“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
-Martin Luther King
Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don’t!
There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year – and if the following developments don’t make you feel better, I’ve prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.
Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that 2017 was a hard year for the planet. I’ve lost count of the hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires—many linked to climate change—that rained upon us. It was a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 enormous weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage (not sure how to calculate the emotional cost).
And don’t get me started on Scott Pruitt’s dramatic and dangerous dismantling of the EPA.
At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.
This is the third in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.
Anirban Ghosh has been at Mahindra since 1999, and in that time worked across the business, including sales, marketing, strategy, and new business development. He played a key role in Mahindra’s expansion into the agriculture business, led the implementation of award-winning shared value projects like watershed development, and applied a strategic approach to the company’s social investments.
No business is immune to the devastating effects of climate change anymore, as we saw from the onslaught of extreme weather events in 2017. Disasters brought more than $300 billion in damages this year, a 60-percent increase over 2016, Swiss Re reported last week.
As every business leader has long known, storms, flooding, wildfires and other calamities all threaten to disrupt their operations and growth, and can even affect an entire supply chain.
What’s new is that shareholders and potential investors are also now aware of the risk that extreme weather and natural disasters pose to “doing business as usual.”
Unsurprisingly, a growing number of companies are factoring resilience to climate change into their operations. It’s about the bottom line: Making a company more resilient is an investment in business continuity, shareholder value and overall performance.
Two big developments this month suggest that investor interest in climate-related financial risk is at an all-time high. The first is Climate Action 100+, a new initiative led by Ceres and 225 investors with more than $26.3 trillion in assets under management to strengthen climate-related financial disclosures among the world’s largest corporations.
As investors work to increase reporting on climate risk, methane emissions will be top of mind. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide when released to the atmosphere over a 20-year period – and is responsible for 25 percent of the warming we’re experiencing today.
That’s why the second development, this year’s Disclosing the Facts report, departed from its normal broad survey of chemical, air, water and community impact risks facing U.S. gas producers to do a deep-dive on methane reporting. (Full disclosure: I’m an acknowledged reviewer of the report.) The report is a joint effort between As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, and The Investor Environmental Health Network.
The report poses 13 questions that span both quantitative metrics and qualitative narrative with the aim of testing whether companies report a thorough, systematic approach to methane management. The disclosures of 28 U.S. producers are evaluated against these parameters and a company can earn one point for each of the 13 questions posed.
Four main takeaways emerge from the analysis:
Of my 20 years in the corporate sustainability world, I’ve never seen a year like 2017.
Like many of you, I watched in shock as we inaugurated a reality TV personality as our 45th President. Since then this Administration has rolled back critical environmental and health protections and ceded U.S. government leadership on climate change and clean energy. Issues that I am passionate about and have devoted my career to advancing. Issues that affect kids like my son, who turned 6 this week, and the over 6 million other children across the country that suffer from asthma.
At the same time, our family members, friends, and colleagues from coast to coast have been impacted by heart-wrenching extreme weather events – made stronger by climate change. In the past 12 months alone, we experienced the country’s most devastating hurricane season (with damage estimates ranging to $475 billion), record breaking temperatures that grounded airlines to a halt, freezing temperatures in the Southeast that caused over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires that continue to blaze across the state of California.
Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.
Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.
The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.
Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.
Here’s how to address both challenges.
What is a leading opportunity for states to create energy security, job growth and economic development with their public dollars?
The answer? A public financing institution that can engage effectively with private sector players to meet them on their own terms – addressing real barriers and providing the right types of capital needed to make clean energy projects investable.
Take Connecticut for example. In 2011, the state established the nation’s first state green bank, the Connecticut Green Bank (CGB). Over the last six years, CGB has used $174.6 million of ratepayer funds to attract $914.8 million of private investment in clean energy for a total investment of $1.1 billion. These investments have supported the deployment of 234.4 MW of renewable energy, created thousands of jobs, and reduced an estimated 3.7 million tons of CO2 emissions over the life of the projects.
In an affront to the health of all Americans, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is trying to reopen a loophole for super-polluting glider trucks. This action reflects the worst of Washington politics: a special deal for the benefit of a single company; a sloppy, industry-funded analysis; and a process that shuts out EPA’s own staff expertise.
It has the potential to add thousands of super-polluting trucks to our roads, spewing 40 times more pollution than new trucks and leading to more than 6,000 premature deaths by 2021.
The question every company in America that uses trucking services must ask is: Do you want these trucks backing up to your loading dock?
Target has joined other retailers on the right path to developing a robust science-based policy for tackling greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and supply chain, creating more momentum toward action on climate by leading companies.
At COP23 in Bonn, Germany, we heard leaders at some of the world’s largest companies share their commitments to step forward on climate issues. This year we’ve also seen American companies like Mars Inc., Walmart, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Amazon set ambitious goals during a time when our government is stepping back. At EDF+Business, we see time and time again why our world needs healthy environments and healthy businesses in order to truly prosper.