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Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

Previous articles in this series talked about leading businesses taking bold steps on their own for the common good — because it’s the right thing to do — even if it costs the company financially in the short term.

This time I want to point to the latest wave of businesses working collaboratively on the urgent, common ground issues of renewable energy and climate policy. In America’s history of westward expansion and exploration, pioneer families came together in wagon trains for mutual support. In the same way, the examples below show that businesses are taking action, together, to ensure a more certain future that’s good for all of us and for business.

To start off, a June 2014 clean energy report by Ceres, WWF and Calvert Investments supports the idea that this trend is gaining momentum. The report makes the case that big US companies are already investing in renewable energy as a basic “business as usual” material issue, including UPS, Cisco Systems, PepsiCo, United Continental and General Motors. These and the other companies in the report have already saved a billion dollars in energy costs and upped their business planning certainty. Far from a fringe or boutique concern, renewable energy investment is about knowing where your energy is going to come from tomorrow, and having some sense of how much it will cost.

It’s worth noting that several cross-sector partnerships and multi-stakeholder groups for climate issues have been working on these issues for years. The UK- and EU-focused Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group first convened in 2007. And the US-focused group BICEP has been advocating for energy and climate legislation since 2008, with its Climate Declaration attracting over 700 corporate signatories to date. (For more examples of creative, effective partnerships on climate-impacting issues, take a look at Sustainable Brands’ collaboration and co-creation channel.)

But just in the past three months, there have been several high-profile announcements, as well as one intriguing low-key entry. These are four groups to watch:

1. March 2014 — Business Alliance for the Future Meets for First Time
The Business Alliance for the Future is a new alliance of alliances that’s being organized and supported by about 40 business affiliations including BSR, B Team, Ceres, World Business Academy, SVN, National Association of Women Business Owners, Young Presidents’ Organization and others to “to connect, magnify and exponentially accelerate, business’ role in building a world where business excels, people thrive and nature flourishes.”

The group first met in March in Santa Barbara, CA and it is scheduled to meet again in October at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western University. The Alliance is formulating its strategy around the intention to dramatically impact existing game-changing projects (to the tune of 5x in 5 years) by fostering action-oriented collaboration.

According to Alliance member Jeana Wirtenberg, co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, who is heading up one of the working groups, “There are several collaborative action team initiatives already well under way, including: amplifying and spreading a new business narrative; creating 100 percent renewable energy economy; participating, aligning around, and designing a grand economic strategy; and developing and implementing a new corporate scorecard and metrics.”

2. May 2014 — We Mean Business Coalition Launches
While we don’t have specifics yet about what this group will tackle, We Mean Business stated goal on their website is to call for “ambitious climate policy and bold climate action.” The group is like a super-pod of business action leadership, with partners from BSR, CERES, CDP, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Climate Group, and the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, in conjunction with Nike and IKEA.

3. June 2014 — Small Business Poll Shows Support for Market-Stabilizing Rules
In late June, the American Sustainable Business Council released poll results showing that US small business owners support climate rules for market stability and predictability.

The survey found that “clear majorities of small business owners are concerned about how climate change will affect their companies, including its impact on energy costs, health care costs and the infrastructure they depend on. Survey respondents voiced strong support for government action to address climate change, specifically, efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants which produce a third of all U.S. carbon emissions.”

I find this poll interesting because it shows that leaders from small US businesses are on the same page when it comes to wanting business certainty in the face of climate instability as many of their colleagues at global behemoths.

4. July 2014 — Launch of Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles
And on July 11, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced that 12 major companies — spanning communications, manufacturing, consumer goods and tech — are jointly asking utilities and energy suppliers to offer more renewable energy products.

The Buyers’ Principles provide a coordinated starting point for what these companies need in terms of options, financing, contracts and emissions levels. The inaugural signers are Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, Sprint, and Walmart. I’m hoping that this will be an unmistakable unmet need signal to the energy market that yes, business wants more renewables and is willing to pay for them.

In my mind, these groups are coming together now for one profound reason. With government paralysis on one side and entrenched lobbying for the fossil fuel status quo on the other, the Cavalry isn’t coming. If renewable energy and climate action are going to be truly become Business as Usual for successful companies — as Ceres’ clean energy report posits — then business has to make it happen.

Together, I see all these efforts leading up to this September’s UN Climate Summit in New York City, where business will be asked to take on larger and more meaningful commitments. Just last week, the UN event’s organizers and partners called for business leaders willing to stand up for carbon pricing “as a necessary and effective measure to tackle climate change.”

