Trump’s Business Council Is a Who’s Who of Renewable Energy Investors and Climate Champions
If Donald Trump asked the executives sitting on his business advisory council for advice about energy policy, what kind of answer would he get? Judging by the billions of dollars those executives are pouring into renewables and carbon reduction programs, they’d probably tell him to emphasize the clean stuff. In other words, the exact opposite of what he’s doing now. A GTM review finds that nearly every company represented on Trump’s business advisory council is investing heavily in renewable energy projects and sustainability programs. The investments are wide-ranging. They include tax equity funds for solar and wind, direct renewable energy procurement to power facilities, deep energy efficiency to lower energy costs, and cleantech R&D to stay ahead of the competition. Many of the executives or member companies have also made strong statements about the favorable economics of renewables and the imperative of addressing global warming.
“To make America great again, climate action is very logical. This is a very convincing story for job creation and economic growth,” said Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart’s chief executive and White House business council member, speaking at the World Economic Forum in January. In February, council member and Tesla CEO Elon Musk also said he raised the issue of climate change during a meeting with the president. Judging by the administration’s systematic dismantling of environmental and climate regulations, Trump hasn’t taken any of those comments seriously. But he cares deeply about what business leaders think — and what they think of him. And nearly every company on his advisory team has enthusiastically embraced a strategy to address climate. It’s not just Ivanka who has the chance to whisper in the president’s ear about clean energy. It’s also the most powerful CEOs in the world.
Blackstone: Investing in gigawatts of solar and wind
Blackstone Group is one of the largest private equity companies in the world, specializing in real estate, corporate buyouts and hedge funds. CEO Stephen Schwarzman is chairman of the council, and reportedly recruited the other members. Blackstone is very active in renewables. In 2014, it founded Onyx Renewable Partners, a developer of smaller utility-scale wind and solar projects with 1 gigawatt of projects completed or planned in North America. In 2012, Blackstone crafted a program to help its portfolio companies invest directly in solar to “focus on sustainability across the firm for companies it manages and advises” and cut their costs 10 percent. Also in 2012, the firm acquired the up-and-coming U.S. residential PV installer Vivint Solar for $1.9 billion — eventually selling the company to SunEdison for $2.2 billion three years later. It has also provided financing for transmission and wind projects.
Here’s an excerpt from a 2016 report on adapting investment portfolios to climate change: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption. We believe all investors should incorporate climate change awareness into their investment processes.”
BlackRock: Managing a $970M fund in clean energy technologies
BlackRock CEO and Chairman Larry Fink sits on Trump’s council. His investment firm, which manages $5 trillion in assets, has gone all-in on the energy transition, setting up a “new energy” fund currently worth $970 million that focuses on renewable energy technology, renewables developers, alternative fuels, efficiency and energy infrastructure. It also raised €650 million for a European renewable energy investment fund in August of 2016. Just this week, BlackRock said it would start assessing climate risks of portfolio companies. “They’re probably not moving fast enough given the risks to the business,” according to the leader of the risk assessment team. The firm also developed internal energy-efficiency targets, and claims to have cut energy consumption by 11 percent per employee since 2012. David Giordano, managing director and member of the Renewable Power Group, said in an interview about renewables: “We continue to see growth. Year-over-year, this has been half of the new generation put onto the grid. And so the opportunities to invest will only increase.”
Boeing: Researching everything from high-efficiency solar to biofuels
Advisory council member Jim McNerney served as Boeing’s CEO for a decade. Under his tenure, Boeing ramped up internal renewable energy goals and airplane redesign efforts to improve fuel efficiency. It also invested in new biofuels and a reversible fuel-cell technology, and continued work on high-efficiency solar cells at its Spectrolab. The world’s biggest aerospace company developed a demonstration airplane in 2015 to test more than a dozen new technologies designed to lower carbon emissions per flight. The company says its 787 Dreamliner cuts carbon dioxide emissions by one-quarter compared to older models According to a 2014 sustainability report, Boeing gets 13 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and biomass. It gets another 39 percent from hydro and 13 percent from nuclear.
McNerney’s letter to shareholders in 2009 described Boeing’s early commitment to climate action: “This holistic approach recognizes that energy and environmental issues are tightly intertwined. The challenge of environmental improvement demands that we harness diverse energy sources while improving overall efficiency to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the most beneficial and effective ways.”
Boston Consulting Group: Paying attention to the ‘disruptive force’ of distributed energy
Rich Lesser, CEO of the Boston Consulting Group, sits on the council. His mega-consulting firm has developed a robust consulting practice around energy, renewables and sustainability. The firm has written extensively about the disruptive nature of the clean energy transition. From a report on how distributed, localized energy will shake up power markets: “Distributive energy is a disruptive force. It will require an equally big disruption among utilities if they are going to survive and grow in the changing U.S. power environment.”
