Sustainability is the Bottom Line

“No single company, policy or technology is going to get us where we need to go. We need to work together.”
–Geisha Williams, CEO and President, PG&E

Returning from two days at the Ceres Conference in San Francisco, I am processing the wealth of information and strong support for the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit – from over 600 attendees representing a diverse array of businesses. In December 2015, we took a delegation of 10 educators to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. The power and presence of companies pushing for a strong climate agreement, while also committing to lowering their carbon footprint in their own operations and down their supply chain was palpable. Leading up to the climate talks, the American Business Act on Climate Change pledge was signed by 154 companies with operations in all 50 states, employing nearly 11 million people and representing more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue, with a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion. I believe it was this market pressure that helped us to finally reach an international climate agreement.

Now, with our new political reality and the understanding that we won’t be seeing strong federal support for a carbon tax or clean energy investments, let alone a meaningful commitment to the Paris Agreement and Clean Power Plan, we need businesses to recommit and double their support for climate action. The elections were a game changer and we need to change with it. Thankfully, most businesses understand that we can’t wait four years for action on this issue.

There were several things that gave me hope at this conference:

Breadth of participants – The conference attendees included high-level leadership from large multi-national companies, investors, venture capitalists, philanthropists, city, county and state planners, and non-profit organizations. We cannot tackle climate change by trying to work only with environmental groups or with individual actions. We must scale up on many fronts and we need to be working together. The cross-sector participation in this conference was therefore very promising.

Commitment -–63% of companies Ceres surveyed have clean energy goals; these include many of the Fortune 500 companies. Companies report pressure not only from stockholders and boards to take action, but many are being pushed by their consumers and employees.

“Consumers are demanding higher gas mileage and lower emissions.” –Ion Yadigaroglu, Managing Principal, Capricorn Investment Group

Corporate Advocates – Companies realize that they can’t just make changes in their own operations; they have to be vocal supporters of climate change initiatives and clean energy investment. Over 1,000 companies and investors signed on to the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement – a letter to the President in his first days in office pushing for the U.S. to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement. Many businesses acknowledged that they have to be talking about climate change and take a public stand.

“Pepsico is on one of the President’s advisory teams. They are saying: climate change is a huge threat to our supply chain – if you pull out of Clean Power Plan it will make it very difficult for us.” –Mark Bescher, Government Relations, Sustainability and External Affairs, Unilever

Investment – We know from the Paris Agreement that money is the main factor in how quickly we can transition off of fossil fuels. It was good to see speakers recognize this at the conference and make financial commitments. It should be noted that in addition to investing in clean energy that divestment from fossil fuels is also becoming a mainstream idea.

“Climate change is the emergent issue of our time. At Ceres we have a Clean Trillion goal that is needed to reach our Paris goal of no more than 2 degrees global temperature rise. This investment will happen despite the current political situation. Paris accelerated the investment and I don’t see this stopping. I feel very optimistic.”– Betty Yee, CA state controller

“We will need $125 billion in low carbon investments by 2025 to reach our goals.” –Janet Lamkin, President, Bank of America

Unstoppable transition – Despite what happens in DC, renewable energy is growing quickly because of the economics.

“Green jobs are exceeding those in fossil fuels by 5 to 1” –Mindy Lubber, Ceres President

“The transition to renewable energy is well underway. 70% of new energy is from renewables.” Gregory Wetstone –ACORE

Equity – Despite the fact that there are still so many inequities in our society and certainly in our economy, many companies recognize they are responsible for not only sustainability efforts, but also for gender and equity issues.

“Women are ½ the world’s population, but do ⅔ of the world’s work. They also own less than 1% of the world’s property and earn less than 10% of the world’s wages. Yet women control 65% of consumer spending decisions. Business can and must be a source for good.” –Nancy Green, President & CEO, Athleta

“A recent global report states it would take 170 years to close the gender pay gap if we continue at the pace we are going at now. We must act more quickly. This is not just a sustainability issue.” –Cecily Joseph, VP of Corp Sustainability, Symantic Corporation

“We can’t leave anyone behind. We must be sustainable and accessible to all. We cannot create haves and have-nots. Over 40% of our customers are low-income people. We have to transition in a way that includes all people.” –Geisha Williams, CEO and President, PG&E

“We need to build an inclusive green economy, which also means building political will. People at the forefront for pollution need to be at the forefront of solutions. Many want us to believe clean environment and clean jobs are not compatible, but that isn’t true and it segregates our movement.” – Michelle Romero, Green for All

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