Beyond the science-based targets: Why First Movers Coalition is the next step

This article is sponsored by Western Digital.

If you are reading this, you already know that climate change is a global crisis. You likely also know that businesses of all sizes are accelerating strategies to mitigate their impacts and the worst effects of climate change. (Whether that trend is driven by personal commitment or by positive stakeholder pressure, it is nevertheless encouraging, because global corporations produce so much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.)

What you may not have heard, however, is that a relatively new organization is adopting an innovative approach to corporate participation in climate impact mitigation, marrying traditional market economic pressures with emissions reductions. The First Movers Coalition, a unique group organized by the U.S. State Department and the World Economic Forum, is orchestrating market signals that are designed to drive significant new investments in sustainable innovation.

All about First Movers Coalition

The First Movers program is a global initiative harnessing the purchasing power of companies to decarbonize the corporate ecosystem and unlock the untapped potential of emerging technologies needed to decarbonize the world by 2050. This first-of-its-kind buyers’ club promises to scale this tech through early demand signals.

Unlike some corporate efforts, the FMC is not focusing on low-hanging fruit, but on seven “hard to abate” industrial sectors that account for 30 percent of global emissions: aluminum; aviation; chemicals; concrete; shipping; steel; and trucking, along with innovative carbon removal technologies. Additionally, the coalition plans to launch programs in cement, concrete and chemicals over the next two years.

Members of the coalition commit to specific, time-bound goals, with a particular focus on commitments to purchase sustainable or sustainably-produced products. Members committing to the aviation pillar, for example, agree to replace at least 5 percent of their existing aviation needs with air transport that uses sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. Steel purchasers commit to purchase at least 10 percent of their steel from near-zero emissions manufacturing. And companies using trucking services agree that at least 30 percent of heavy-duty and 100 percent of medium-duty new truck purchases used to transport their goods will be zero-emission trucks by 2030.

With developmental support from President Joe Biden, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and more than 50 global companies — collective market value of which exceeds $8.5 trillion — the First Movers Coalition represents the government and corporate collaboration needed to create lasting and significant impacts.

Why we need a program like First Movers Coalition

Many of the biggest global corporations have come to realize they need to mitigate impacts throughout their value chains — and become a part of a wider ecosystem aiming to advance the supply of green technologies. But companies that want to improve the sustainability of their supply chain and logistics often find few partners who are taking the risk of capital-intensive, long-term investments in aggressive decarbonization innovation.

The First Movers Coalition aims to solve this problem by inviting large sustainably minded companies to publicize their interest in — and willingness to pay for — industry-specific emissions reductions. By aggregating corporate demand, they are sending a clear signal to upstream business partners of a growing market.

Another benefit of the FMC is that it leads companies to consider and identify their long-term sustainability needs, enabling their own corresponding long-term investments that might otherwise be overlooked — potentially to the companies’ detriment later. The coalition hopes larger companies will focus on the recruitment of new companies and government partnerships.

How Western Digital is leveraging partnerships for action

Companies committed to mitigating the climate crisis will naturally want to evaluate the impact their specific industry has on global climate change; without that foundational data, it is impossible to create effective positive change. For example, Western Digital, a founding member of the First Movers Coalition, has historically relied primarily on traditional fuels and shipping methods, largely because the low-emissions options have not been mature enough and widespread enough to meet business requirements.

As part of the coalition, however, Western Digital has joined many others in committing to use ships that run on zero-emission fuels. Ten percent of the company’s international ocean freight will be carried on such ships by 2030, with the aim to reach 100 percent by 2040. The company has also leveraged technology for more efficient and sustainable factories to minimize the impact manufacturing has on the climate. In fact, The World Economic Forum has recognized Western Digital factories in Penang, Malaysia and Shanghai, China as Sustainable Lighthouses for their smart manufacturing technologies. To learn more about the company’s progress, review its 2022 sustainability report here.

While 2030 is still a long way off, Western Digital is already expressing its interest in zero-emissions ocean shipping with trusted logistics partners. In addition, Western Digital is using advanced analytics to evaluate opportunities to transition high-impact shipping, such as air freight, to lower-impact methods.

Although companies individually can have significant positive or negative impacts in the fight against climate change, sometimes even very large companies can do little to turn the tide of climate innovation. The FMC’s unique partnership between government and corporations has the potential to harness the power of the market for the good of the climate and everyone affected by it — and for the sustainability of those companies themselves.

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