It’s not exactly news that “climate positive” is overtaking “carbon neutral” as the responsible business community’s next destination in contributing to the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Even before the pandemic, commenting on the agency’s 2019 emissions gap report in a recent press statement, Inger Anderson, the UN Environment Program’s (UNEP) Executive Director, said, “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade. This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”
Given the sluggish pace of progress, neutralizing carbon’s impact on the planet clearly won’t cut it anymore. Governmental and corporate entities are catching on to the risks of not doing enough and the immediate benefits of taking decisive and radical action to transform carbon intensive status quo operations.
To that end, more companies are coming out with climate positive commitments that work up to carbon neutrality and persist beyond that threshold. The evidence suggests that in turn, they are finding public support in pursuing this goal.
Consumer behavior has shifted globally. A survey from the Paris-based market research company Ipsos, published in late 2019, found that over two-thirds of adults surveyed across 28 countries claimed their concern over climate change has caused changes to their consumer behavior.
In drafting guidance companies seeking to embark on a climate positive strategy, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observed one of many benefits to aligning with consumer demand: “Those companies who act on this climate positive agenda are likely to achieve a social and environmental ‘license to operate’ by society in the coming decades.”
That begs the question: how is it possible to adapt and evolve into a climate positive corporation? The WWF’s three recommendations for climate positivity move beyond science-based targets for scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions — with reductions that don’t lean on long-term carbon offsets. Companies aiming to go the extra mile must also advocate for progress and encourage appropriate shifts in consumer behavior.
Early last year, before the pandemic came to headlines, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) set a climate positive goal for its entire industry: to become climate positive by 2030. The organization is aiming to become a global leader with the goal to be the first climate positive industry. Currently, more than 100 companies have signed onto the OIA’s Climate Action Corps, including brands such as REI, Patagonia and Klean Kanteen.
Just like any other industry, outdoor companies have their own unique incentives to combat climate change. How would outdoor companies fare without healthy ecosystems and communities? In a press statement, Amy Horton, OIA’s senior director of sustainable business innovation, said,
“There’s no denying that climate change is an existential crisis for the outdoor industry. The question is no longer ‘what will we do about it?’ – it’s how far can we go, and who wants to join us? We want the outdoor industry to lead the charge and inspire other industries. Our efforts alone will certainly not solve the climate crisis – we need every business, government, and individual to act. With this new strategy, we’ve established a credible, practical pathway, supporting resources, and interim milestones that will guide and accelerate progress for companies no matter how far along they are on the path.”
The Climate Action Corps’ year-one baseline shows promise, with almost half of the corps’ members taking action on scope 1 and 2 emissions from operations, and almost one-third taking action on scope 3 — the latter often the largest contributor to a company’s footprint, encompassing activities in the greater value chain. But the industry values honesty. The OIA noted during a virtual celebration of the Climate Action Corps’ inaugural year that for some members, certain product footprints have increased this year — and considering the long path to reach such goals, in the end that’s ok.
Persistence is the key to achieving such high goals becoming a climate positive company, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy emphasized as she spoke to the industry during the year-one gathering. “Don’t throw anything away because it’s not perfect,” she said. “Demand perfection, but keep moving forward.”
Such is sage advice for industries leading the way or just starting out in the journey to ensuring that in the future, we can live in a safer climate.
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