Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Winston-Salem Journal. August 15, 2022.

Editorial: Reynolds’ carbon neutrality

When we think about Reynolds American Inc., the North Carolina-based tobacco giant, we don’t necessarily think about clean air.

But maybe that’ll change one day. Stranger things have happened.

That likelihood is increased by the company’s decision to shift its company vehicles from gas-powered to electric and hybrid models over the next three years, as the Journal’s John Deem reported Monday.

In practical terms, switching the company’s fleet of more than 1,800 gas-powered company vehicles to hybrid and electric vehicles would likely eliminate about 1,000 tons of airborne carbon annually — a significant reduction in one of the major pollutants that contributes to climate change. Reynolds says it’s working with Ford Motor Co. — which itself has been making great strides toward cleaner production methods — and will switch its gas guzzlers to a mix of vehicles that includes the Escape SEL Hybrid, Explorer Limited Hybrid, Ford E-Transit and Ford-150 Lightning pickup trucks.

“By 2024, more than 95% of all industrial vehicles used in operations will be electric,” Bernd Meyer, executive vice president of Operations at Reynolds told Environment + Energy Leader. “With these significant changes and investments over the next few years, we are currently on track to meet a fleet carbon emission reduction of 50% by 2025.”

And it’s just one part of the goal set by its parent company, British American Tobacco, to reach carbon-neutral status for emissions produced directly by the company’s operations by 2030.

Reynolds is not the only major corporation taking steps to eliminate carbon from its manufacturing diet. Those that have set goals to do so, by 2030 or in a similar time frame, include big names like John Deere, Coca-Cola, United Airlines and American Airlines, Disney, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walmart, Google, and Amazon.

They also include auto manufacturers like Ford, Toyota, Honda, BMW, Subaru and Hyundai.

In 2010, Ford Motors Co. set a public goal of cutting its carbon emissions by 30% in 15 years. It’s already reached that goal and is pushing for more. Just days ago, Ford signed a deal with DTE Energy Co. that will allow it to generate all of its electricity supply in Michigan via renewable energy, The Detroit News reported last week.

And, as contradictory as it seems, even gas and oil companies like ExxonMobil are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint by deploying carbon capture and storage techniques.

This isn’t to say that all of these multi-million-dollar conglomerates have suddenly become environmental heroes of the Earth. Let the buyer beware — it’s one thing to announce a goal and another to implement the necessary practices to reach it.

But these are among the companies that are said to be “leading the way,” according to Forbes contributor Blake Morgan — perhaps realizing that to continue operating, they’ll need to make sure their customer base is alive and well — which means adopting policies and practices that mitigate rather than contribute to the climate change that’s creating chaos across the planet.

As an industry, Big Tobacco has a long way to go to reach carbon neutrality. Never mind the harm of smoking, the production of their products create enough pollution to contribute to 8 million deaths worldwide each year, according to a World Health Organization report released in May, as the Journal reported.

The Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the Biden administration aims to cut emissions by American companies by 40% by 2030, by promoting low-carbon and money-saving technologies. It’s an ambitious goal, and one that deserves support across the board.

Renewable energy technologies aren’t perfect. But they’ve got to start somewhere. New technologies never emerge whole — just ask the Wright brothers. But with investments over time, they improve, as anyone reading this online or on their phone can attest.

Incidentally, contrary to the claims of figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, renewable energy can keep the lights on at night. We have these things called “batteries” that store energy for later use. New generations of batteries will improve that capacity.

It’s a matter of trajectory and, for each of us, a fundamental choice between continuing down a path that leads to further disaster or charting a new course that leads to health, stability and prosperity. Reynolds American seems to be doing its part.