Business growth accelerating from climate action in American Midwest

By Tim Nixon, managing editor of sustainability at Thomson Reuters, and Nicole Rom, executive director of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, a non-profit dedicated to education and action on the issue of climate change

July 3, 2018

The economy is humming both regionally and globally, and so is the story of the American Midwestern state of Minnesota but with a little unconventional twist! The impressive growth opportunity in Minnesota is emerging around climate change. Renewable energy, for example, with high-quality jobs and significant environmental benefits in the form of healthier air and water, has increasing wind in its sail. According to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, employment grew 11% in a recent 15-year period from 2000 to 2015, while employment in renewable energy surged 78%, with evidence showing that growth is continuing.

Acknowledging the opportunity

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and the business community recently reconfirmed the importance of this opportunity. At the MN is Still In gathering of public and private sector leaders in Minneapolis, the governor did not equivocate: “Big players on both sides of the climate issue are meeting head-on all across our economy. Science must prevail. With science guiding us, our growth will accelerate, our air and water will be cleaner, and our greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions will continue to decrease. We must prevail for the sake of our collective future.”

Business leaders were not far behind in their enthusiasm. Global agribusiness General Mill’s Jeff Hanratty, applied sustainability manager, affirmed their science-based target of reducing GHG emissions across their entire business and supply chain by 28% by 2025, with an additional aspirational goal of  41-72% in line with the Paris climate accord. Mr Hanratty clarified that “while this is the right thing to do for the planet, it is also the right thing to do for our business, and for our supply chain.”

He explained that in reducing the carbon intensity of their business, they are finding significant cost savings and more economically sustainable growing practices in the farming communities on which General Mills depends. “Reduced soil tilling and regenerative agriculture makes the optimal use of the earth’s natural solar energy, water cycles, and nutrient cycles to build healthy soil, ultimately capturing carbon in the earth and keeping it out of the air. Healthy soil also holds more nutrients for crops and animals, and stores more water for dry periods,” said Hanratty.

Echoing voices

General Mills was not alone. Best Buy, Xcel Energy, Anderson Corporation, 3M and Aveda were among the many local and global firms publicly affirming their climate goals in line with the Paris accord to keep warming under 2°C. Attached to all these strategies are growing cost savings, new products, more sustainable supply chains and an improving ability to attract and retain talented, highly-educated employees.

Melissa Chelminiak from Aveda, the global cosmetic and body care firm, summed up the rationale. “Every business has an impact on the health and well-being of its community. Having a long-term, science-based approach to caring for that community on which our business depends is the only approach which makes sense, literally!”

To cap off the event, the governor reminded everyone that Minnesota is the single Midwest state to join the US Climate Alliance, a group of 17 states representing 40% of the US population and a US$9trn economy, greater than the third-largest country in the world. So while there is a significant climate leadership trend emerging, many potential players are still sitting on the sidelines.

Key takeaway

Policymakers, state agencies, local governments, utilities and businesses, both large and small, are all benefiting from this opportunity. Climate-change action requires a forward focus, and we must continue to step up our actions, embrace the power of collaboration and amplify our ability to capture this emerging economic growth opportunity.

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