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Mary Mazzoni headshot

At BSR 2016, Business Leaders Make the Case for Climate Action

By Mary Mazzoni

The past few weeks will surely prove historic in the fight against climate change.

The Paris climate agreement entered into force at the start of October after gaining buy-in from over 75 countries representing nearly 60 percent of global emissions. Over a dozen additional governments ratified the agreement in the weeks since.

And last week in Kigali, Rwanda, more than 170 countries pledged to cut back their use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. This modification to the Montreal Protocol will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond carbon dioxide.

All of this action is intended to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less. Climate scientists consider this widely-cited figure to be the absolute ceiling if we are to avoid the most severe effects of climate change. And while the ratification of the Paris agreement is encouraging, we already know the government commitments made thus far will not bring us close to the 2-degree target. The latest HFC agreement will limit warming by an estimated half a degree Celsius, but this still leaves a wide gap.

The question of how to complement government commitments and bring the world closer to a 2-degree reality took center stage at the 2016 BSR Conference in New York this week. How can we drive collaboration around climate solutions? How can we bring business to the table? And, most importantly, how can we convince them to take a seat?

According to some business leaders at BSR, a sea change is already underway.

"The business case now is very strong," Peter Harris, director of sustainability for UPS Europe, told TriplePundit in an exclusive interview. "... And it’s not just about corporate philanthropy. This is about actual value to the bottom line."

UPS operates around 100,000 vehicles and clocks over 3 billion miles a year. So, the multinational logistics company is in a position to make a significant impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. Through increased fleet efficiency and the deployment of alternative vehicles, UPS managed to exceed a 10 percent reduction in carbon intensity three years ahead of its 2016 goal. The company since upped the ante and now plans to cut carbon intensity by 20 percent by 2020, using a 2007 baseline.

Such momentum, Harris insisted, enabled the company to transform what were once the business risks associated with climate change into new chances to improve its reputation and reap returns.

"The great thing about innovating in relation to [climate risks] is that you find yourself in a position where the risks turn into opportunities," he told 3p. "So, for example, what could be a brand risk can be a brand opportunity by innovating and being seen as a leader. What could be a risk of disengaging employees becomes an opportunity to engage those employees

"... What could be a regulatory risk turns into an opportunity to shape the debate. And what could be a revenue risk from disenfranchising customers turns into an opportunity to engage with customers who want the same solutions to the problems that we do."

These efforts to tackle climate change dovetail with other 21st-century realities, from urbanization and automation to an increased strain on natural resources. With such a complex and uncertain future before us, it makes sense for companies to begin with an undertaking that's close to home. For UPS, it is driving efficiency and adopting alternative transport solutions to meet the demand for global trade without increased emissions.

For aerospace and defense firm Lockheed Martin, it is adopting more renewable energy. In February, the New York-based company inked an agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to produce 30 megawatts of solar energy for the national grid. The company, whose largest client is the federal government, now meets 16 percent of its power needs through renewables and renewable energy credits. With the U.S. Energy Department targeting 30 percent renewable energy use by 2025, it makes sense for Lockheed Martin to align its own practices with that of its largest customer, Scott Stallard, the company's senior manager for environmental stewardship, said on Wednesday.

"It just makes good, sound financial sense to diversify [our energy portfolio]," Stallard said. "Of course that argument only goes so far -- you’re not going to get to 100 percent renewable energy. I would love to get there someday as an environmentalist, but right now I’m happy to get a chunk of our buy. We’re really mitigating risks."

Some firms are further along the journey than others. But as business leaders continue to innovate and conference centers continue to fill with people hungry for discussion, there's a lot to feel good about.

"It’s exciting to see so many companies reinvent themselves and reinvent themselves with new business models," added Susan Hauser, vice president of business and corporate responsibility for Microsoft. She used a kooky example -- the story of Japanese electronics maker Fujitsu which, with Microsoft's help, transformed an unprofitable semiconductor factory into an indoor lettuce farm -- to prove sustainable growth comes in all shapes and sizes.

"It isn’t going to happen by just us saying it’s going to happen," she continued. "We will have to make changes; we will have to come together. But if we do, there’s so much opportunity."

TriplePundit will be at BSR 2016 today and at the Net Impact conference this weekend. Check back to the homepage for updates. And if you're headed to Philly for Net Impact, come grab a drink with us at the Field House on Friday night.

Image credit: Pixabay

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni