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What is really behind corporate promises on climate change?

Companies with tough goals have made progress. In a report last month, Science Based Targets, which was launched by environmental groups and hundreds of companies united by the United Nations, said the 338 large companies around the world for which it had emissions data sufficient had collectively reduced their emissions by 25%. between 2015 and 2019.

Large companies in the same industry often have very different backgrounds.

For example, Walmart discloses its emission reduction targets and progress on the Carbon Disclosure Project, including a target for its supplier emissions, and its plan has been approved by Science Based Targets. But Costco doesn’t expect to commit to reducing emissions until the end of next year. Costco executives declined to comment.

Netflix is ​​often compared to tech giants like Google and Microsoft. But Netflix has yet to set a target for reducing emissions from its offices, production operations and the computer servers it uses. “Climate action is important and we will announce our plans in the spring, which will include targets based on climate science,” the company said in a statement.

Reducing emissions is difficult. Businesses need to reliably measure the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for which they are responsible. Next, businesses need to find cleaner sources of energy without hurting their operations. When they can’t find cleaner substitutes, companies often pay others to reduce emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The task becomes even more difficult when companies begin the process of reducing so-called Scope 3 emissions – pollution caused by suppliers and customers. In oil companies, for example, Scope 3 would include emissions from gasoline-powered cars.

BlackRock, with $ 8.7 trillion in assets under management, including stakes in many companies, clearly faces a daunting task. The company doesn’t directly own most of the stocks or bonds it buys – it manages them for pension funds, other companies, and individual investors – which limits the degree of climate activism it can pursue. Additionally, most of its investment products track indexes like the S&P 500, which inevitably ends up managing stocks of fossil fuel companies.

Many Wall Street companies have pledged to achieve net zero emissions from their loans and other financial activities, but have not clarified whether this target applies to stocks and bonds they manage for their clients. BlackRock’s decision to include all the assets it manages could put pressure on other financial giants to make similar commitments, but it could put the fossil fuel industries and their political supporters at the forefront of Congress.

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A fight to save a corporate campus intimately linked to nature

Protests often erupt over proposals to demolish or even modify historic buildings. Threats to landscaping generally receive much less attention.

But that changes in a Seattle suburb, where a developer plans to build on the corporate campus that George H. Weyerhaeuser set up for the family-owned forest and wood products business from the late 1960s.

The site, which the City of Federal Way annexed in 1994, has been praised over the years for its pioneering blend of building and landscape. Today he is caught up in a controversy over plans to build huge warehouses which opponents say would upset the balance with nature, but which the new owner of the property deems necessary to pay for the restoration of the building. headquarters and grounds maintenance.

In the decades following World War II, companies moved from crowded cities to erect jewelry box buildings on pristine strips of lawns all over the suburbs. But Mr. Weyerhaeuser, president and CEO of his company, wanted his headquarters to blend in with nature rather than stand out.

The campus, designed by architect Edward Charles Bassett and landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-rise building in a meadow among wooded hills. Ivy-covered terraces at the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking trails meandered through the trees. Members of the public were allowed access to the campus, which has become a popular spot for kite flying, dog walking and bird watching.

It is a time of change at the headquarters of post-war suburbs like the Weyerhaeuser campus. Before the pandemic, many properties were already sold and in some cases reinvented for new uses, often because the original owners took shares and moved back to cities – places considered more attractive to young people. talented workers they hoped to attract. The cost of maintaining large campuses was another factor. Yet the vast majority of office space in the United States remains in the suburbs.

The pandemic has not hit the office market in the suburbs as hard as it has in urban areas, said Ian Anderson, senior director of research and analysis at CBRE, a real estate services company. But the success of remote working has challenged the need for large central offices where employees meet every day.

Amidst the upheaval, conservationists, historians and others are sounding the alarm bells about threats to historic corporate campuses. And the cases raise questions about how to sensitively manage change at these sites and who is responsible for their preservation.

Elsewhere, sites languished when the companies that created them went out of business or merged with others.

Bell Labs – a 1962 research facility also designed by Saarinen on an oval campus in Holmdel, New Jersey – has been closed and headed for demolition. But former employees and others came together to save the two million square foot building. Now it’s a mixed-use project that functions like the city center.

But the conversion of Bell Labs, overseen by Somerset Development, involved the sacrifice of more than 200 acres of the campus. Somerset sold the land to home builder Toll Brothers, who erected townhouses and villas.

“For preservation, we gravitate towards buildings,” said Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo US, which focuses on modern design. “The landscapes are more difficult to defend, even if the public is more connected to them.”

It was clear when PepsiCo closed the sculpture garden on its campus in Purchase, New York The garden, which houses works by Alexander Calder and Alberto Giacometti, had drawn more than 100,000 visitors a year, but it was closed in 2012 for a renovation of the buildings in 1967. After the renovation, PepsiCo did not immediately reopen the garden, citing safety concerns, which sparked an uproar. The company eventually let the public come back, but on a limited basis.

The Weyerhaeuser Campus, which opened in 1971, was one of the first large-scale suburban headquarters on the West Coast. Over time, the company added features to the site: a rhododendron garden and bonsai museum at the south end, a technical center at the north.

In 2016, the company moved to Seattle and sold the 425 acres for about $ 70 million to Industrial Realty Group, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in adaptive reuse projects.

Industrial Realty wants to make its investment. He sold land, renamed the Woodbridge Corporate Park campus, and marketed the five-story corporate headquarters building – an early example of an open-plan workplace and therefore equally innovative inside and out – to future office tenants. .

But Industrial Realty quickly sparked opposition with a plan to build a fish processing plant on a wooded plot near the headquarters. Local residents filled with meetings, and ultimately the case fell through.

Industrial Realty, however, obtained approval for a 226,000 square foot warehouse on the site. And now the company is proposing to build another warehouse next door and three more buildings near the technical center – plans that “would turn a historic and iconic property into an industrial area,” said Lori Sechrist, president of the non-profit group. lucrative Save Weyerhaeuser Campus.

The advocacy group has gone to court to try to stop the first development, citing concerns about environmental damage, traffic and damage to the historic site. Financial contributors to Save Weyerhaeuser include Mr. Weyerhaeuser, who is no longer involved in the business.

“Penny-ante proposals,” Mr. Weyerhaeuser, 94, said of the planned buildings.

But Dana A. Ostenson, an executive vice president at Industrial Realty, countered that development plans were responsible. “We are interested in preserving the campus and especially in creating a campus that will allow the support of the headquarters building,” he said. The new buildings, Mr Ostenson added, would have tree buffers.

Industrial Realty’s warehouses, which are said to bring jobs and tax revenue, also have supporters, including the local chamber of commerce.

State and national organizations have joined Save Weyerhaeuser in asking Industrial Realty to minimize its footprint. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, an education and advocacy group, launched a letter-writing campaign that drew passionate appeals. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation nominated the campus for the National Trust’s annual list of endangered places.

Some of the buildings are proposed for wetlands, which prompted review by the Army Corps of Engineers. And since the campus is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preservation officials are participating in the review to help find ways to avoid or minimize “side effects.”

The Puyallup Tribe is also monitoring the process, on whose ancestral lands the campus is located and the reserve is nearby. The Puyallups are concerned about “environmental and cultural impacts on resources,” said Michael Thompson, a spokesperson for the tribe.

Industrial Realty is moving forward and plans to erect the buildings to specification, Ostenson said. The company is in discussions with biotech companies and other leasing companies, but it hasn’t ruled out buildings becoming distribution centers.

Regardless of the end uses, opponents believe the new development would simply take too big a bite out of the historic site.

Mr Walker, the landscape architect, designed other important commissions such as the 9/11 Memorial in New York. Now 88, he is among those who urged Industrial Realty to build as part of a first development master plan created for Weyerhaeuser, calling the campus an ‘endangered species’.

