The End of Corporate Climate Change Denial?

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said this summer it would like to put climate change on a “Scopes trial.” However, the end of climate change denial is over, at least when it comes to the majority of large U.S. corporations. Three-quarters of the executives interviewed for a McGraw Hill study commissioned by Siemens Building Technology view sustainability as consistent with their company’s profit mission and engage in sustainability activities, double the amount in 2006. Over half (58 percent) believe sustainability will serve the financial performance of their company from 31 percent in 2006.

The economic crisis has supported and not deterred sustainability activity in the firms represented in the study. Over half (57 percent) believe sustainability practices are either unaffected or aided by a down economy. Only 32 percent view an economic crisis as an obstacle.

Energy savings is the most important driver toward sustainability, with 75 percent citing it this year, and 73 percent in 2006. Global influences increased as a driver with 38 percent in 2009, and 26 percent in 2006. Government regulations decreased as a driver with only 29 percent citing it, down from 40 percent in 2006. However, 72 percent expect it to become a requirement.

Over 80 percent of larger firms believe sustainability provides market differentiation, and over 70 percent expect sustainability efforts to retain and attract customers, and reduce the costs of doing business. Almost a third reported dedicated funding for sustainability.

Sixty-nine percent reported that their firm employs three or more sustainability practices. The most common sustainability practices are:

  • Recycling
  • Employee engagement/activities
  • Green building
  • Initiatives with NGOs/voluntary government programs
  • Publication of annual sustainability reports

Activity in green building increased. Over a fifth (21 percent) expect to green over 60 percent of their building portfolio in 2009, up from less than 10 percent in 2006. Ari Kobb, Sustainability Director at Siemens, told Treehugger, “We think the opportunity is in smart buildings… From our standpoint, we think there is going to be technology evolution to make buildings smarter, and that the biggest gains will be conservation.”

The study recommended firms do the following:

  • Firms need to employ sustainability practices now so they will not lose “first-mover advantage.”
  • Firms need to capitalize on the advantages of sustainability.
  • Firms should look for opportunities to position themselves ahead of regulation.
  • Firms should take stock of their current baseline so they can accurately report their performance and set goals for improvement.

Kobb believes  that the U.S. will “ultimately find creative and entrepreneurial solutions that work.” The U.S. is at a “great convergence of opportunity” with top companies realizing they can make money from sustainability.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.