Greenpeace balloon at climate negotitations in Cancun, Mexico

Today, some of the world’s biggest companies collectively made a huge commitment that could be some of the best news to come out of Cancun during the week of climate talks. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) -- an industry consortium of 400 companies with combined revenue of $2.8 trillion -- agreed to eliminate HFCs from all new cooling equipment starting in 2015. The CGF companies are the major leagues.

CGF was formed in 2009 and Muhtar Kent, the Chair of Coca-Cola became the Co-Chair of the group in 2010. Its current theme is sustainability (of course) and refrigeration is one of its four focus areas.  

HFCs are the status quo for refrigeration in the world. They keep things cold – food, buildings, vending machines, coolers and they comprise the first or second largest piece of the carbon footprint for many, if not most, of the CGF members. As another billion people get refrigeration and cooling, these chemicals’ contribution to the global warming load could prove catastrophic.  And they are fairly easily replaced. Greenpeace has been campaigning against them since they were first introduced almost 20 years ago

At our urging, Coca-Cola was the first company to commit to eliminating HFCs from all of their new equipment by 2015. So when I was invited to give the keynote speech at the CGF Sustainability Refrigeration Summit last month in Chicago, I thought there might be a real opportunity. About 50 large multinationals and a dozen refrigeration suppliers attended.  Egged on by some pretty aggressive corporate allies, I called on the group to follow the lead of Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Unilever (all of whom were leading by example on this issue).  asked the CGF membership to eliminate HFCS from all new equipment by 2015.

To my astonishment, the group agreed. But this isn’t a home run yet – the corporations are rounding third, but haven’t quite made it to home plate.  By the time the 50 member Board of the CGF got to vote, they inserted the word “begin” into the resolution. Therefore, they will “begin” phasing out these chemicals by 2015. Many of these companies intend to complete the phase out by 2015—some are already well on their way. When the largest users replace a technology, it becomes an easy choice for corporations to use the natural refrigerant equipment anyway – it’ll be cheaper! In addition, we’ll be working on banning HFCs, and lifting regulations against many of the best alternatives.

Now if government will only change policy and regulation to accommodate this rapid transformation, we will have our home run. Meanwhile, it’s a solid triple with several men on base.  

Now on to eliminating HFCs from your car’s air conditioning system!