After COP15 Disappointment, Business Needs to ‘Just Get On With It’ – Globe 2010
The business community needs to ‘just get on with it’, and not wait for carbon emissions reduction policy and government to catch up, says a panel of international business leaders. This is especially true coming out of the COP15 global climate dialogues in Copenhagen last year, which failed to produce a fair, ambitious and binding agreement. Implications of the uneven and uninspired global regulatory climate for the business community were discussed by a Globe 2010 international panel of business representatives who are demonstrating sustainability leadership.
Panelists agreed that business are the actors who will deliver carbon reductions. Daniel Hendrix, President & CEO of the sustainable carpet company Interface, called out industry as the “one got us into the problem so industry needs to get us out of it.” Hendrix also pointed to the worlds’ top 50 companies as the ones who will make or break global carbon emission reduction goals, suggesting that industry will need to reinvent itself.
Shell Petroleum’s Graeme Sweeney, Executive Vice President of CO2 said, “we definitively shouldn’t wait for the policy framework to emerge and get on with the business at hand.” Sweeney said that the outcomes, or lack of outcomes, from COP15 doesn’t change what Shell is doing about carbon emissions. The company continues to focus on “making fossil fuels an effective part of solution” with an emphasis on carbon capture and storage, producing more supplies of natural gas, and increasing biofuels. There is no change, said Sweeny, because demands by customers and society as a whole hasn’t changed. Good news that Shell is thinking about solutions, but these efforts aren’t going to get them to carbon neutrality, or 80% reductions by 2050, so a binding agreement would be useful in this case, and many others.
Planning Pool asked the panelists to describe what is getting in the way of other companies ‘just getting on with it’, and seeing that the a business case for sustainability. Daniel Hendrix responded with that a corporation needs a visionary leader to overcome emphasis on short term returns on investment and tap into a higher purpose with your people. Interface’s past CEO Ray Anderson pushed his team to have faith that the consumer response to more sustainable products would give them a competitive advantage, and it did. Leadership extends beyond the CEO, says Hendrix and Sweeny, pointing to the need for a supportive board of directors, communicating benefits to shareholders, and even creating a specific role in the company to explain and maintain momentum on the efforts. But, as Joel Atwater from UBC’s Civil Engineering Department pointed out in a post-session conversation with Planning Pool, panelists didn’t exactly address how to build a business case in lieu of inspired leadership.
The relationship between poverty allievation and climate change responses was raised by David Parker, Vice President of Sustainability at Teck Resources Ltd, who are actively mining in developing countries such as Peru. Copenhagen resulted in a commitment to spend $100B by 2020, but Parker pointed out that developing countries does have the government infrastructure to deploy the funding. At some point, pointed out moderator Velma McColl, Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group, the patchwork of business initiatives to merge globally and there will need to be a bridge between the developed and developing world’s actions.
“Politicians are going to have to find the courage to create policies and regulatory frameworks and then sell them to constituents and consumers,” mandated Daniel Gagnier, Chairman of the Board at International Institute for Sustainable Development. Gagnier pointed out the tension that it’s not politically appealing for government to convince consumers that we would need to pay more for energy, “if only to stop wasting it and give it its full value”, and it’s also not appealing to monetize carbon, but both are going to happen. Therefore, the business community needs to let the politicians know that they solutions don’t lie in business as usual. Parker also commended the British Columbia government for its leadership on the carbon tax, but he is concerned that the longer there is a delay in a global agreement, the less competitive BC’s region will be.