Climate Change’s Call for Leadership
Updated November 22, 2016
We hear every day about the problems facing Mother Earth, whether it’s melting polar icecaps, droughts in the Southwest United States or Northeast Africa, or violent storms that lash out suddenly, destroying property and killing people in their wake. More and more people are paying attention to their nutritional intake, researching food sources and the implications of genetically modified foods. Our population, especially children, is showing greater food intolerances. Something’s going on here.
The growing concern about the impact of humans on Mother Earth is gradually imposing pressure on national (and local) governments to do something through policy measures. However, the response has been typically reactive.
In March 2014, the United Nations released a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Despite expectations by many that the report would be a panicked cry about a world of increasing fossil fuel demand and steadily growing carbon emissions, the authors took a more measured tone. Their core message is that climate change will affect in some way everyone on the planet and that we, as a society, must learn to adapt.
Contrasted to the IPCC is The World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency, which forecasts rising fossil fuel demand (notably natural gas) over the next three decades. The 2016 WEO’s report includes the growth of solar and wind energy, finally replacing coal. Despite the Paris Agreement, which took effect on November 4, 2016, carbon emissions are expected to slowly drop from the recent 650 million tonnes annually to 150 million tonnes per year in 2040.
The major contributor to sustaining the demand for oil and natural gas is hydraulic fracturing, more popularly known as fracking. Rapid advancements in technology in just the few past years have resulted in massive growth in fracking around North America and Europe. Even with the large drop in oil prices in 2015, and with many fracking companies putting their rigs on ice, there are some that can still make a profit from under $50 a barrel. The fracking industry’s growth, and the October 2016 announcement of a massive oil-gas find in west Texas, presents new challenges to those industries attempting to develop renewable energy sources, with respect to end-user cost.
How is the business community, as a collective entity, responding to climate change? Business may be seen as dispersed along a continuum, from doing nothing to half-hearted measures to being fully engaged in living sustainable business practices.
Many, if not most, corporations don’t get it. Somehow the perception is, “Why should I care about the environment? The scientists contradict one another. As a company, our number one priority is profit.” Indeed, the IPCC report may be interpreted by some business people as not being a sufficiently urgent call to action but rather one of just learning to adapt to climate change.
However, in just the past few years it seems that a movement is afoot, sparked by investors in publicly traded companies. According to CDP, a not-for-profit organization that measures and discloses environmental information on behalf of investors, over half of the 31 world’s stock exchanges produce data relating to the environment. Indeed, the primary catalyst to companies paying attention to their impacts on the environment is coming from investors. CDP, the only global system for investors, represents investors with $92 trillion in assets. Some 5,000 companies are sent questionnaires on issues such as meeting emissions targets and specific initiatives.
What has not been adequately communicated is that some companies have embraced what is called the Triple Bottom Line:
1) Economic Sustainability
2) Social Sustainability
3) Environmental Sustainability
Yes, there are many companies around the world that are actually practicing a triple bottom line approach to business. They seek not just to make profits but also to contribute to society and to minimize their operations’ impacts on the environment. Here are four examples from Canada, Germany, the United States and New Zealand.
Mountain Equipment Co-op
MEC, as it’s affectionately called, is Canada’s largest retail outdoor-oriented co-operative. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, MEC has demonstrated a sustained commitment to environmental and social responsibility since its founding in 1971 by six people. Whether it’s constructing green buildings, using recycled fibres in its clothing or getting involved in community efforts, MEC strives to make a positive impact on the planet and at the local level.
Owned by its members, MEC fulfills its core purpose: to help people enjoy the benefits of self-propelled outdoor-oriented recreational activities by providing outdoor gear, clothing and services. It has over three million members, not just in Canada but worldwide.
MEC’s mission is to serve its membership in an environmentally and ethically responsible manner. As part of its green operations, MEC pays close attention to how it packages and ships its products. This ranges from reducing the thickness of cardboard to using only recyclable materials to developing vendor manuals with specific packaging guidelines.
MEC is engaged in numerous activities and new initiatives. For example, employees are paid to do volunteer community work aimed at outdoor recreation and conservation. To reduce their environmental footprint, employees have bike rooms and lockers to encourage cycling to work. An astonishing 82% of MEC employees take alternate transportation to work, with one third cycling.
BMW earned for the seventh year in a row the Dow Jones Sustainability Index Leader award. This is the most influential stock index for companies that are committed to sustainable practices. BMW’s award is well deserved, considering the company’s long journey to being eventually recognized as a world leader in sustainable business practices.
The company’s voyage began back in 1973, when it appointed an environmental officer; this was a first for the automotive industry first. Over the next four decades, BMW worked systematically to refine its approach to sustainability in a manufacturing environment. In 2009, corporate sustainability was set as a corporate objective.
Committed leadership is essential to maintaining BMW’s sustainability journey. The sustainability board, comprising all members of the board of management, determines how corporate objectives are aligned with BMW’s longer-term goals.
We all know that wool is warm, even when wet. But it can be bulky and very itchy for many people to wear. But what if you could wear a high quality product against your skin, one that breathes well, does not itch one bit and which is basically stink-proof? And to boot, the company that has produced it for two decades is completely committed to sustainable business practices?
Meet New Zealander Jeremy Moon, whose encounter with a merino sheep farmer in 1994 changed his life. Soft spoken and articulate, Moon recounts how he met through his American girl friend a New Zealand farmer who showed him a merino tee-shirt he had made as a prototype. Moon was astounded by its softness and natural feel. The 24-year old marketing graduate had an idea about selling merino wool tee-shirts, and with a NZ$20,000 loan from his bank, combined with funds from eight investors, he set about to create a company.
Icebreaker’s early days were bleak, with quality problems in its apparel. However, Moon persevered and by the fourth year his company made its first profit. Today, with some 350 employees located in such countries as New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Australia, France, Germany and Switzerland, Icebreaker is seen as being the benchmark for high quality merino clothing. From base layers to tee-shirts to soft shells to running gear, Icebreaker continues to innovate and grow. The company’s customers now span 30 countries, with its clothing sold in more than 2,500 retailers.
For those of you who have followed my blogging, you’re acquainted with the name of the late Ray Anderson, perhaps the greenest CEO yet to inhabit Planet Earth. Anderson died from cancer in August 2011, yet he left a huge positive impact on the planet. His journey in the 1990s from typical corporate CEO to one consumed with radically changing how his flooring company Interface operated, from its organizational culture to its emissions and effluents, was truly remarkable.
Anderson’s aim was a zero carbon footprint. At the core of his work was innovation. His vision was one day attaining a state of no environmental impact on the planet as the result of his company’s manufacturing operations, a zero carbon footprint. He strove tirelessly to reach it. And it was not just a matter of finding new innovative ways of eliminating emissions or integrating waste from floor cuttings back into productive use, but ensuring that employees evolved with changes and that they embraced them. (Watch this 2009 TED talk by Ray Anderson on the business logic of sustainability).
If we want to address global warming, along with the other environmental problems associated with our continued rush to burn our precious fossil fuels as quickly as possible, we must learn to use our resources more wisely, kick our addiction, and quickly start turning to sources of energy that have fewer negative impacts.
– David Suzuki (Scientist and Canadian Broadcaster, Host of CBC’s “The Nature of Things”)
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