures. The company's facilities directly contributed 68.5% of emissions in manufacturing, while transportation and other indirect sources spewed out about 31.5%. To reduce these figures the company benchmarked its Chinese breweries to more efficient facilities scattered worldwide. Forcing this strict emissions accounting system onto its eastern facilities resulted in a staggering 13% reduction in emissions for the region from 2010 to 2011 alone.

Be sure to hold AB InBev to its 2012 targets when its sustainability report is published this year. In the meantime check out the 2011 report (link opens PDF).

Caterpillar has goals to reduce absolute GhG emissions 25% by 2020. The goal, using 2.96 million metric tons of emissions in 2006 as a baseline, would give the company approximately 2.22 million metric tons of emissions in seven years. In 2011 (the one-third mark to the goal) emissions stood at 2.75 million metric tons, or one-third of the target. When you consider that Caterpillar's businesses revolve around heavy-duty equipment that's seemingly not so green, the ambitions are quite impressive.

Featured project: In China, coke oven gas is often released into the atmosphere during the production of coal derivative chemicals. Allowing this gas to slip out of a process is pretty wasteful, as it can be burned in a turbine to generate electricity and waste heat while taking a bite out of emissions. Where Chinese officials saw a mounting pollution problem (if they could see through the smog at all) Caterpillar saw an opportunity. The company created the combined heat and power system that reaches 68% efficiency, consumes 26% less fuel, and lowers CO2 emissions by 40,000 metric tons annually - equivalent to removing 6,600 cars from the road. At the end of 2011, Caterpillar had enough turbines in operation to eliminate 540,000 metric tons of CO2 from the Earth's atmosphere.

You can read about the company's sustainability goals, such as using renewable energy to meet 20% of energy needs by 2020, in its 2011 sustainability report (link opens PDF).

Ford has already enjoyed tremendous success in greening its product pipeline, supply chain, and manufacturing process in the last decade. The company reduced facility CO2 emissions per vehicle by 31% between 2000 and 2010, landfill waste per vehicle by 20% from 2010 to 2011, and fleet CO2 emissions by 9% between 2007 and 2011. But why stop there? Each year every Blue Oval production facility must submit an environmental scorecard to help the company achieve its various sustainability goals, such as reducing GhG emissions 30% per vehicle by 2025 and energy consumption per vehicle by 25% from 2011 to 2016. Newer, more-efficient vehicles and a commitment to reducing emissions and increasing efficiency ensure Ford will continue to wield a green thumb.

Featured project: Engineers pioneered a new painting system called "Three-Wet" that replaces stand-alone primer applications and curing oven systems. In addition to reducing GhG emissions by 40% and volatile organic compound, or VOC, emissions by 10% the new technology reduces paint processing time by 25%. Ford plans to implement the system in all global facilities as they refurbish old production platforms. The company's "fumes-to-fuel" project concentrates VOCs released during the painting process and burns them in a turbine, therefore reducing the need for natural gas and reducing CO2 emissions by up to 85%.

You can read more about the company's sustainability initiatives by perusing its sustainability webpage.

Procter & Gamble is the world's largest consumer packaged goods company, which means it has the potential to be one of the environment's biggest enemies. So investors may be surprised to learn that the company is one of the greenest and most ambitious on the third rock from the sun. By 2025, P&G wants to reduce packaging by 20% per consumer use, truck transportation by 20%, replace one-fourth of its packaging with renewable materials, and source 30% of its energy needs from renewable sources.

Featured project: P&G is working toward a long-term goal to power all of its manufacturing plants with 100% renewable energy. To my knowledge, no other global company has announced such an ambitious goal. I have toured the company's Mehoopany, Penn., facility -- its second-largest in the world -- several times and each time I returned I was greeted by new energy projects and production floor upgrades. So, while 100% seems like a broken promise waiting to happen, I am cautiously optimistic P&G can make it happen. Reaching such a target would have a tremendous impact on the company's GhG emissions. Consider that using 52% less energy since 2002 has resulted in a 54% cut to the company's direct CO2 emissions.

View all of the company's social and environmental goals in their 2012 sustainability overview (link opens PDF).

Foolish bottom line
Unless the world's top climate scientists hold a press conference tomorrow and unveil a massive banner that reads "Gotcha!" I will continue to invest in companies that take steps to reduce their impact on climate change. Think about what a tax of $20 per metric ton of CO2 could do for both government (always in need of revenue) and companies (always in need of incentives). Such a tax could be gradually applied to the world's economy and have profound results. The world economy would be more efficient, more robust, less wasteful, and more thoughtful of future generations. It might be seen as one of the most forward-thinking accomplishments in human history.

Despite becoming greener, or perhaps because of it, Ford has been performing incredibly well as a company over the past few years -- it's making good vehicles, is consistently profitable, recently reinstated its dividend, and has done a remarkable job paying down its debt. The stock has recently taken off, and it appears investors have started to notice what Ford is doing right. Does this create an incredible buying opportunity, or are there hidden risks with the stock that investors need to know about? To answer that, one of our top equity analysts has compiled a premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now, and why. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.

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Fool contributor Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out his personal portfolio or follow him on Twitter @BlacknGoldFool to keep up with his writing on energy, bioprocessing, and emerging technologies.The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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