Companies Are Making Major Climate Pledges. Here’s What They Really Mean.

Kyla Mandel
·2-min read

It seems like every company is now pledging to tackle the climate crisis and do its bit to save the world ― while still selling you stuff, of course. At least a dozen major companies have made headlines this year announcing bold climate targets. In September alone, AT&T, Facebook, Walmart and Morgan Stanley all pledged to become carbon neutral within the next couple of decades.

These are desperately needed commitments given government inaction on climate change, experts say. And they’re long overdue.

“The public sector has failed to take as much leadership as many, many people think we need to take,” said Michael Vandenbergh, co-director of the Climate Change Research Network at Vanderbilt Law School. “I think these efforts, overall, are essential.”

But it’s important, he added, to look behind the corporate-speak and dissect these initiatives to determine if they truly have teeth and to hold companies accountable for actually fulfilling their promises. In a sea of impressive-sounding pledges, each using slightly different language, it can be hard to tell what’s meaningful and what’s greenwashing. To try to decode what these pledges really mean, HuffPost asked climate experts to help guide us.

What’s the main way companies plan to tackle climate change?

The most common pledges set net-zero targets, sometimes described as going carbon neutral or climate neutral. What this usually means is that the company plans to address the problem of planet-heating emissions by offsetting its own emissions. Net-zero targets may focus on carbon emissions specifically or include all greenhouse gas emissions. (You often need to look at the fine print to determine which the company means.)

Amazon employees have long been campaigning for the online giant to do more to fight climate change.
Amazon employees have long been campaigning for the online giant to do more to fight climate change.

To understand the net-zero approach, think of a bathtub where the water is running, and the tub starts to fill up. This represents the emissions a company is releasing. But then you open the drain and water starts to flow out. This represents the company taking steps to lower its...

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