The California Senate is currently considering SB 260, a bill that would require any corporation with revenues over $1 billion that does business in California to report the full scope of their carbon emissions and set science-based goals to reduce those emissions over time. This bill would take a critical step towards confronting the worst carbon polluters by making corporate emission data publicly available and creating a system to reduce those emissions.

What might those reductions look like? Sunrise Bay Area’s Policy Working Group (SBA PWG) has spent several months researching the climate impacts of some of California’s largest industries and corporations to understand how these impacts can be reduced and eliminated over time. This article contains a summary of the research, and more details can be found in the letters SBA has sent directly to the offending corporations (read the letters here!).

To conduct this research, PWG focused on some of the worst polluters within different sectors. The specific focus sectors were the transportation, utilities, residential and commercial, industrial, and agriculture sectors. The research utilized previous sector-specific research that had been conducted and that outlined the steps within each sector that could be taken to further align with the tenets of the Green New Deal, climate justice, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the state of California. These policy guidelines were applied to corporate research that specifically looked into each corporation’s current emissions, transparency, and actions with the ultimate goal of highlighting the lack of sustainable action and formulating a set of specific and actionable demands.

Within each of the above-mentioned sectors, the in-depth research into some of the largest and least sustainable corporations revealed some overarching points that apply to the sectors as a whole. These key takeaways discuss the immediate and most pressing changes that need to be pushed for and enacted within each sector. The following are these key takeaways broken down by sector:

  1. Transportation:
  • It is very critical to move away from the use of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) and to transition over to more electrified mass transit, bikes, and efficient infrastructure.
  • Delivery methods must be electrified, making all freight, shipping, and goods movement sustainable and transparent. Today’s society revolves around consumption and commodities, making it ever that much more crucial to focus on delivery, transportation, and transparency. Heightened transparency would illustrate the extent to which consumption is harming the planet.
  • It is key to make public transportation systems emissions free and to ensure equitable and accessible transit that is not polluting our air.

2. Utilities:

  • Developing a safe, resilient, and sustainable power grid is key to attaining a green future. This includes building strong microgrids and establishing strong and independent municipal energy resilience plans.
  • Ending our dependence on fossil fuels for both electricity and heating is a top priority. It is time to phase out all oil and gas production and usage. We should also continue to transition our energy sources to renewable resources.
  • Energy is a human right; therefore marginalized communities should not be unjustly penalized, left destitute and without power due to systemic poverty.

3. Residential and Commercial:

  • An important area for focus is building electrification, specifically ensuring equitable access
  • A just transition is important within this sector, as sustainable jobs are needed to ensure that workers are not left behind.
  • Being an incredibly intersectional sector, equity and housing justice are two other key areas of focus. Equity in building electrification must be guaranteed through affordable, accessible programs that address the needs of low-income tenants who must also be legally protected from rent increases resulting from building retrofits.
  • We need to ensure that in regards to the sustainable footprints of facilities, all indirect sources of emissions are accounted for as well.

4. Industrial:

  • We can electrify and use electricity powered by renewables.
  • Some industrial processes, such as making concrete, emit CO2 as part of the process — we need alternative industrial processes or carbon capture.
  • We need changes to this industry to occur worldwide and to ensure clean processes are not only being used near wealthier communities.
  • We need to be vigilant that companies aren’t evading regulations, especially in frontline and majority-BIPOC communities.
  • Beyond greenhouse gases, we want to be fully aware of other pollution in frontline communities.

5. Agriculture:

  • We need to protect our state’s farmworkers and ensure that they are working in safe conditions and receiving fair pay. This point is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Our agricultural industry needs to be considerate of biodiversity and fund research on traditional crop breeding and agroecology as well as invest in native seeds.
  • Corporations need to be held accountable on a climate action plan. The agricultural industry contributes to 10% of GHG in the United States, and California-based corporations should be liable to create a climate plan that not only outlines their sustainability goals but provides details on how these goals will be met.

These measures are concrete steps that, if enacted within each sector, will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move us towards a more sustainable world. The corporations that are listed here — and many that are not — must be held responsible for their contributions to climate change, and for reducing those emissions as soon as possible.

In many cases, however, we’re lacking key information in the fight for carbon accountability: the actual emissions data. One-third of Fortune 1000 companies do not release emissions data, even though they most likely track it internally and/or could easily calculate it. For the corporations that do track their emissions data, it’s a dismal picture: practically none of California’s largest corporations report their Scope 3 emissions (which include emissions from supply chain transportation and distribution, investments, purchased goods and services, etc) which are 11 times greater than direct emissions. Only 1.5% of these corporations even have an emissions reduction target.

SB-260 would be an excellent first step towards creating that accountability, by requiring large corporations to disclose their emissions and set goals to reduce those emissions over time. Furthermore, the bill would not only require the disclosure of direct emissions (Scope 1 and 2 emissions), but also Scope 3 emissions, meaning a dramatic expansion of the corporate emissions data that is currently available.

Carbon accountability is climate justice. Every big polluter, especially those located near neighborhoods, schools, or parks, needs to be held accountable for how they are contributing to climate change and make plans to reduce their pollution. We can take a critical step in that direction by passing SB 260, but in order to do that, we’ll need to generate intense, sustained pressure on the corporations, regulators, and politicians.

Check out SBA’s SB-260 video and share it with your network!

Credits: Myra Fisun, Gershon Bialer, Rachel Cohen, Alicia Lopez-Guerra, Andrew Klutey, Elliott Wong, Mara Lovric, Melina Tessier, Audrey DeBruine

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