Quantcast

Rethinking the Role of Business in Solving Environmental Problems

Business

By Mindy Lubber

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In 2012, when the Obama Administration sought to raise average fuel economy standards, something unexpected happened. The "Big Three" automakers—General Motors, Chrysler and Ford—backed the effort. For decades, every attempt to raise fuel economy standards had been met with stiff opposition from automakers who argued it was too costly, too difficult, and would result in cars Americans wouldn't want to drive.

Today, Ford is integrating bold sustainability goals across much of its business. In addition to cutting global water use by 60 percent since 2000, the company is pushing to reduce facility carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2025, consistent with reductions scientists say are needed to prevent catastrophic climate warming. The company has also improved its fleet fuel efficiency by 20 percent over the last five years. Meanwhile, General Motors is on the leading edge of developing the next generation of hybrid and electric cars, led by the Chevy Volt, and is pushing to achieve 125 megawatts of renewable energy use by 2020. GM was also the first automaker to sign Ceres' Climate Declaration, asserting that a bold response to the climate challenge is "one of America's greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century." For both U.S automakers, sustainability is now a core business strategy that is improving competitiveness in a global market, creating jobs and helping their bottom lines; it's about preparing to succeed in a global economy that will be profoundly shaped by climate change, water scarcity and the other sustainability challenges of the 21st century.

My nonprofit group, Ceres, has been working closely with Ford and GM for many years as the companies have taken their sustainability journey. This relationship is a model for a new form of environmental activism, one that minimizes the confrontational tactics of the past with a hardheaded business approach built upon the economic and financial case for social and environmental corporate responsibility.

Over three decades as an activist, lawyer, regulator (I served as EPA's New England regional administrator under President Clinton) and now the Ceres president, I've had the opportunity to assess the many strategies environmentalists have used to try and create large-scale change. My conclusion is that conflict and confrontation, while sometimes unavoidable, must be coupled with engaging with business on its own terms. There is a powerful dollars and cents case to be made for companies and investors to be finding solutions to the preeminent environmental issues of our times - climate change and natural resource scarcity—and to eschew the short-term mind set that too often sacrifices long term prosperity on the altar of quarterly performance. The changes being made at hundreds of companies, like Ford and GM, aren't because they want to be do-gooders; they're being made because we've helped these companies see sustainability as critical to their long-term success and the success of the broader economy.

Unique among the many NGOs working on sustainability issues, Ceres is marshaling the power of institutional investors, large corporations and other capital market players to build a sustainable global economy. The sheer scale of the challenges we face requires that we harness this power, instead of contesting it. Just as capital market forces have contributed significantly to the sustainability crises of the 21st century, so, too, can they be leveraged towards the solutions side of the equation.

This is social entrepreneurship on a grand scale and it works. Through our work, 4,000 companies globally are now disclosing their environmental and social performance each year in public reports. We teamed up with investors to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to require mandatory climate risk disclosure by public companies. We've opened the way for chief sustainability officers joining the "C" suite at Fortune 500s and mainstream investors integrating sustainability factors into their investment decisions.

These are important steps forward on a long journey, but time is of the essence. That's why it's imperative that we harness the power of capitalism in the service of sustainability.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

orientalizing / Flickr

The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.

Read More Show Less

The WHO stressed that more research is needed on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion. luchschen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The UN's health agency on Thursday said that microplastics contained in drinking water posed a "low" risk at their current levels.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) — in its first report on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion — also stressed more research was needed to reassure consumers.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is giving President Trump a run for his money in the alternative facts department.

Read More Show Less
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his 2019 State of the State address on Jan. 15. Governor Jay and First Lady Trudi Inslee / Flickr

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made solving the climate crisis the center of his presidential campaign, is dropping out of the 2020 Democratic primary race.

Read More Show Less
Earthjustice

By Robert Valencia

In April 2018, Afro-Colombian activist Francia Márquez won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, thanks to her work to retake her community's ancestral territories from illegal gold mining. However, her international recognition comes at a very risky price.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Stuart Braun

A year after activist Greta Thunberg first stood in the rain outside the Swedish parliament with her now iconic "Skolstrejk för klimatet" — school strike for the climate — placard, the movement she spawned has set the tone for environmental protest action around the world.

Read More Show Less
Bruno Vincent / Staff / Getty Images

Toy maker Hasbro wants to play in the eco-packaging game. The board game giant will ditch its plastic packaging by 2022. The move means that games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation will no longer have shrink wrap, window sheets, plastic bags or elastic bands, as the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
Vaping impaired the circulatory systems of people in a new study. bulentumut / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Vaping one time — even without nicotine — can damage blood vessels, reduce blood flow and create dangerous toxins, according to a new study published in the journal Radiology.

Read More Show Less