And then, it will be time to take all this positive forward momentum to the COP21 meeting in Paris in December 2015. That’s where, once again, the entire world will attempt to agree on climate action and who is going to pay for it. I’m hopeful that, by the time we get there, collaborative efforts like these will have blazed the trail for business to be a major part of the solution.

Here’s my feature story from Day 1 of the Sustainable Brands ’14 conference, held June 1-4 in San Diego, CA.

* * *

Getting to Zero: Multiple Sectors Convene Around Deforestation at SB ’14 San Diego

When all the right people work together — from suppliers to brands who use their products to NGOs — and commit to extraordinary goals, transformational change is not only possible, it happens.

That’s what participants saw in action at Monday’s afternoon workshop on progress being made and the work ahead to support the emerging “new norm” of zero deforestation in forestry supply chain standards. Major responsible sourcing commitments in forestry in the past few years are helping protect rainforests, promote safe labor practices, and drive down carbon emissions.

Future 500 CEO Bill Shireman led a conversation with major forestry supplier Asia Paper and Pulp (APP), leading consumer-facing brands, and NGOs. Setting the stage, he said, “We’re seeing the roles that different groups play in the process of transformation—to create tipping points where change becomes transformative.”

Fresh off a 20-hour plane ride, Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, shared how her company’s historic 2013 Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) came about after years of activism — transformed into collaboration — with NGO partners The Forest Trust and Greenpeace. Speaking of APP’s commitments, and the contentious path to get there, Greenbury said, “It’s an unfolding story of relationships, customer requests, conversations, friction and all the history behind it.”

Senior brand leaders on the panel included Kevin Petrie from Nestlé North America, Mark Buckley of Staples, and Sarah Severn from Nike. Robin Barr from The Forest Trust, Greenpeace’s Amy Moas, and Chris Elliot from Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) represented the NGO communities.

A key theme was the process of building personal relationships based on trust in the midst of fierce disagreements on business practices, complicated and opaque supply chains, and remote physical locations. Speaking about what makes groundbreaking environmental commitments possible, Robin Barr, director of The Forest Trust said: “Transparency is the best way to build trust. You have to engage in a conversation on transformation.”

Barr discussed the importance of helping suppliers and brands recognize their responsibilities and roles to solve global problems like deforestation: “We’re all responsible because we’re all in the same supply chain.” And on the power of brands to lead change, she said, “Brands have the potential to make a difference. When you ask your suppliers to do something different or meet standards, that means something to them.”

“When one player changes the way they operate, the situation changes,” she saiid.

Shifting to the brand perspective, Kevin Petrie shared how Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value program for water, nutrition and rural development responsibility led to the company’s 2010 announcement that Nestlé products will not be associated with deforestation. And from there, how this led to responsible palm oil sourcing commitments.

A fascinating part of the discussion centered on the complicated issues brands face reestablishing purchasing relationships, once supplier deforestation commitments are in place and shown to be working. Mark Buckley, VP of Environmental Affairs at Staples, shared the challenges of moving away from a supplier relationship and then stepping back into it. Petrie noted that Nestlé will examine buying from APP again once assurance audits are done.

As well as the relationship between suppliers, brands and NGOs, brands are working together on issues where they share common interests, specifically climate policy. Severn spoke about her company’s collaborations with other leading brands as a BICEP founding member, a Climate Declaration signatory, and the We Mean Business coalition.

“It’s not good enough to be silent,” she said. “Our legislators need to know that companies care.”

The roundtable was the first meeting of a new multi-stakeholder initiative led by Future 500 and Sustainable Brands. The group seeks to bring together major brands, suppliers and NGOs to solve problems by redesigning how stakeholders can work together, instead of as combatants, to fully tap the power of supply chains to drive sustainability. Shireman encouraged anyone interested in participating in future conservations like this to contact him.

This conversation continues today at a 2pm breakout session on Avery Dennison’s responsible paper sourcing policy in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance.

Summing up the roundtable, Shireman referred to each responsible sourcing commitment as a domino, or multiplier, for reaching the tipping point of zero deforestation. Greenpeace’s Moas pointed to last December’s unprecedented No Deforestation announcement by Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm trader, and that new palm oil commitments are being announced nearly every month.

While global deforestation is still an ongoing crisis, this conversation showed that progress is happening. “As solutions get developed and prove successful in the marketplace, you can no longer say it’s not possible,” said Barr.

 

Simple and clear.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke on a briefing call today about the rules her agency will announce on June 2 to fight global warming.

The new regulations will limit “coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere,” as Jonathan Cohn puts it, writing with verve for The New Republic.

