By Julia Goldstein, Freelance Commercial Writer
COP21, the 21st Council of the Parties that convened in Paris in December 2015 to address climate change, was historic for several reasons.
- Delegates from 195 countries pledged support of the first universal climate change agreement. High-level support from the U.S., after notable absence at previous COP meetings, sent an important signal to the global community.
- Businesses from many different sectors – including real estate, finance, manufacturing, and healthcare – traveled to Paris to show their support, suggesting recognition that climate change represents a threat to their long-term financial success and a willingness to be part of the solution.
- The “Compact of Mayors” included representatives from over 400 cities around the world, sending the message that local governments are supportive of and engaged in addressing the risks of climate change.
- The non-governmental sectors were also strongly represented adding to the diversity of voices and augmenting the pressure on governmental decision-makers to enact a significant agreement to address issues of climate change and its impacts.
On February 25th, NBIS invited panelists who had attended COP21, as well as other local advocates, to discuss the summit’s results and business strategies moving forward. Attendees at the Seattle meeting represented a broad spectrum of industries and nonprofit organizations, as well as local governments.
The “After COP21” event began with a Report from Paris panel, in which KC Golden, Senior Policy Advisor with Climate Solutions, provided an historical viewpoint. Golden has attended previous COPs and applauds the efforts of the U.S. to finally step up to the table. He boldly stated, “The U.S. Senate has been holding up the whole world for 25 years,” delaying climate change efforts.
The COP21 attendees focused on the issue of leadership – from the U.S., from Washington State, and from local governments and businesses. “This is not an issue we can ignore,” said former King County Council member Larry Phillips. He noted that King County has chosen to be a leader and recently updated its climate change plan.
The county has adopted the goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, and the city of Seattle is working toward the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Cooperation from cities throughout King County is necessary to improve the chance of achieving this goal. To that end, mayors of 13 King County cities are working together to develop strategies that will help the entire region reduce carbon emissions and create a sustainable economy despite explosive growth. As one example, Metro Transit is making changes, such as replacing aging vehicles with electric buses, that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the Puget Sound region.
Sarah Severn, an industry consultant and advisor to Washington Business for Climate Action, said COP21 experienced “a complete shift and a sea change” in the global approach to climate change because of the significant business presence at the summit. Richard Eidlin, Co-Founder of the American Sustainable Business Council, spoke about the growing community of progressive businesses who support carbon tax policies and the power they hold to disrupt entrenched assumptions that addressing climate change is bad for business.
The Business Strategy Seminar panel that followed the Paris report emphasized that while government support is necessary for combatting climate change it is not sufficient without the participation of business. Brenna Davis, Director of Sustainability at Virginia Mason, emphasized the achievements of its hospitals in reducing energy consumption and waste. “Planet health is patient health,” she said, in reference to the effect of air pollution, increases in infectious diseases, and natural disasters such as hurricanes on community health. Resilience of hospital facilities in the face of climate disasters is also a significant challenge.
Brett Phillips, Director of Sustainability at Unico Properties, said “Opposition from the business community will quickly be drowned out” as major players make advances in reducing emissions while maintaining profitability. Google, for example, has pledged to make its facilities completely solar-powered by 2025.
Severn urged Washington’s businesses not to miss the opportunity in front of them, making the point that businesses in countries with cap and trade agreements will be future industry leaders and will be better situated to attract capital due to their innovativeness and advanced risk management strategies.
Panelists discussed the role of leveraging business’ buying power and collaborating with their suppliers to broaden their impact both within industrial factories in the U.S. and abroad. For example, because of Pacific Market International (PMI)’s proactive approach to working with its factories in China, one of its factories reported a 54% drop in carbon footprint, based on emissions per 10,000 units of product produced. The company is currently installing solar panels on the roof of one factory and benefitting from local incentives to offset costs.
Demonstrating the Circular Economy in action, Unico has partnered with Cedar Grove Composting, which has facilities in Seattle and Woodinville, to compost restroom paper towels in some commercial buildings and in turn buy Cedar Grove compost for landscaping at these same properties.
For some companies, even though multiple technologies exist today to address greenhouse gas emissions, the price of implementing them still poses a barrier. The Seattle 2030 District, a private/public partnership, presents solutions for overcoming these barriers by, among other efforts, providing a platform for group buying power.
Local governments and businesses are making progress toward addressing climate change, but they need to share their success stories to spread the circle of influence. As Severn said, “Legislators need business voices to step up and tell them to get their act together.”
A first step that businesses can take to build this voice is to sign the Washington Business Climate Declaration and to learn more about the related work of Washington Business for Climate Action, Climate Solutions, and the American Sustainable Business Council. An equally critical step is for companies to focus on accelerating implementation of sustainability initiatives and on building collaboration opportunities. Companies seeking to do so are encouraged to join NBIS’ member network of sustainable business leaders, attend its educational and networking events and participate in its peer roundtables.
For those who missed the After COP21 seminar and want to learn more, a video recording of the entire event will be posted on the NBIS website.