Long-term sustainability has taken a backseat to short-term profitability since the 1970s when the quarterly earnings report became standard operating procedure and the horizon of return was shortened to that period. Today, however, the global community is shouldering collectively the burden of looming and interconnected universal challenges, such as climate change, food security, humanitarian crises, and inequality. Because of their scale and complexity, these issues cannot be solved by one government or one company or even one industry or one sector. Instead, they demand a concerted effort that harnesses the best resources and talents of governments, NGOs, the private sector, and civil society.
Last month, leaders from around the world gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco to build on the tremendous achievement of the 2015 Paris Agreement during COP22. There, they recommitted to a collaborative target-driven effort to limit climate change. During the conference, 11 countries—including Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Pakistan—ratified the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number up to 111, far more than the 55 countries covering 55 percent of global GHG emissions required to elevate the accord to international law. The United States, Canada, Mexico, and Germany released strategies for radically cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury. The U.S. report outlines plans to meet an 80 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, referencing an ambitious transition to a low-carbon energy system and innovative carbon storage and removal tactics.
Environmental sustainability is a critical business issue for companies across the globe. The world’s population is growing, nonrenewable resources are being depleted, and 2014 was the warmest year on record. All of this is expected to be accompanied by increasingly severe energy and environmental problems that could potentially threaten supply chains, production processes, and operations. Moreover, as businesses are often seen as some of the greatest contributors to pollution, waste, and environmental problems, they are increasingly pressured to not just reduce waste or use less energy, but to develop sustainable practices and policies that will preserve and even improve the environments around them.
Over the past year, the debate about what actions should be taken to halt climate change has continued in earnest. Involvement from experts, religious leaders, companies, activists, and consumers has reached a fever pitch, and governments have responded. The United States and China reached a historic agreement to curb emissions and promote renewable energy, which has led to advancements such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and the world’s largest cap and trade program. The United Nations is ramping up for COP21—the 21st Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—and has included climate change in its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were accepted in late September by all 193 member states.
Climate change is again trending as a topic within corporate citizenship and the larger business community. The release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Be Praised), which highlights the impact developed economies are having on our planet and our responsibilities to act, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, and the upcoming COP21—the 21st Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—are creating a buzz.
- More than 120 world leaders attended the United Nations Climate Summit this past September in New York, and more than 400,000 protesters took to the streets during that same event.
- The European Union pledged to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its 28 member states by 20 percent in 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
Have you set your environmental footprint goals for 2015 and beyond? Setting emissions targets can be a daunting task, but it is also a very tangible way to demonstrate a strong commitment to corporate citizenship.
More than 4,500 companies begin the process of measuring, managing, and mitigating their contributions to climate change by completing the CDP Climate Change Questionnaire, which is a key standard for environmental emissions reporting.