Companies are doing a lot to take positive steps toward addressing global sustainability challenges, but collectively we’re not making progress as fast as needed. Over the past 10-15 years, corporate activities on sustainability have expanded and matured significantly. Companies are increasingly focused on those areas that are truly material to their operations, products, and value chains – whether that is water use, commodity sourcing, human rights, or climate change. External stakeholders are smart and active and want to see meaningful and relevant activities in the sustainability space – pushing companies to go beyond philanthropy or other efforts that might be secondary (or worse – distracting) from the areas where the company has a large impact.
Climate change is a particularly complex challenge given the level of collaboration required between government, private sector, and civil society to implement solutions. No single sector (or country or region) can solve a challenge of this magnitude alone. Increasingly, the private sector is playing an important role in both: 1) voicing the need for concrete policy actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and 2) deploying existing low-carbon and energy-efficient tools and technologies to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions today.
Voicing Support for Policy Action on Climate: The business voice in support of climate action is strong. A recent statement signed by over 1000 companies and investors, Business Backs Low Carbon USA, calls on global leaders to implement the Paris Climate Agreement. The Ceres Climate Declaration highlights the economic opportunities of addressing climate change and the importance of policy certainty in speeding a transition to a low-carbon economy.
Scaling Up Deployment of Low-Carbon Technology: Here in Washington state a number of companies have taken innovative steps to deploy emission reducing tools and technology. Amazon.com (along with many other companies around the world) has set ambitious renewable energy sourcing commitments and in recent months has announced a number of large-scale wind and solar energy contracts. Microsoft achieved its 100% renewable energy goal in 2014 and has been a pioneer in implementing an internal carbon price which challenges each business unit to account for carbon emissions associated with its own operations.
In the absence of clear policy signals to drive GHG emission reductions and address adaptation challenges -- when voluntary commitments (even bold ones) are not enough -- investors are emerging as accelerators for progress. Investors play a unique role in governance and decision-making in public companies. For years, many in the socially responsible investing (SRI) space have been pushing companies toward greater transparency, and urging concrete actions to address social and environmental concerns. But now we are also seeing mainstream investors emerge as a significant positive force to accelerate climate progress. In a recent article, Emilie Mazzacurati - founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven - highlights examples of major investors like BlackRock and State Street speaking out on the relevance of ESG factors and the importance of strategic measurement and analysis of the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.
So, how can investors accelerate corporate progress on climate change?
Sarah King has been working to advance climate & sustainability progress for over 15 years, most recently as a member of the sustainability team at DuPont. She is passionate about finding lasting solutions to sustainability challenges and enjoys working at the intersection of policy, innovation, and partnerships. Sarah is an Aspen Institute Catto Fellow, and is one of the newest members of the Washington Business for Climate Action leadership team. A recent transplant to Seattle, she is having fun exploring the city with her two kids, and loves the easy access to mountains, ocean, islands, and other great places in the Pacific Northwest.
Learn more and sign the Washington Business Climate Declaration, a rolling call to action, urging the public, policymakers, and other business leaders to seize the opportunity that exists for Washington to join the growing group of states, regions, and countries that are investing in a low-carbon future.