As the world reels from a growing climate crisis, leaders in the business of environmental stewardship gathered in Vancouver, Canada, last week for GLOBE 2016 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set the tone in his opening remarks.
“I am leading a government committed to fixing climate change,” said Trudeau, announcing a $75 million fund to help cities and municipalities in Canada create solutions. “Choosing between economy or environment is not a choice—it never was. Canada must make smart, strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure. Retooling our economy for this era of change will require new thinking and innovation.”
That new thinking has begun and today President Obama and Trudeau announced jointly they will seek a 40 percent to 45 percent reduction in methane emissions below 2012 levels by the oil and gas industry by 2025, regulating emissions from existing sources and new wells to safeguard the Artic. The US Environmental Protection Agency will begin drafting regulations immediately.
The GLOBE Conference has been in existence for 20 years, GLOBE 2016 being the 14th installment. Tom Zara, Interbrand’s Global Practice Leader for Corporate Citizenship, framed the conference by saying, “The combination of the failure of Copenhagen and the success of COP21 is the admission of industrial nations in accepting responsibility for and a willingness to combat climate change which culminated in the narrative for GLOBE 2016.”
Zara added: “The future is only beginning now. The past conversation re: sustainability has a long history but limited impact. There was a constant drumbeat at GLOBE 2016 that the evidence is irrefutable and the urgency to take action is pressing. Out of the rhetoric of intent, the key question is, are we at an artificial indication of progress or truly a moment of inflection where the full assembly of influencers can capture the moment, unified, to correct what industry has created?”
The right players were at the GLOBE 2016 table, ranging from the World Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund and non-profits and eco-activists to companies including Enbridge and Suncor, assembling voices of support and dissent, but with a new sense of shared responsibility. Finger-pointing and accusatory tones were replaced by a recognition and admission that everyone is in this together.
“There is reason for optimism,” said Zara, “but it’s hollow with no action. We need constant vigilance on who is taking what action.”
A major piece of new thinking emerging from academia and NGOs, and a theme throughout the conference is that empowering women is the No. 1 solution to climate change. Changing the existing patterns of poverty that perpetuate gender inequality could add $28 trillion to the GDP by 2025.
A women’s networking luncheon sponsored by TELUS included Karen Radford, Leader of People and Partners, Enbridge, who stated, “Sustainability for self is as important as for business.” Small companies, she added, “have a great opportunity to show big companies how it’s done. Ask yourself: What do you believe in and where are you working along the seam?”
Democratizing energy generation is leveraging the current crisis to create new technology, wealth access, prosperity and political security. At GLOBE 2016, the Canadian Parliament and Ministers were charged with finding workable solutions by changing their biases and conducting reasonable and balanced negotiations.
As part of the “Accelerating the Energy Transition” panel, Michael Porter, an expert on creating shared value, asked, “What will Canada’s story be?” Polarization, he noted, doesn’t work. “We need to work together collaboratively and embrace diverse views. An historic transition is underway to clean energy economy. Clean energy is highly competitive.”
Co-panelist Steve Williams, President and CEO, Suncor Energy, concurred. “On the record, I believe that climate change is happening and fossil fuels contribute to that. Let’s really clearly define the challenge and keep going back to that. Canada is being positioned as a leader of climate change policy and conversations have to be based on certainty for all of us.”
The overarching message was to bravely embrace a new vision. “The enemy is complacency and the enemy is the dominant presence of failure in the lower 48 states,” said Zara.
Trudeau’s vision is a clear call-to-arms to Canada to embrace the winds of change. The climate crisis as an environmental issue has moved to a business conversation. With the technology to create more cost-effective energy, it’s no longer a confrontation between those two dynamics. There’s a clear business imperative to shift the economy to alternative energy, cleaner fuel and renewables amidst huge worldwide demand.
Trudeau is stoking the fires with new enthusiasm, charisma and $75 million despite losing his first skirmish over a introducing a carbon tax.
“There’s a lot of trench war that’s going to go on,” said Zara. “The jury is out. Are we going to walk the talk here or have the same failed achievements of past governments and other nations? PM Trudeau right now has public sentiment and star power but he has a long way to go before he actually achieves anything that’s permanent.”
One clear takeway from GLOBE 2016 is the need to shift the conversation on the environment to a business conversation where brands can use their power and resources to move the needle.
A panel on “Transformational Companies: Role of Business in Delivering Solutions” included Michael Kobori, VP Sustainability, Levi Strauss & Co. “It was really remarkable to see what was happening in Paris at COP21; it really was the private sector that provided that push to governments to reach that agreement,” noted Kobori. “That is an important example of where we are in that evolution; you see companies like Unilever and Nike that are making sustainability a key part of their value proposition, and showing other companies that yes this can be profitable and it is the wave of the future.”
As for that wave, “The future can be bright,” tweeted Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public and Government Affairs, Philips Lighting. “We have to start working together on saving the climate and in the end we will find that it is the climate that will save the world.”