New Research Reveals the Extreme Carbon Footprint of Corporate Cash

Wednesday May 18, 2022
Travis Nichols

SAN FRANCISCO – new report from Climate Safe Lending Network, BankFWD, and The Outdoor Policy Outfit has revealed for the first time the massive emissions associated with the cash of a dozen big cash-rich companies. The report, "The Carbon Bankroll: The Climate Impact and Untapped Power of Corporate Cash," uses a new methodology to show how the massive cash balances of companies like Google, Meta, Salesforce, and PayPal are held by many of the same climate-backwards banks that make possible the pipelines, coal mines, and fracked gas projects driving the climate crisis toward the tipping point.

The report focuses on 10 cash-rich companies that have taken or are taking strides to reduce and address the climate footprints of their operations but that have not yet examined the footprint of their financed emissions. The report shows that the footprint of these companies’ financed emissions often exceeds the footprint of their operations. This cash enables fossil banks like Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and others to pour billions into fossil fuel companies. “The Carbon Bankroll: The Climate Impact and Untapped Power of Corporate Cash” provides groundbreaking analysis of the hidden climate impact of corporate finances, making it possible to understand the scale of emissions generated by a company’s cash, investments, and financial practices. 

Todd Paglia, Stand.earth Executive Director:

“Strange as this sounds: as a climate activist, I think this research is great news, because it provides an opportunity to finally transform the dirty banking sector. What will the Googles, Apples, Microsofts, Salesforces, and Amazons of the world do when they realize their money is being used to make our world unlivable, to poison communities, to build roads deeper into the Amazon, and to pay for corporate thugs to attack Indigenous land and water defenders? They will move their money, because their customers, values, brand equity, and the mobility of their most valuable employees all demand it.” 

Background (from the Climate Safe Lending Network, The Outdoor Policy Outfit, and BankFWD):

“The Carbon Bankroll” allows companies to estimate how much their financial practices work against their ambitious goals to rein in emissions from direct and indirect operations across their value chains. The analysis also suggests how companies can leverage their financial practices to accelerate the decarbonization of the financial sector, which is critical to achieving the global climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. 

The recent growth of environmentally and socially responsible investments reflects companies’ increasing recognition that how they bank and invest their money has an impact on people and the planet. The report’s research and replicable methodology, which was produced in partnership with finance data experts at leading climate solutions provider South Pole, fills critical data gaps that underscore the magnitude of the emissions generated by corporate cash and investments. By discovering the enormous scale of this emissions source, the report emphasizes the need for companies to prioritize the decarbonization of their cash and investments.

Key findings include:

*For some of the world’s largest companies, including Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce, their cash holdings are their largest source of emissions, increasing total emissions by 91% to 112% when compared to most recently reported emissions. 

*For companies with more carbon-intensive operations such as Amazon and Johnson & Johnson, their cash holdings still constitute one of their largest emissions sources, increasing total emissions by 11%-15% compared to most recently reported emissions. 

*In 2021, the emissions generated by Microsoft’s $130 billion held in cash and investments was comparable to the cumulative emissions generated by the manufacturing, transportation, and use of every Microsoft product in the world. 

*In 2020, Amazon’s $81 billion held in cash and short-term investments generated more emissions than the purchased energy used to power every Amazon facility around the world, which includes its data centers, fulfillment centers, physical stores, and other facilities. 

Paul Moinester, executive director of TOPO:

“The companies highlighted in this report are all environmental leaders that have been working for years to combat climate change and decarbonize their supply chains. This report reveals that these companies’ substantial climate accomplishments are being severely undermined by a misaligned financial system that is channeling hundreds of billions of corporate US dollars into the carbon-intensive sectors driving the climate crisis.” 

“The Carbon Bankroll” suggests that just as companies have worked to decarbonize their operational and energy supply chains, they can work to decarbonize their financial supply chain by pushing their banks to decrease financing for fossil fuels, or by moving their money. Doing so, the report explains, would help companies achieve their corporate climate goals and improve the financial sector’s climate performance at a time when large banks have continued to finance fossil fuel expansion at levels that are incompatible with their own climate commitments. 

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About Stand.earth: Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with offices in Canada and the United States that is known for its groundbreaking research and successful corporate and citizen engagement campaigns to create new policies and industry standards in protecting forests, advocating the rights of Indigenous peoples, and protecting the climate. Visit us at www.stand.earth and follow us on Twitter @standearth.

About Climate Safe Lending Network: The Climate Safe Lending Network (CSLN) is an international multi-stakeholder collaborative dedicated to accelerating the decarbonization of the banking sector to secure a climate-safe world. The Network brings together senior leaders and changemakers from across banks, NGOs, academics, investors, businesses, and policy experts, to share insights and collectively explore how to play their optimum role in accelerating change. The Network runs a fellowship program for climate intrapreneurs from banks across the world, a policy initiative focused on regulatory and policy intervention, and brings together diverse perspectives on climate strategies relevant for banks into publications such as The Good Transition Plan (launched at COP26). 

About The Outdoor Policy Outfit: The Outdoor Policy Outfit (TOPO) is a “think and do” tank that creates and implements groundbreaking solutions to the systemic problems driving the environmental crisis. As a leader in the responsible finance space, TOPO specializes in building levers that harness the untapped power of consumers to transform the financial sector into an engine for environmental and social progress. From spearheading the Carbon Bankroll initiative to developing a first-of-its-kind global banking certification program, TOPO's team of problem solvers excel at building audacious solutions that meet the scale, complexity, and gravity of the systemic challenges we face. 

About BankFWD: BankFWD is a sustainable finance initiative founded by the members of the Rockefeller family dedicated to accelerating the transition to a just, zero-carbon economy by influencing banks to align their business strategies with the 1.5° target of the Paris Climate Agreement. BankFWD works to accomplish this goal by building a network of individuals and organizations united in the belief that by using their collective wealth and public standing, they can persuade major banks to lead on climate by phasing out financing for fossil fuels. 

About South Pole: South Pole, a social enterprise recognized by the World Economic Forum's Schwab Foundation, is the world's leading climate solutions provider and carbon project developer. Since its creation in 2006, it has developed nearly 1,000 projects in over 50 countries to reduce over one gigaton of CO2 emissions, and to provide social benefits to less privileged communities who are particularly vulnerable to climate change. South Pole also advises thousands of leading companies on their sustainability journeys to achieve net zero emissions. With its global Climate Solutions platform, South Pole develops and implements comprehensive strategies that turn climate action into long-term business opportunities for companies, governments, and organizations around the world. 

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