Corporate Governance

What’s good for the planet is good for business. Here's why

A night view shows the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, January 11, 2018.

The 2020 Annual Meeting at Davos will be carbon neutral. Will businesses follow suit? Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Harry Verhaar
Head, Global Public and Government Affairs, Signify
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Corporate Governance

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Businesses need to take responsibility for their climate impact.
  • Embracing a greener future will unlock new business opportunities.
  • An integrated, nature-based approach is the best way forward.

We are entering the decade of climate action. It will be a crucial time for humanity and at Davos, this issue has taken its rightful place – at the centre stage on the World Economic Forum's agenda.

The European Green Deal, which was launched in Madrid at COP25, is the first comprehensive plan for achieving sustainable development in any major world region and clearly sets out an objective of reaching "climate neutrality” by 2050.

While this does raise the bar, however, Europe only accounts for around 9.1% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, compared with 30% for China and 14% for the US. Every region must pull its own weight, and the World Economic Forum must help engage the world’s governments and businesses leaders to do so.

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Tackling climate change and establishing net-zero emissions is no longer a debate but an absolute necessity. We believe it will be good for business, too. EU modelling estimates that achieving net-zero emissions could add 2% to the bloc's GDP by 2050. At Davos this year, we must address how businesses and governments can make this a reality and educate the wider community on the benefits that can be realised. A green future will unlock new markets and prospects for European businesses, high-skilled jobs in dynamic new industries for the workforce, and cleaner air and healthier lifestyles for citizens.

The role businesses can play

Companies must take responsibility for their impact on the world around them and their role in tackling climate change. This isn’t a nice-to-have, corporate social responsibility (CSR) add-on; it’s about driving sustainable revenues through an approach to business that works with – not against – the world around it. Through this and better governance, we have the power to build a more prosperous natural environment for all.

But there is some way to go in changing mindsets. The astronaut and US Senator John Glenn once reflected on climbing into an Atlas rocket on a launchpad in 1962: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” This race to the bottom is a mentality that plagues both public and private sectors. Refocussing procurement will play a crucial role in our fight for a more sustainable planet. Decisions can no longer simply be made on the basis of lowest cost and least effort. We have to consider the full lifecycle effect and impact of products, embedding sustainability into their development and supply chain, as well as scoring them on their contribution to a circular economy.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

So what are the practical steps organizations can take? We believe that organizations need to adopt an integrated approach and embrace – to quote the UN environment programme – “nature-based solutions”.

1. The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI): To take action, first you need goals to aim for. This is the foundation upon which your sustainable business can be built. The SBTI is a great initiative that organisations can sign up to and work with to build best practice guides and create the targets that are right for their business. The focus is on using these to increase innovation, reduce regulatory uncertainty, strengthen investor confidence and drive better profitability.

2. Green our buildings: the World Green Buildings Council’s Net-Zero Carbon Building programme acknowledges that the built environment is a crucial aspect of a business’ impact on the world around it – buildings are responsible for 36% of CO2 emissions and 40% of energy consumption in the EU. The goal of this commitment is for the entire portfolio in the control of its signatories to be net carbon-neutral by 2030, and to push for all buildings to hit the same standards by 2050. It’s crucial that we conquer this major source of carbon emissions within our cities.

3. Decarbonize transport and promote the EV100: Transport accounts for 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change. Businesses have a huge role to play in reducing this, as one in every two vehicles on the road is owned by a company. The EV100 global initiative from The Climate Group promotes the shift to hybrid and electric transport models by demonstrating the business case for doing so.

4. Accelerate the shift to renewable energy: Energy imports cost the EU €26.1bn per month in 2018 – 70.2% of that was crude oil and 20.1% was natural gas. If EU businesses move towards renewable energy sources and focus on driving more efficient energy usage, we can break this reliance on costly imports of fossil fuels. On top of the positive environmental impact, renewable energy sources can be a route to making EU businesses more competitive on the world stage, generating high-skilled jobs in new industries at the same time.

Meeting renewables targets will have economic benefits for countries
Meeting renewables targets will have economic benefits for countries Image: Eurostat
Practice what you preach

The World Economic Forum and the town of Davos have led by example and taken action on their own message. In 2019, Signify conducted a retrofitting of the Congress Centre in Davos with more sustainable lighting – energy-efficient LEDs – as well as energy-efficient LED street lighting in Davos itself. We all need to take this lead and act on our words around sustainability, and do better at celebrating the successes of the green technology we’ve created.

We – business leaders and policy-makers alike – must act. If we are to stay within the boundaries of the Paris Agreement, we must accelerate efforts. If we can achieve a 3% improvement on energy efficiency each year, driven by a similar 3% increase in infrastructure renovation rates, combined with a 3% annual increase in the use of renewables, we’ll be well on the way to achieving a carbon-neutral world by 2050. But we need to start now.

We have to work together to create a greener, more prosperous world and future for European business. At Signify, we’ve made a commitment to becoming carbon neutral in all our operations by the end of 2020. We are calling on businesses to achieve carbon neutrality by at least 2030 and governments to create a carbon-neutral world by at least 2050.

This has to be the decade of climate action. No ifs or buts; it’s time to act and to lay the foundation for a cleaner, more inclusive and prosperous society for generations to come.

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Related topics:
Corporate GovernanceDavos AgendaClimate Change
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