“If you really want to go home and look your family in the eye and say I did something today so that you, my kids, my spouse, my companion are going to have a longer, healthier life, that’s where you really have to focus — doing things that improve the climate right now.”
That was Michael Bloomberg in October, looking ahead to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, which begins later this month in Paris. There, as Newsweek put it, “leaders and high-level officials from 196 parties have 12 days to reach an accord that could save the planet.”
That’s not an exaggeration. The stakes are huge and we’re not going to have many opportunities, with everyone gathered together, to come up with a solution equal to the problem.
And the business world is going to have to be a part of that solution. So I’m delighted that Michael Bloomberg, whose commitment to working toward solutions to this crisis is inspiring, has asked me to share my own thoughts on the subject as part of “Businesses for Climate,” a series on how businesses are addressing climate change leading up to the conference. It’s a subject that’s not only a personal passion of mine — it’s why I became a founding member of The B Team, a non-profit committed to reorienting business to focus on people and the planet in addition to profit — but also an editorial priority at The Huffington Post.
Our editorial coverage is based on our belief that we have reached a critical moment, where we no longer have to convince people that climate change is real, and that our focus should now be on highlighting the many solutions that, if scaled up, can help avert a major disaster. These range from innovations in renewable energy and transportation to new economic models, such as the circular economy.
Our coverage in the run-up to Paris also includes showcasing ideas on how to build a low carbon economy, reporting on how city mayors are creating real change on the ground and explaining how and why Nordic countries are spearheading the need for economic transformation. We will also be celebrating the many leaders who have brought the issue of global warming to the attention of the world and who continue to campaign for action.
For many reasons, the timing of this conversation couldn’t be better. The moral urgency around COP21 is nothing new. But the tragic terror attacks in Paris have added a new level of resolve to the talks. As Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute put it, “There is a degree of solidarity internationally over this issue, that is not exactly unprecedented, but since 9/11, we probably haven’t seen anything quite like that. If anything, it stiffens the spine in terms of determination to really solve what is the greatest collective action problem in history.”
So how can businesses accelerate the change our world so desperately needs?
Many companies around the world are already taking action. In the last year, for example, the number of companies committing to weaning themselves off fossil fuels — by creating real financial targets, not just making empty promises — has tripled. Half of all new power plants built in 2014 were green. Companies from Starbucks and Walmart to Nike and Salesforce have pledged to reduce emissions and vastly increase their use of renewable energy. Even big banks are taking a stand, reducing lending to coal-mining companies.
As Secretary of State John Kerry said, the kind of binding agreement that is the goal of COP21 “will give confidence to business leaders who are uncertain about our collective commitment and hesitant to invest in low-carbon alternatives that we need because of that perceived hesitancy by governments.”
One global leader in addressing climate change is Unilever, which has pledged to reduce the company’s environmental footprint by 50 percent by 2020. Under the leadership of CEO Paul Polman, Unilever — which includes hundreds of recognizable brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, and Lipton — has launched a global Sustainable Living Plan, which aims simultaneously increase the company’s impact and its profits. Polman believes that businesses can help solve the world’s biggest problems, but as he put it, these problems “cannot be solved just by quarterly reporting. They require longer-term solutions and not 90-day pressures.”
So thank you to Michael Bloomberg for starting this vital conversation in the run-up to COP21. And now I’m delighted to nominate Paul Polman to share his own perspective on how businesses can make a difference.
This post is part of the “Businesses for Climate” series, led by Michael Bloomberg and The Huffington Post, in conjunction with LinkedIn. The series is intended to call attention to the role of businesses in leading the way when it comes to taking action on climate change, in advance of the U.N.’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris next week. To view the entire series, visit here.
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