Although it’s been a few weeks since President Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, the dust certainly hasn't settled on the topic. Government, corporate, and personal opinions vary widely and emotions run high. Given our position as an environmental consulting firm, with clients facing very real climate change challenges and decisions, we wanted to take this opportunity to contribute a rational, knowledgeable voice to the conversation. We asked our sustainability experts around the globe what they think this decision really means for business. Here is what they had to say:
What should U.S. companies be thinking about from a sustainability standpoint?
“Just because the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement does not mean that climate action is over,” says Laura Nelson, Consultant at Antea Group in Denver. “This doesn’t mean that as a country or as business leaders we slam on the brakes and stop doing what we already know makes sense from a business and environmental perspective.”
“Companies need to answer to their consumers and shareholders, not only politicians,” says Michael Liang, Director of ESD China in Guangzhou. “We all share the same planet and all have a responsibility to protect it. Regulatory compliance is important, but in many cases, a bare minimum. Business leaders should be taking longer views on sustainability.”
“The business case for sustainability is more important than ever right now,” says Steven Meun, Senior Consultant at Antea Group in Rotterdam. “Monetizing the business impact of your sustainability initiatives can help you reduce uncertainty and ensure you invest in the right sustainability projects, those that create the greatest environmental, social and business benefits.”
“Since 2014, almost a quarter of Brazil’s population has been living under a severe drought,” says Hilton Lucio, CEO of Angel Ambiental in São Paulo, Brazil. “Several petroleum refineries and other major industrial plants have had to stop or reduce production due to lack of water. Climate change is disrupting business and companies need to understand the real implications of these impacts to their bottom lines.”
To take a stand, or not?
Until recently, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for a company to wear its political leanings on its sleeve. Costco and Starbucks scored points with customers in recent years while openly supporting progressive causes, while privately held Chick-fil-A has seen great success with an outspoken conservative CEO.
In our view, there is nothing wrong with publically stating your company commitment to climate change and investing in more sustainable business practices. For companies, it is a matter of business sustainability and making sure that the value chain is resilient both in the near and long-term. From an energy perspective, traditional sources are ultimately non-renewable and it’s inevitable that solar, wind, and other alternative sources will become central to energy strategies. Furthermore, many companies are already feeling the direct implications of climate change through prolonged drought conditions, intense flooding, supply chain disruptions, and energy and emission cost volatility.
While the U.S. administration has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, all but two other countries, Nicaragua and Syria, remain committed and are working to accelerate a cleaner energy economy. Movement towards lower carbon in the U.S. also looks set to continue as thousands of governors, mayors, businesses, investors and universities joined forces to declare that they are “still in” and will continue to advance climate goals in support of the Paris Agreement.
All things considered, there are ways a company can take a position on climate change without igniting controversy or setting themselves up for backlash:
- Step away from the politics and think about what is really important to your business, stakeholders and values.
- Evaluate the connection points between climate change and your business, identifying where there are potential hotspots or competitive advantages to become more adaptive and resilient.
- Consider how you can incorporate sustainability within your own operations as well as throughout your supply chains.
- Be deliberate and talk about the things you can control, influence and measure.
- Vet the position internally before communicating externally.
- Think long-term, set targets, and report progress.
More and more, sustainability is viewed as sound business strategy, not just a ‘nice to have’ -- and we’ve seen this trajectory across industries and across borders, even before the Paris Agreement. Consumers and investors alike have been seeking information on how companies are responding to climate change through organizations like CDP, GRI, and SASB for years. As populations grow, markets become more and more competitive, and the trends towards urbanization continue, disclosure expectations will increase and companies will need to make informed, business critical decisions related to climate change.
It’s always good to remember that politics are just that -- politics -- not something to bank the future of your business on. While regulation may change around carbon emissions, consumer expectations won’t; especially as millennials with their strong views on the environment continue to grow in buying power.
“The groundswell of support in the U.S. and international community to continue ahead as planned with emissions reduction programs and investments in renewable energy is pretty powerful and telling,” says Laura Nelson. “It reinforces the fact that climate change should not be reduced to a political issue. It is science, it is process-driven and it is important to the sustainability of business, human life and our natural ecosystem.”
Our parting piece of advice: Continue to share your sustainability achievements and performance with your stakeholders. This political bump in the road should not divert the progress you are already making.
See how local governments and global businesses alike are reaffirming their commitments to climate change.
Meet the companies already setting their emissions reduction targets in line with climate science.
Compact of Mayors
View a global listing of mayors who are committed to climate action, standardized measurement of emissions, and consistent public reporting for their cities.
Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable
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