As 2021 came to a close, so did the eighth consecutive year of record-breaking global temperatures—a destructive and disruptive byproduct of climate change. Fortunately, 2022 is starting off with a ray of hope. In an unprecedented vote, 69.9% of shareholders at the Costco annual general meeting supported a proposal calling on the retail giant to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that will allow the company to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The 69.9% of voting investors who supported this proposal — in opposition to the Costco board of directors’ unanimous recommendation that its shareholders vote against it — is an incredible win for our forests and climate. In fact, by directly asking a corporation to set science-based emission reduction targets through a resolution, this vote is the first of its kind.
Since the industrial revolution, humans have steadily increased our reliance upon fossil fuels to power our automobiles, cities and industry. As we expanded across continents, people ravaged one of our greatest resources and best natural tools for fighting back against global warming – forests. From the tropics to the Arctic, our forests have been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it up in their trees and soils for centuries. Cutting down forests not only releases this stored carbon but also reduces the amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests is a deadly combination—one that has led us to the climate crisis we are currently facing.
A vote like the one by Costco’s shareholders can have a direct impact on this vicious cycle. This resolution explicitly addresses forests as well as climate change by requesting that Costco include emissions not just from its direct operations and energy use, but also from indirect actions generated by its suppliers. That means addressing emissions caused by deforestation in its supply chain, which are primarily driven by the production of palm oil, soy, beef, cocoa and pulp/paper. Average American consumers can’t decide where their products originate, and they often have no means of finding out. But companies such as Costco, which sell those products in the form of personal care products, furniture, processed foods and hamburgers, have the power to end the environmental destruction at the root of their supply chains.
By voting yes on this shareholder resolution, Costco’s investors are specifically asking the company to develop targets that align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advisory to limit our planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The proposal recommends that Costco use The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which provides a framework for companies to track and set carbon reduction goals in line with IPCC’s advisory. If every big company set these kinds of targets, we would be well on our way to tackling climate change.