Cleveland Clinic: Sustainability is a ‘concrete imperative’
Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, is a member of the council. Over his 13 years as the CEO of one of America’s biggest hospitals, he has increasingly emphasized sustainability practices. In 2008, Cleveland Clinic became the first healthcare company to sign a U.N. global compact that calls for businesses to implement “environmentally responsible principles.” In 2011, Cosgrove unveiled a plan to cut energy use 20 percent by 2020 and reform its medical waste management policies. The clinic also invested in a 100-kilowatt solar system. In a 2012 op-ed published on LinkedIn, Cosgrove detailed his passion for sustainability: “Some may consider ‘sustainability’ to be little more than a popular buzzword, but for those of us in healthcare, it’s a concrete imperative. Either we establish American healthcare on an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable basis, or we resign ourselves to a system of ‘sick care’ that serves neither patients nor communities.”
Ernst & Young: Watching the global clean energy race closely
Mark Weinberger, chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, is a council member. His 230,000-person firm provides consulting services, tax services and professional development services. It has also become a go-to resource for tracking the global clean energy race. Ernst & Young regularly publishes the attractiveness index for renewables that monitors the latest policy and business activity in the sector, and then grades each region. (It recently warned of a possible downgrade for America because “Donald Trump has a poor record on climate change, which he has frequently dismissed as a ‘hoax,’ and threatens to pick apart the Paris climate accord should he be elected.”)
Along with building out a large sustainability practice, Ernst & Young set a goal to reduce its U.S. emissions 12 percent by 2020.
From a 2016 issue of its attractiveness index: “Never before have the opportunities been so vast, with the transition to a world of subsidy-free renewables creating new horizons for innovation, economies of scale and value chain integration, as well as opening up new markets globally.”
General Electric: Investing $1B each year into renewables
GE is the poster child for energy innovation. For the last decade, the company has plowed billions into renewable energy projects, wind turbine design, energy analytics, efficient engines, and pretty much anything else that could upend the energy sector. The company also has an internal coal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020. Jack Welch, the CEO of GE for 20 years through 2001 who sits on the advisory council, is probably the least interested in climate change. While he says he doesn’t deny the problem, he once called Obama’s climate plan “wacky.” Current CEO Jeff Immelt is much more progressive on climate. He recently talked up clean energy investments with Jim Cramer on CNBC: “We’ve been working on this for a decade, a decade. Long before it was cool, we were investing in clean energy, revenue growth in technologies. We have more than $25 billion of annual revenue that is really in clean tech, if you will, high-efficiency engines, wind turbines, energy efficiency. So, we are as well placed from a diversity and technical depth standpoint as anybody in the world to be able to participate as in this clean energy future.”
General Motors: 100% renewable energy by 2050
Mary Barra, CEO and chairman of GM, is a member of the council. GM isn’t just focused on the future of electric vehicles and autonomy. It is playing hard in the renewables game too. Last fall, Barra announced that the company would get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050. In 2015, the automaker sourced 9 terawatt-hours of electricity from 22 solar arrays, three landfill gas sites and four wind projects. GM says it saves $5 million annually from using renewables and has saved $80 million over the last two decades. Mary Barra on GM’s 100 percent renewables goal: “Establishing a 100 percent renewable energy goal helps us better serve society by reducing environmental impact. This pursuit of renewable energy benefits our customers and communities through cleaner air while strengthening our business through lower and more stable energy costs.”
Global Infrastructure Partners: Hundreds of megawatts of solar and offshore wind
Global Infrastructure Partners Chairman Adebayo Ogunlesi sits on the council, to which he brings significant expertise on infrastructure. That expertise also includes renewables. GIP has invested in numerous wind and solar projects around the world, including a 50 percent stake in a 330-megawatt offshore wind farm in Germany and large stakes in a portfolio of 1,100 megawatts of wind and solar projects in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Uruguay and Peru. Ogunlesi commented on the investment: “This is an outstanding opportunity to combine the world-class industrial and renewable energy development experience of ACS with GIP’s renewable energy sector expertise and business model of value-added infrastructure investment.”
Hoover Institution: Thought leadership on a carbon tax
Advisory board member Kevin Warsh is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a policy and economics think tank based out of Stanford. The Hoover Institute regularly posts analysis and articles about carbon taxes, espoused by Hoover Fellow George Shultz. Shultz, who was secretary of state under Reagan and secretary of treasury under Nixon, has made carbon taxes a central part of his policy platform while at the Hoover Institution. He’s also a member of the Climate Leadership Council, made up of distinguished conservatives who want to price carbon. From the Climate Leadership Council’s conservative case for carbon dividends: “Now that the Republican Party controls the White House and Congress, it has the opportunity and responsibility to promote a climate plan that showcases the full power of enduring conservative convictions.”
IBM: Using the internet of things to cut carbon pollution from buildings and the grid
Council member Ginni Rometty is the CEO and chairman of IBM. Her company oversees some of the most sophisticated analytics platforms designed to integrate more distributed renewables on the grid, forecast energy system conditions, and make buildings run more efficiently in real time. IBM has also set strong internal targets for renewables and efficiency. It plans to sign contracts for renewable energy projects that will supply 20 percent of its annual consumption by 2020. As part of IBM’s early efficiency efforts, the computer tech company slashed carbon emissions by 4.3 million metric tons — saving $579 million in energy costs between 1990 and 2015. IBM often touts the use of analytics to help reduce carbon dioxide: “The internet of things…is changing the approach to a sustainable environment. It is reducing carbon footprints and pollution; enabling us to do more with fewer resources; improving food security; mitigating the adverse impacts of weather and climate change; and changing our behavior based on what our environment and connected world is telling us. […] The actions you take to better the environment can help you reduce cost, build brand loyalty, attract talent, provide a healthier work environment, and stimulate new thinking and innovation.”
