Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Businesses Can Do to be More Environmentally Sustainable

Here are some things that forward thinking business leaders can do to be more environmentally sustainable. Both to keep up with the competition and to position themselves for the future the business community needs to act.

Many companies are already reducing their emissions profile along with efforts to minimize energy, resources and waste. Other actions that we are seeing include advances on deforestation (40 companies announced zero net deforestation at a UN General Assembly in September 2014). Companies have also signed the Ceres Climate Declaration and as we await some form of carbon pricing scheme thousands of businesses are calling for government action.

Here is a list of seven things that businesses can do as outlined by the Nature Conservancy:

1. Share your successes Last fall, the White House recognized over 120 companies that saved $1 billion and reduced CO2 emissions by 11 million tons through energy efficiency. To those companies, and others that have made similar progress: please speak up. Be more vocal about how cutting emissions is not just about the environment. It's about making your business more resilient and your bottom line more robust.

2. Champion internal carbon pricing Over 150 major companies, from Microsoft to Exxon, now use an internal price on carbon to guide their decisions. To these companies, again I say: speak up. You deserve credit for your leadership. Your example can influence other businesses. And it can help the public understand that carbon pricing is not a threat to our country's economy. To other companies, I say: imitate. Pricing you own carbon can result in more efficient business operations and economic savings as well as reduced emissions.

3. Influence your business associations From a business perspective, dealing with climate change is about protecting supply chains that depend on water. It is about maintaining global food security. It is about keeping our families and businesses out of harm’s way. Business should be on the side of climate action for its own good.

That makes it more troubling when business-friendly groups such as Chambers of Commerce release statements opposing action on climate change.

Members of these organizations should speak up when they, in fact, disagree with such positions. Politely, respectfully — but loudly — tell the public that you strongly disagree. Clear messages from corporate leaders that climate action is good for business will help to reframe the policy debate.

4. Invest in carbon capture and storage The arguments against Carbon Capture and Storage are familiar: it's too expensive and the technology is too far off. Yet consider the history of pollution control in the U.S. In 1970, the auto industry railed against the Clean Air Act. It would destroy millions of jobs, they said, and would cost consumers billions of dollars. Congress enacted the bill anyway. Right away, American science and industry went to work to develop the catalytic converter. Today, cars are 99.5 percent cleaner than they were in 1970 at a cost of about $1,500 per car.

This debate was revisited on acid rain. Again, the solution — the cap and trade program adopted in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments for acid rain — proved to be spectacularly successful at costs just a fraction of what the staunchest opponents predicted.

CCS is the newest round of pollution control that we need — it is an imperative. We need to make every investment necessary to bring it along. Businesses can lead the way.

5. Invest in biosequestration — natural carbon storage Reducing deforestation is one of the cheapest, fastest ways to reduce carbon emissions. But opportunities for carbon sequestration go well beyond forests. Experiments are under way to use cow manure for energy, to use biotechnology to produce algae as biofuels, to manage lagoons and ocean habitats for enhanced carbon sequestration, to implement farming practices that put more carbon into soils and reduce nitrogen pollution. These are business opportunities that could help us save the planet — we need more forward-looking investment in this research.

6. Invest in renewables While Congress has dithered, two-thirds of U.S. states have adopted policies mandating renewable electricity generation. Their leadership has stimulated domestic investment in new technologies, created good jobs and made wind and solar power cost competitive. Now that China has pledged to achieve 20 percent renewable power by 2030, it's time for Congress to enact a comparable national clean energy goal.

7. Partner with environmental NGOs — and push them to do more Just as I challenge companies to step up their leadership on climate, I encourage them to challenge NGOs right back.

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