As the titans of business and politics gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum, one day was devoted to panel talks on the threat of climate change, albeit more about economic self-interest and gain rather than righting the wrongs dealt to Mother Nature’s delicate balance.
Climate change is now officially recognized as an “economically disruptive force,” and both Coke and Nike outlined their efforts to deal with the fall-out at Davos, which also honored Water.org co-founder Matt Damon.
“Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years,” Jeffrey Seabright, Coca-Cola's VP environment and water resources said, identifying major problems disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane, sugar beets, and citrus for its fruit juices. “When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats.”
Coca Cola, which took up a more strict outlook on sustainability in 2011, has installed one million drinks coolers that use natural refrigerants, replacing the climate warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) previously used, claiming this equals removing 10 million cars from the roads over a 10-year period.
“Coke reflects a growing view among American business leaders and mainstream economists who see global warming as a force that contributes to lower gross domestic products, higher food and commodity costs, broken supply chains and increased financial risk,” the New York Times reports.
Nike, meanwhile, has more than 700 factories in 49 countries, many in which are in Southeast Asia where extreme drought conditions have hindered cotton production used for its athletic apparel products. “That puts less cotton on the market, the price goes up, and you have market volatility,” said Hannah Jones, VP sustainability and innovation for Nike, according to the Times.
Nike is a leading brand advocating for climate awareness and legislation, according to ClimateCounts.org. The sporting goods and apparel brand has set clear goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and is an active member of CERES' BICEP coalition that helps create public policy on the matter.
Back in Washington, D.C, Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island will lead a new Senate task force to knock down a "barricade of special interest lies" on climate change.
"We believe climate change is a catastrophe that's unfolding before our eyes, and we want Congress to take off the blindfolds," said Boxer. "We know what happens when you throw the environment under the bus. There's a place where it's happening, and it's called China."
Boxer said harnessing private-sector support will be a "big part" of the effort. "You've got huge numbers of big nameplate American companies like Apple and Nike" involved in the issue.
On the business front, a newly commissioned study, "Risky Business," from California hedge-fund billionaire Thomas F. Steyer, former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former Treasury secretary under the George W. Bush administration, focuses on the financial risks hinged to climate change by region and sector across the American economy.
“This study is about one thing, the economics,” Paulson told the Times. “Business leaders are not adequately focused on the economic impact of climate change.”
And while scientists have gathered "reams of mainly circumstantial evidence" in support of a link between Arctic warming and extreme weather events, it will take more concrete data to convince many brands and government figures to make moves concerning their business decisions. Coke and Nike, however, are taking a cautious step to protect their brands' future in a changing world.