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July 8, 2020, 3:33 p.m. EDT

Kleenex and Huggies parent Kimberly-Clark aims to halve its environmental footprint within the next decade

U.N. climate report says private business is still moving too slowly with sustainability efforts

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By Rachel Koning Beals

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Kimberly-Clark’s new sustainability strategy has been updated, it says, after the majority of its targets were surpassed.

Consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark has updated its sustainability plan, now aiming to reduce its plastics, water and natural forests footprints 50% by 2030.

The company /zigman2/quotes/201766540/composite KMB +0.41%   plans to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by half in just a decade from scope 1 sources, which are the emissions from its own production, and from scope 2 sources, those created from producing the energy a company purchases to run its business; 2015 will serve as the base year. Further, the company aims to cut its scope 3 emissions from along the supply chain by 20%. These goals were recently approved by the Science Based Targets initiative .

In December 2019, a report from the SBT revealed that 285 businesses have now set emissions goals in line with the Paris Agreement, a volunteer international pact which aims to limit global warming to at least under 2°C; the Trump administration, citing noncompliance by developing nations, has removed the U.S. from this plan. The SBT estimates that the actions of these companies will spur more than $18 billion in climate-mitigation investment and up to 90 terawatt hours of annual renewable electricity generation.

The new sustainability strategy announced Wednesday replaces Kimberly-Clark’s previous “Sustainability 2022” framework, after the majority of its targets were surpassed.

Kimberly-Clark’s move also follows other aggressive climate-minded pledges — and increased scrutiny from environmental groups that those promises are kept — by technology mainstays and household conglomerates alike. Among them, Unilever /zigman2/quotes/204685760/composite UL +1.27%  , parent to Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, Marmite and more, last month earmarked 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) for a climate and nature fund, and pledged net-zero emissions across its product lineup by 2039.

Lisa Morden, ranked among GreenBiz’s Badass Women list in 2019, is Kimberly-Clark’s vice president for safety and sustainability. She told GreenBiz in an interview that a “decisive decade” lies ahead for corporations when it comes to environmental impact.

Don’t miss: Microsoft aims to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030

Climate-change announcements by the likes of Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.10%  , which can claim a roughly $1 trillion market cap and is often tagged for the impact of its fast delivery footprint, are piling up and highlight the split between private-sector action and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris pact.

Read: Vogue, GQ and New Yorker publisher Condé Nast aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030

And: Amazon has ‘ambitious but achievable’ plan to hit Paris climate goals 10 years early and go carbon neutral by 2040

Still, doubts remain that one-off actions can collectively move the needle.

“The scale and pace of change to date [of the private sector] to deliver sustainable development goals has not been big enough or fast enough,” said Remi Erikson, CEO of risk-management firm DNV GL, in a new report from the United Nations.

The report, called Uniting Business in the Decade of Action, covers the period since a major U.N. effort was launched 10 years ago and shows that only 39% of companies surveyed believe they have targets that are sufficiently ambitious to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030.

“Only 46% of businesses surveyed are embedding the SDGs in their core business and less than a third of businesses believe their industry is moving fast enough to deliver the SDGs by 2030,” he said.

The Kimberly-Clark sustainability report also detailed company efforts to get more of the toilet paper, feminine hygiene products and diapers that it produces into vulnerable and underserved communities . “To reach a billion people is certainly an ambitious goal that requires a significant step change from our previous efforts, and we are ready to take it on,” said Alison Lewis, chief growth officer for Kimberly-Clark.

Kimberly-Clark shares are up 3.7% in the year to date. The S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.82%  is down 2.6% over the same stretch.

$ 136.13
+0.56 +0.41%
Volume: 2.49M
May 6, 2021 4:05p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$45.75 billion
Rev. per Employee
$ 59.69
+0.75 +1.27%
Volume: 1.60M
May 6, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$153.97 billion
Rev. per Employee
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 3,306.37
+35.83 +1.10%
Volume: 4.44M
May 6, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$1649.41 billion
Rev. per Employee
+34.03 +0.82%
Volume: 2.24B
May 6, 2021 5:28p

Rachel Koning Beals is a MarketWatch news editor in Chicago.

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