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BSR's Bold Climate Change Commitment

jennifer boynton headshotWords by Jen Boynton
Energy & Environment

BSR's President Aron Cramer made a big commitment at this week's conference in San Francisco. He and the BSR team are doubling down on 2 degrees Celsius, drawing a line in the sand and committing to use the power of their network to avoid breaching a global temperature rise above it. Two degrees is, of course, the limit in global temperature rise that the latest IPCC report recommends we avoid in order to skip the worst impacts of climate change.

BSR plans to utilize its stance as a key influencer and in Cramer's words, "spark action on part of business," by, in part, "changing the public narrative on climate change." How can a network, influential though it may be, actually have a measurable impact on a global problem like temperature rise? After all, BSR has few sticks with which to encourage its members.

Edward Cameron, Director of Partnership Development and Research, laid out the four point plan: 

  1. Make a big, ambitious goal and publicize it. If we need to stay under 2 degrees, it's dishonest to commit to any smaller goals. We must show that the 2 degree goal is necessary to achieve and inspire business leaders to take actions to make it possible. This is a twin goal, balancing ambition and urgency.

  2. Speak clearly to the business community about the risk of inaction and the benefits of climate resilience. Businesses face enormous financial risks from climate change: risk to operations, risks of supply chain interruption, financial risks related to unforeseen expenses, policy risks related to being caught off-guard by climate change regulation and the reputation risk of inaction. In terms of resilience, Cameron noted that the risk of sea level rise, heat increases, and local air pollution all have impacts on communities where companies operate. By addressing them proactively, companies have an opportunity to protect their workforces and the places where they do business.

  3. Promote stabilization wedges. Climate change can be tackled right now in an ambitious way with existing technology, by making small actionable changes. BSR will work within its existing business clusters to give businesses the tools to make change - each small change can have a big impact.

  4. Utilize its global reach. BSR is a global organization with operations in the EU, U.S. and a regional presence in Asia. Through this network, BSR will work as an advocate for local businesses to create small actions that add up to measurable change. They'll also advocate for strong policies at local, state and federal levels to incentivize businesses to make the appropriate changes. Cramer stated:
"We need a strong public policy framework and we need to create the right incentives. BSR will continue to push on that, not because we’re lobbyists, but because we're advocates for the companies in our community. It’s essential that companies address climate change, particularly in the U.S. In Washington D.C. right now there are only bad incentives or no incentives and that needs to change."

The global network can work to both influence policy and support companies in their operations around the world.

It's a bold commitment for a group without direct power to prescribe change. But, BSR believes it can make a big difference through speaking strongly about the urgency and giving businesses the tools and support to make positive changes.

Sounds great! But let's hear a bit more about how it works in practice. Cramer spoke persuasively about the power of industry, for example, consumer-facing companies like McDonald's, to influence consumers. "McDonald's has 40 million people coming into restaurants every day. Business voices have resonance and they are great communicators."

Communications don't need to be hand-wringing or political, but companies have a real opportunity to educate consumers about the importance of climate change and their role in moving toward avoiding the worst impacts. Cameron agreed, "We need to change the nature of communications both to the companies and ultimately on to consumers. We need so show that this shift is feasible, you don’t have to wait for silver bullet. There are financial benefits of action now."

Eric Olsen, Senior Vice President, Advisory Services, spoke about a number of projects currently underway in the BSR working groups - small wedges with big impact. For example, the ICT working group is examining ways to not just green data centers and devices, but to support customers with the tools to make environmental shifts in their own practices. The shipping working group has been developing a dock-to-dock calculator to help retailers calculate the carbon costs of various shipping routes. If it works, Walmart plans to include its use as a requirement in the procurement scorecard.

Another exciting project on the horizon for BSR is a plan to translate the IPCC's latest report, the 5th Assessment, into business-friendly language. The translation reports will be prepared for the agriculture industry, transportation and logistics, and extractives at first. Each report will include specific tips, tools and stabilization wedges that the companies in each industry can put into practice right away to lower impact and improve the bottom line. Watch for these releases in the spring of 2014.

[Image credit: Swen George, Flickr]

Jen Boynton headshotJen Boynton

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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