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COP23, the State of Our Climate, & How Business Can Help

November 29, 2017 Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This week in Bonn, Germany, thousands of negotiators from the public, private and nonprofit sector will gather to discuss how the world should address climate change.

The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will host its 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) from November 6th to the 17th.

Despite collective commitments and actions by governments, businesses and NGOs, the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions has earth on track to exceed the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement, beyond which scientists estimate catastrophic climate impacts.

The Paris targets range from 1.5 C to 2 C. In a business-as-usual scenario, scientists expect global temperatures to rise by at least 3 degrees celsius by 2100. Unfortunately, another report found that we have roughly a 5% chance of meeting the 2 degree target. In other words, we need to clean up our act or we will tilt our climate system so far out of balance that humanity will face severe climatic and economic damages in the relatively near future.

The good news is that widespread technological innovation and private sector emissions reductions could bridge the gap between where the world is headed in a business as usual situation, and where we need to be to avoid exceeding the 2 degree target.

In fact, the UN estimates that if non-state actors implemented emissions reduction technologies with a cost of $100 per tonne of carbon or less, global emissions could be reduced by more than what’s needed to reach the target by 2030.

What’s more, a recent climate disclosure report by the CDP found that if current emissions reductions targets set by over 1000 companies worldwide come to fruition, the planet will be 30% closer to avoiding the 2 degree tipping point.

Some of the most effective ways companies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions include setting an internal price on carbon, transitioning to renewable energy, implementing clean transporting, using recycled packaging and leveraging purchasing power to encourage suppliers to source responsibly

The window for action is decreasing and we are past overdue for action. However, there is a beacon of hope in that growing commitment from the private sector and technological innovation still keep the world in reach of meeting the Paris climate targets.

Organizations across sectors have been developing amazing projects and innovations to address climate change, as well as other Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations Climate Solutions Awards, which will be presented during COP23, shines a light on some of the most groundbreaking projects advancing climate action since the Paris Accord in 2015.

Here are 3 lessons from Climate Solutions Award Winners on how companies can progress climate action:

Reward Green Purchases:
One way to truly catalyze a transition towards sustainable equilibrium is to change consumer behavior. If consumers demand eco-friendly products and services over unsustainable alternatives, supply will follow.

An excellent way to increase awareness and incentivize action is to give your customers rewards for purchasing sustainable products.

A project doing an excellent job incentivizing consumers to practice sustainable purchasing behavior is the Green Credit Card. The Korean Environment Industry and Technology Institute and the Korean Ministry of Environment have distributed over 15 million Green Credit Cards, which reward consumers for purchasing green items. Shoppers can choose if they want to redeem rewards points for money or donate them to a nonprofit.

Consumers can receive reward points on nearly 2,000 products from over 220 companies. Not only does this incentivize shoppers to buy sustainably, it also encourages companies to offer eco-friendly goods.

Ultimately, giving people an added reward when they choose eco-friendly options is an excellent way to move the needle towards green consumer behavior and foster consumer loyalty.

Build Climate Conscious Culture:
For climate commitments to make a real impact on your business, your community, and the planet, you must weave climate consciousness into your corporate culture. This means working with suppliers, updating your physical infrastructure, engaging customers and partnering with third parties to tackle your emissions.

A company doing an exceptional job championing climate action is the British retailer Marks & Spencer. The brand is the first retail giant to accomplish carbon neutrality, which it has successfully done in over 1,400 stores.

The brand sources renewable energy and purchases carbon offsets via certified partners to stay carbon neutral.

Marks & Spencer also engages employees by providing free energy monitoring devices, and encourages suppliers to cut out carbon emissions wherever possible.

The retailer also invites consumers to get involved via a green bond, which funds solar installations on company stores.

Ultimately, by intertwining climate action throughout your operations and working with suppliers, employees and consumers to do the same, you can effectively showcase leadership around authentically sustainable business.

Innovate For Impact:
The materials a company uses in its products and packaging have a substantial impact on its overall environmental footprint.

A great way to align your brand with an environmental cause and make measurable progress towards sustainability is to design products that address a critical issue.

This could mean making your products or packaging from a waste product or sustainable material, as well as making financial contributions towards a given cause each time a product is purchased.

Procter & Gamble showcased innovation and a commitment to sustainability in a recent Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle. The company partnered with TerraCycle to craft a bottle from reclaimed ocean plastics. Once the bottle is used it can be recycled. Not only does this reduce the fossil fuels needed to make P&G’s bottles, it also takes plastic waste out of the environment, into a responsible waste management cycle.

Ultimately, the global climate crisis continues to be one of the most pressing issues of our time. Organizations of all types must actively reduce emissions to meet previously set climate targets.

At the same time, since the Paris Climate Agreement, there has been an upswell of commitment and innovation coming from the private sector, as well as countries around the world. Corporate initiatives include consumer rewards programs, carbon offsetting, operational sustainability makeovers, and changes in product and package material sourcing.

Now more than ever, companies must leverage their purchasing power, unique skills and cultural influence to achieve a sustainable, low carbon future for the benefit of long term business prospects as well as the benefit our grandchildren.

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Title image via Flickr courtesy of user Ende Gelände at https://flic.kr/p/Z9ga4G

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