Businesses across the world should no longer be viewed solely as greenhouse gas emissions culprits, but more as indispensable partners for climate action, who stand to increase profits from “going green”. That was the key message as the United Nations COP24 climate change conference went into its second week in Katowice, Poland.
For years, sectors such as construction, transport, farming and retailing, have had the finger pointed at them for being major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally and for putting profit ahead of environmental protection. But increasingly, new technologies and models are transforming the private sector so that business leaders no longer have to choose between making money and taking better care of the planet.
This is one of the key issues being discussed here at the COP24 conference, where negotiations are continuing on the implementation of the climate action agreement adopted in Paris, in 2015, when 197 parties committed to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“We are calling on all companies across sectors and regions, to set their science-based targets to a new level of ambition, one that aligns with the 1.5°C target,” said Lise Kingo, who heads the UN Global Compact, a network of 9,500 small and large private companies which have committed to invest more in sustainable development.
Speaking at a press conference at COP24, along with the heads of Maersk – the Danish global shipping company – as well as US confectionary giant Mars, and the French-based water and waste management conglomerate, Suez, she stressed that “this is the only way we can reach the ambition of the Paris Agreement and the UN sustainable goals by 2030”.
According to the Global Compact, nearly half of the Fortune 500 list of leading US corporations, have set clear energy targets or greenhouse gas reduction goals. Moreover, in 2016, 190 of those companies captured a total of US$3.7 billion in savings thanks to their emissions reduction measures.
1000 solutions to protect the planet while making money
To make it easier for the private sector to adopt environmentally-friendly solutions while also boosting profits, one NGO – the Solar Impulse Foundation – has endeavoured to gather together 1,000 solutions already in operation, and vet them for their positive environmental impact and their profitability before presenting them to governments and the private sector at large.
“This is where can make a big difference for the protection of the environment… showing that it is profitable, that people can create jobs and make money with it,” said the founder of the foundation, Bertrand Piccard, who was also the first person ever to complete a round-the-world flight powered only by solar energy, in 2016.
Seeking to “bridge the gap between ecology and economy”, the 1,000 efficient solutions initiative was launched over a year ago and, so far, more than 1,500 companies have joined, with over 600 projects in the pipeline. So far, 58 solutions having already received the Solar Impulse Efficient Label on sustainability and profitability.
“The point I’m trying to make is that the biggest industrial market and financial opportunity of the century is in transforming the old devices, systems and infrastructures which are inefficient and polluting, into efficient and clean and much more profitable industrial processes, devices, systems, technologies and solutions,” Mr. Piccard told UN News in an interview at COP24.
From solutions which make homes carbon-neutral, to developing cleaner cooling systems, or producing stainless steel more efficiently and more economically, the pioneer hopes the initiative will help make the case that climate action can happen now. He said it should not have to wait until 2050, and can be about “winning, not losing” – something he believes to be particularly critical for the poorer and more remote communities across the world, which are often dependent on others for all their energy needs.
“Energy – if they make it locally with sun, with wind, with biomass, with waves, with hydroelectricity on a small river – would allow them to develop their wealth, their social stability and peace. They would not need to fight for energy, as they would produce it themselves,” he explained, acknowledging that such a shift would require an initial investment by an external entity willing to share the profits with the communities.
“Today we are seeing that the most profitable solutions need a little bit more upfront investment, and afterwards, they bring much more money back,” noted Mr. Piccard. “Take electric buses: an electric bus is just a little bit more expensive to buy than a diesel bus, but over ten years, which is the usual lifespan of a bus, if it’s electric, it brings about $400,000 in savings.”
Along with the construction and buildings sector, as well as fossil-fuel energy producers, the fashion industry is often criticized for wasteful, polluting and highly unsustainable practices.
To course-correct, on Monday, at COP24, dozens of leading companies in the fashion industry – including Adidas, Burberry, Esprit, Guess, Gap, Hugo Boss, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Puma, Inditex – which owns brands like Zara and Bershka, as well as retailer Target, signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, under the auspices of the UN Climate Change Convention secretariat, UNFCCC.
“The fashion industry is always two steps ahead when it comes to defining world culture, so I am pleased to see it now also leading the way in terms of climate action,” said UNFCCC chief Patricia Espinosa.
The document, open for others to join, and aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement, presents a vision for the industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and defines issues to be addressed every step of the way in the life of fashion products, including: the use of environmentally sustainable materials, low-carbon transport; consumer awareness-raising; ‘scalable’ solutions through resource and political mobilization; and exploring ways to extend the life expectancy of fashion products as well as recycling possibilities.
“I congratulate the signatories of this important charter, which represents a unique commitment and collaboration from an array of fashion leaders. The Charter, like the renowned fashion runways of the world, sets an example that I hope others will follow,” noted Ms. Espinosa.