Climate Change : The Slow But Steady Shift From Rhetoric To Action

15 Dec 2015|Leslie Pascaud

It will come as no surprise that this month’s Branding for Good newsletter focuses on the Climate Change treaty just concluded in Paris. The goal of the conference was to get a verifiable agreement to keep global warming below 2°C. Governments, businesses and civil society engaged in a 2 week global arm wrestle to reach an agreement that is cause for both celebration and consternation.

The good news: This is the first binding treaty on carbon emissions in the history of the world, following 20 years of failed negotiations. The treaty commits to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”. For the first time, there is also recognition of a need to move further toward a 1.5°C increase. The world is breathing a sigh as participants see the ship starting to turn away from the proverbial iceberg, shifting the world away from the “business as usual” trajectory that would condemn the planet to more than a 4 degree rise by the end of the century.

A system has also been agreed to ensure nations are meeting their emissions pledges, requiring countries to meet every five years to provide updates on their progress and encourage ratcheting up of targets.

Some 114 forward-thinking corporations are acting at the forefront of the movement, making impressive commitments and launching pioneering initiatives. Ten have already submitted (and been approved for) specific carbon management goals: Coca-Cola, Dell, Enel, General Mills, Ikea, Kellogg, NRG Energy, Procter & Gamble, Sony and Walmart. Even Monsanto has committed to carbon-neutrality across all operations by 2021.

It is worth mentioning a few of the standout companies who have gone above and beyond:

L’Oreal USA has committed to reduce CO2 emissions at its plants and distribution centers by 60 percent in absolute terms by 2020 (from a 2005 baseline.) The company already has a factory in China that is carbon neutral.

Best Buy has committed to reduce carbon emissions at its North American facilities by 45 percent by 2020 (from 2009 levels). This new commitment doubles Best Buy’s previous goal of a 20 percent reduction. The company is selling solar panels in 14 states and sells more energy star products than any other company in the US.

PG&E has committed to invest $3 billion a year to modernize the electric grid so it can better integrate distributed solar, energy storage, electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies. The utility promises to provide customers with electricity that is more than 60 percent carbon-free by 2020.

Unilever announced for the first time a goal of becoming “carbon positive” within 15 years by sourcing all of its energy from renewable generating resources.

Philips had already cut its footprint by 40 percent between 2007 and 2015 and has now pledged to become carbon-neutral in five years.

IKEA’s investment in wind farms in the US has enabled the company to produce as much renewable energy as it consumes. Ikea is committed to doing this globally by 2020. 90% of their stores have solar panels. The company has also committed to sell 500 million LED light bulbs over the next 5 years and by 2020 all carton or paper will come from sustainable sources.

On the sidelines of the conference, there were some intriguing innovations announced: Adidas and Parley for the Oceans presented a new footwear concept, the 3D-printed Ocean Plastic shoe midsole, to demonstrate how the industry can rethink design and contribute to stopping ocean plastic pollution. Technology company Schneider Electric announced Weather Sentry, a new rural Internet of things network that will connect more than 4,000 weather sensors across the United States and will share the data collected with farmers, ranchers and landowners to help them to better anticipate weather changes.

Then there were the important symbolic initiatives, such as REI’s closing of their stores on Black Friday to send two messages: that employees matter and that relentless consumption is not in line with their values.

Whether in Paris or simply following COP21 via social media, one could hear the hopeful and constructive tone of conversation and could sense the momentum.

But the news was not all good: To be clear, the agreement did not go anywhere near far enough. The cumulative national commitments from the conference come only mid-way to the desired emissions reduction objectives. The cuts promised so far would limit global warming to between 2.7°C and 3°C, far from the agreed goal of 2°C increase and even further from the 1.5°C objective. Developing nations walked away feeling shortchanged on climate finance. Although $100 billion per year is mentioned in the preamble of the treaty, the agreement doesn’t legally bind rich countries to specific contributions to finance the scaling up to meet their obligations or to help poorer countries with adaptation. So despite the monumental effort that brought 195 nations to the table and enabled them to agree on a plan, much more will need to be done to accelerate progress. And much of that responsibility will fall to businesses.

We in the marketing world will have a key role to play in the years to come to facilitate the necessary change:

  • By influencing consumer mindsets, encouraging behavior change and contributing to a cultural shift toward a circular and collaborative economy
  • By catalyzing and accelerating the adoption of low carbon innovations
  • By promoting the sale of product and services that reduce waste, save and use renewable energy, grow sustainably and eliminate deforestation from global supply chains
  • By working to see that those at the bottom of the pyramid have the means to improve their quality of life without bearing the brunt of the social, environmental and health impacts associated with today’s global commerce
  • By ensuring that everyone working on a business knows the footprint of the products and services for which they are responsible and is actively engaged in finding ways to reduce it through both incremental and revolutionary steps.
  • By refusing to work on irresponsible projects that ignore the global warming reality or that cynically develop deceptive messaging to infer progress where none has been made.
  • And finally, by trying, on a very personal level, to reduce our individual footprints : eliminate unnecessary travel, reduce waste at work and home and, more generally, act in ways that are consistent with the efforts we are asking consumers to make.

Cop 21 has brought us one giant step forward. There is much to be done to turn those commitments into a net zero emissions reality. Time to get to work

Written by Leslie Pascaud, Executive Vice President Purpose Branding and Sustainable Innovation.

Image credits: Thinkstock

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