Using the backdrop of Climate Week NYC to underscore their commitments, more than a dozen global companies are making multi-year pledges to switch to 100 percent renewable power.

The campaign, called RE100, encourages 100 of the world’s largest businesses to commit to similar all-in goals by 2020. So far, early signers include (in alphabetical order) include: BT, Commerzbank, FIA Formula E, H&M, IKEA, KPN, Mars, Nestle, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin, Swiss Re and Yoox. (IKEA and Swiss Re were the founding sponsors.) Although it isn’t name, Walmart made this pledge long ago.

“We decided on a 100 percent renewable power approach because as a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance and insurance we believe that tackling climate change while meeting the energy needs of a growing and developing world is an urgent matter. This can only be done by improving energy efficiency and switching to low carbon options including renewable energy sources,” said Jurg Trub, head of environmental and commodity markets for Swiss Re.

“Renewable energy is common sense energy,” said Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer for IKEA Group, during a launch event on the opening day of the Climate Week, convened by The Climate Group. “There is no peak sun, no peak wind. We struck sun, we struck wind long before we struck oil.”

To be clear, 2020 is the date guiding the RE100 pledges. It doesn’t technically mean the full-blown switchover has to happen by then—although IKEA alone will invest close to $1.9 billion dollars in renewable energy projects before 2020 to meet its goal.

So far, IKEA has generated more than 1,425 gigawatts of power from renewable sources, an admirable feat considering how difficult it is for businesses to procure renewable energy. But Howard and other business and political leaders gathered in New York this week say the corporate world must speak up more forcefully and move far faster to address climate change issues.

“You can make a powerful argument that it is the most important challenge that we face on the planet, because it is about the planet itself,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the gathering, referencing the People’s Climate March that took place over the weekend. He added: “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change, it costs more to ignore it.” A report published this week by the newly formed We Mean Business coalition suggests that companies making investments in low-carbon technologies are realizing a 27 percent average internal rate of return.

“The [report] underlines that we do not have to choose between climate action and economic growth,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “The report shows this is a false dilemma. They can be achieved simultaneously. The next 15 years are critical. Around $90 trillion will be invested in cities, land use and energy infrastructure globally between now and 2030.”

An estimated 400,000 people took to New York streets for the climate march, four times the number anticipated. Aside from the list of people you’d normally expect to show up (like Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sting or Leonardo DiCaprio) were top executives from IKEA, NRG Unilever and members of We Mean Business.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also donned his walking shoes to underscore the need for better collaboration between communities, citizens, and the public and private sectors. “This is our world, this is our planet earth. It is a very small planet,” Ki-moon told the roughly 250 people attending the Climate Week opening session. “If we cannot swim together, we will always sink. There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.”

The We Mean Business coalition was launched to leverage the collective voices of business leaders around the world, hoping to create a ripple effect of positive actions that help limit the global rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. Among the causes it is advocating on behalf of the private sector (it wants all these things by 2015):

  • A heightened sense of urgency by governments to stabilize emissions
  • Policies that encourage businesses to reduce their impact, including an elimination of fossil fuels subsidies; meaningful carbon pricing; an end to forestation; robust energy-efficiency standards; support for scaling renewable energy; and trade incentives that encourage a low-carbon economy
  • Clearer long-term goals
  • More transparency and accountability related to climate issues
  • Public finance mechanisms to support investments in low-carbon and resilient infrastructure by the private sector

“The inclusion of business at the summit and over the past few years is a recognition that climate change is not a one-person issue,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, during a briefing call before the summit. “It is not a one-sector issue. It cannot be solve by one country, one sector, by one level of government. Climate is an every-person issue, and it requires everyone to work collaboratively in order to reach the solutions to the level and at the speed that we need to find.”

Among the leaders that We Mean Business recruited to stress the need for collaboration was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who pointed to the need for a corporate ripple effect. “We know we will not make enough of a difference if we only solve part of the world,” he said during an on-stage interview with Figueres.

Top image by Bush Philosopher via Flickr