The big businesses flying the flag for renewable energy

Some of the world’s best-known and most influential companies are committing to using 100% renewable energy.

23 companies so far—including BT, IKEA, Mars, Nestlé, Unilever and Swiss Re—have joined RE100 and committed to going 100% renewable. By doing that, they’re sending a message internally and externally that they’re serious about tackling climate change in a way that makes good business sense.

With 25% of carbon emissions coming from power generation [1] and businesses using over 60% of all power produced globally, big companies are in a strong position to influence change. By demanding more renewable power from suppliers and even producing their own, they can help drive the switch from fossil fuels to a more sustainable energy supply.

What’s in it for business

In some cases, using renewable energy can save businesses money in the long term—because they can fix their energy prices for the medium to long term. It helps manage risk in countries like India where the energy supply can be patchy. Renewable energy gives companies a straightforward way to cut carbon emissions. And it helps them manage the broader risks of climate change to their businesses. For example, Nestlé can protect precious resources like coffee bean crops.

In many parts of the world, companies are generating their own renewable power. They do it on site using solar panels and biomass boilers or off site by building wind farms.

Another route is a power purchase agreement (PPA) where a business invests in a utility company or project developer that can then build more renewable projects. In return, companies can negotiate fixed energy prices over longer periods than usual.

An easy option is to buy renewable energy from utility companies that offer specific renewable energy rates — although this may involve paying a little more. [2]

RE100 in action

Which renewable energy option works best can depend on where a business is based or the industry it’s in.

Commerzbank has used only renewable electricity in all of its 1,300 buildings in Germany since the start of 2013. And it’s been one of the world’s largest funders of renewable energy for 25 years, providing financing for wind farms and solar parks. It thinks decisive action from the finance sector can make a real difference.

Unilever has reached a new milestone by saving 1 million tonnes of CO2 in its manufacturing network since 2008. It has been implementing smart circular economy approaches, looking to reduce waste and generate renewable power at the same time. In South Africa, a by-product of the seed oil from Flora, Stork, Rama and Rondo is used as a fuel in the boilers to deliver energy back into the factory. In the UK Marmite factory, 18,000 tonnes of solid Marmite waste is converted into methane via an anaerobic digester which is used to provide 30% of the factory’s thermal energy.

Infosys is making the most of solar resources in India. It has installed rooftop solar photovoltaics in three of its sites, totalling 2 MW, and also planning a 50 MW solar park in Karnataka, in the Southwest. This makes Infosys the first software company in India with plans of this scale to generate their own energy. The park will power its offices in Bangalore, Mysore and Mangalore.

As the cost of renewable energy comes down it is likely that more companies around the world will reap the benefits of switching to renewables.

[1] Figure 1.7,

The Facts

  • Some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies are committing to using 100% renewable energy.
  • 18 have joined RE100 and committed to going 100% renewable.
  • 25% of carbon emissions coming from power generation
  • Business accounts for approximately 60% of global power demand.
  • Companies are using a combination of renewable technologies such as solar, wind and biomass.