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Corporations turn green amid rising climate concern

A sign encouraging Starbucks to use a more recyclable cup outside the company's annual shareholders meeting at McCaw Hall in 2018 in Seattle, Washington.

A sign on display outside Starbucks's annual general meeting in 2018. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

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Starbucks is among the latest multinational corporations to commit to addressing its impact on the environment. Chief Executive Kevin Johnson promised that the coffee company would “give more than we take from the planet.”

This comes on the heels of Microsoft, which just promised to recapture all the CO2 it’s ever emitted. And JetBlue, which said it will go carbon neutral, offsetting what its planes pump into the air.

And the investment firm BlackRock, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England — they’re all talking tackling climate change.

Willi Semmler, a professor of international cooperation and development at The New School who tracks the economics of climate change, said recent news coverage is one reason for the acceleration of interest in climate.

“Disasters are in the press, and the people have now realized that something has to be done,” he said.

A recent survey found that three in four Americans are now worried about climate change — that’s an all-time high, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, who co-published the results.

“Many companies are scrambling to try to respond to this shift in the political, social and cultural climate of climate change,” Leiserowitz said.

Starbucks has promised to go what it calls “resource-positive” —regenerating more natural resources, like drinking water, than it uses up.

Leiserowitz said companies are responding to pressure from within, too. Employees want to work where climate change is taken seriously.

“These kinds of attributes become really, really important in trying to attract top-shelf talent,” he said.

But what are companies actually promising with terms like “carbon negative,” “carbon neutral” or “sustainable?”

“Part of the problem with the whole greening of the corporate sector has been the fact that the terms have been very vague,” said Edward Maibach, professor and climate change researcher at George Mason University. That can make consumers skeptical.

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