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A corporate backlash

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Big corporations and their lobbyists usually try to avoid disorderly political battles. Companies prefer to work behind the scenes, donating money to both political parties and quietly influencing tax policy, spending and regulation.

But President Trump’s efforts to reverse the presidential election result – and the violent attack on Congress by his supporters – have created a dilemma for many businesses. A growing number have decided they weren’t, at least for now, willing to back members of Congress who backed Trump’s efforts to change the election outcome and promoted lies about voter fraud.

Over the weekend, several large companies – Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Commerce Bancshares – announced the suspension of donations to members of Congress who voted against voter certification. Yesterday the list expanded to Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Airbnb, Mastercard, Verizon and Dow, the chemical company. Hallmark even demanded his money from two of the senators opposed to certification, Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall.

“Just a few days ago this would have been unthinkable,” Judd Legum – the author of the popular newsletter, which has done the best recent report on corporate giving – told me so.

In the Senate, the temporary donation ban will also affect Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and a few other members. In the House, the group comprises more than half of the Republican caucus, including its two main leaders, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.

“We have to create a certain level of cost,” Thomas Glocer, board member for Morgan Stanley and Merck, told the Wall Street Journal. “Money is the key.”

The National Manufacturers Association, long one of the most conservative business lobby groups, has been particularly harsh. He called on Republicans who “cheered” Trump on his “disgusting” effort to overturn the election, which he said had “ignited a violent anger.” The association added: “This is sedition and should be treated as such.”

Yet many large companies have not announced any change. (And other companies, like Goldman Sachs and parent company Google, have announced a hiatus on all political donations – a measure that appears designed to prevent public criticism while not angering politicians who support attempted voter fraud.)

McDonald’s and tobacco company Altria, which are among the top 20 donors to McCarthy, the Republican House leader, have not announced a halt to donations to any member of Congress. Bank of America (one of Scott’s major donors) doesn’t have it either, although it has said it will “reconsider its decision-making.”

Well-connected law firm Squire Patton Boggs also hasn’t announced any policy changes. He donated to Paul Gosar, a member of the Arizona House who helped promote the January 6 rally which turned violent, Tweeter “#FightForTrump” and “The time has come. Stay on the line.”

What’s the bottom line? I asked Andrew Ross Sorkin, the Times columnist who spent two decades covering business leaders, and he said the ads were “temporary defensive measures.” The real question was whether, in six months, companies would resume donating to politicians who supported overturning a presidential election.

For more, read Andrew’s latest column, which calls for a permanent end to corporate political donations.

A morning reading: Visit the Roman Emperor Caligula’s Pleasure Garden, where frescoes and peacock bones tell extraordinary stories.

From the review: It is in the long-term best interests of Republicans to impeach Trump, writes Bret Stephens. Michelle Goldberg argues that while social media companies were right to ban Trump, they are wielding too much power.

Lives lived: Viewers met Pat Loud in 1973 as a loving, loud, spiritual, resilient, and at times angry and hurtful matriarch at the center of what is now considered the first reality TV show: “An American Family” on PBS. She died at the age of 94.

Reviews of James Comey’s new memoir “Saving Justice” are available and mixed. In The Times, author Joe Klein calls it “a light and repetitive book, but not insignificant.” The book comes at the right time, with its central emphasis on “the national descent of strict factual truth,” Klein writes.

Quinta Jurecic, in the Washington Post, says the book is both an exploration of the values ​​Trump tried to pervert and an explanation of the importance of those values. The result, she writes, is “more of a user’s manual for the court system” than a brief.

Among the book’s biggest drawbacks: Comey’s lack of introspection on the Hillary Clinton email affair in 2016. He refuses to acknowledge the mistake or engage in the harshest criticisms of his decision to publish the investigation, against the policy of the Department of Justice. All he will admit, as Klein writes, are “sins of honesty.”

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