IHS Markit: ‘Climate change and energy security are converging as the new engine’
Council member Daniel Yergin is one of the most highly respected experts in energy. In 2010, his business analysis firm IHS Markit acquired Emerging Energy Research in order to focus more on the clean energy space. Yergin is an expert in oil and gas, but has also talked extensively about the clean energy transition. In 2008, he talked about the “major shift in public opinion toward clean energy, which is being bolstered by the growing conviction that new carbon policies will reshape the competitive landscape of the global energy business.” Yergin continues to highlight the disruptive impact of new methods of fossil fuel extraction, the falling cost of renewables, and the impact of climate change: “There’s probably never been a time when there [are] this many different forces of change buffeting the energy industry. It leads to questions of uncertainty about what the energy industry is going to look like in the future.”
JPMorgan Chase: One of the biggest tax equity investors in solar
Jamie Dimon, president and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was tapped for the council after calling Trump’s win a “moment of opportunity” for economic growth. JPMorgan has seized numerous economic opportunities in renewables, becoming one of the biggest tax equity investors in solar over the last decade. In 2015 alone, the bank invested $2 billion in tax equity for solar projects. The firm has also installed 1 megawatt of solar on its buildings and renovated its New York headquarters to make the facility LEED Platinum certified. Over the last four years, JP Morgan has underwritten $11 billion in “environmentally beneficial” projects, and committed or arranged more than $12 billion in capital for solar, wind and geothermal projects. Dimon wrote about environmental performance in JPMorgan’s corporate sustainability report: “Effectively addressing environmental, social and governance issues is a key part of building a great company. Doing so means having strong governance, effective risk management systems and robust controls.”
Pepsi: ‘Future-Proofing’ the Company Through Sustainability Measures
Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo, supported Hillary Clinton. But she joined Trump’s council anyway.
In a 2015 sustainability report, Pepsi outlined a plan for “shifting to renewables” in order to help slash greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2030. The company has also re-evaluated its entire supply chain in order to squeeze out energy costs and monitor the sourcing of its products. Nooyi has been outspoken about the urgent need to address climate change: “Combating climate change is absolutely critical to the future of our company, customers, consumers — and our world. I believe all of us need to take action now. PepsiCo has already taken actions in our operations and throughout our supply chain to ‘future-proof’ our company — all of which deliver real cost savings, mitigate risk, protect our license to operate, and create resilience in our supply chain.”
Tesla: The world’s first fully integrated solar, EV and battery storage company
Tesla CEO Elon Musk was heavily criticized for his role on the advisory council. But he has weathered the storm.
Musk is trying to revolutionize electric cars, solar and batteries — all while making humans a multiplanetary species. He also believes climate change is an existential threat.
There’s no other executive on the council who’s as committed to the clean energy transition. And Musk is the one so far who has explicitly said he’ll try to talk to the president about climate change.
Wal-Mart: America’s leader in corporate solar projects
Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon sits on the council. His company was one of the first mega-retailers to go all-in on sustainability. (Even before that, the Walton family was an early investor in global solar developer First Solar.)
Since 2005, Wal-Mart has become the leading corporate investor in on-site solar, now getting 25 percent of its electricity from renewables. The retailer also doubled the fuel efficiency of its trucking fleet over a decade, saving $1 billion in the 2015 fiscal year.
Last year, McMillon called for an additional 18 percent emissions reduction across the company’s stores and trucking fleets, and increased its renewable energy commitment to 50 percent by 2025.
McMillon explained his commitment in Trump terms: “To make America great again, climate action is very logical. This is a very convincing story for job creation and economic growth.”
Walt Disney Company: 50% carbon emissions cut by 2020
Disney CEO Bob Iger didn’t make it to the first business council meeting. But he’s made it a priority to support more renewable energy deals — including a 5-megawatt solar array shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Disney recently signed a pledge to increase its climate action commitments. By 2020, the entertainment giant plans to reduce emissions 50 percent, divert 60 percent of its waste from landfills and implement strict water conservation measures.
In 2009, Iger talked about crafting a sustainability plan: “It’s essential to take swift action to preserve our most vulnerable natural environments for future generations and to be innovative in achieving that goal,”
Also from Disney’s environmental reporting: “Environmental stewardship is a pillar of Disney’s vision to be the most admired company in the world. As part of the mission to conduct our business and create our products in an ethical manner, our commitment to environmental stewardship focuses on using resources wisely and protecting the planet as we operate and grow our business.”
Trump doesn’t have to travel around the country to see the economic impact of renewables — it’s sitting all around him at his executive roundtables.