Administrator McCarthy made three points:

1. This is about moving from climate risk to economic opportunity.

2. The proposed rules are “legally sound, solid and doable.”

3. It’s not one-size-fits-all. U.S. states will have flexibility in how to apply the rules.

That’s the way to do it. Simple and clear.

By talking today, she got out in front of the controversy already in full spin from people who oppose these measures.

They claim that stricter enforcement of Federal clean-air laws will cost jobs, endanger businesses and send homeowner electricity costs soaring.

Exhibit A, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out swinging:  U.S. industry gears up to fight Obama’s climate rules

On the pro-climate action side, Cohn’s piece for The New Republic is a valuable Q&A on the issues.

Via The New Republic:

Obama’s New Rules for Coal Plants Are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger.

Conventional wisdom holds that second term presidencies rarely yield accomplishments and that this second term president, in particular, has lost the ability to get much done. In one week, President Obama has a chance to prove that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

And he can do it while helping to stop the planet from cooking.

On June 2, Obama will to unveil a new set of federal regulations on power plants, designed primarily to keep coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere. The hope is that these new regulations will slow down climate change—at first incrementally, by reducing emissions from existing plants in the U.S., and then more dramatically, by providing the Administration with more leverage to negotiate a far-reaching, international treaty on emissions from multiple sources.

I’m sensing a growing divide between businesses that align themselves with spokespersons on the anti-regulation side, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or on the pro-climate action side, such as Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) or the American Sustainable Business Council.

Sooner or later–I’m betting sooner–businesses will have to choose which side of the table–anti-regulation or pro-climate action–will best be able to represent and further their interests long-term.

I’m looking forward to that debate.

Climate change is looking realer by the minute.

And with a growing recognition of the risks that climate change poses to the global economy, investor communities are taking steps to understand and manage those risks.

So in big news, an investor group announced April 8 of the first steps to set across-the-board sustainability listing standards for all stock exchanges worldwide.

This means that companies would be required to report on eight specific issues: climate change, diversity, employee relations, environmental impact, government relations, human rights, product impact and safety, and supply chain.

If it works, this will dramatically raise investor awareness about environmental, social and governance issues as need-to-know information.

Essentially, this reporting will shine a light on not only what and how much a company makes, but how they do it, and where, by whom, and their impact on the earth as a whole.

Via ceres.org:

Investors Announce Proposal for Sustainability Listing Standard for Global Stock Exchanges

A group of investors today announced a Consultation Paper with recommendations for integrating sustainability disclosure requirements into listing rules for U.S. and global stock exchanges.

The draft recommendations were developed by nearly a dozen investors who are part of the Ceres-led Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR). BlackRock, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and the AFL-CIO Office of Investment are among those who participated on the INCR Listing Standards Drafting Committee.

The initiative is part of a growing effort by investors and stock exchanges, including NASDAQ OMX, to make environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure a consistent requirement for corporate listings on stock exchanges. While several exchanges have adopted their own sustainability listing requirements and guidance, INCR members and NASDAQ OMX have set out to develop a uniform standard that all stock exchanges can use.

Bloomberg’s coverage of this story includes some helpful background as well.

Via bloomberg.com:

Investors Propose Requiring Sustainability Data Disclosure
Investors Propose Data Disclosure Standard For Listing Companies

A global sustainability listing standard would allow investors to compare companies on their environmental, social, and governance performance.

The proposed listing standard would require companies to discuss how they determine which environmental and social issues are material to the company, to provide a link in their annual financial filings to a list of sustainability data, and to disclose information on eight specific sustainability issues or explain why they do not.The eight specific issues on which companies would be required to disclose information are climate change, diversity, employee relations, environmental impact, government relations, human rights, product impact and safety, and supply chain.

Some stock exchanges have already adopted sustainability listing requirements. Companies listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange must disclose sustainability information or explain why they do not.

Sweden requires all state-owned companies to report on corporate responsibility activities, and Denmark requires all listed companies to report on sustainability performance. Companies listed on the London Stock Exchange are required to report their annual emissions data as of April.

 

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

That seems to be exactly what 33 leading U.S. companies intend to do about about taking action on Climate Change.

Read the Climate Declaration.

Yesterday, in coordination with Ceres and  its Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition,business leaders from dozens of  profitable, responsible, highly regarded companies issued a call to action.

The Climate Declaration is framed around a single statement of economic opportunity:

“Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.”

(and it’s simply the right thing to do.)

Hear that?

The Declaration isn’t about how mitigating climate change impacts will be easy. Or required by federal regulators (although that might be coming later.)
No, because it’s hard. And in that hardness lies opportunity and the potential to make a whole lot of customers happy.
All while ensuring that there will be a planet on which to have happy customers a few generations from now.  That’s where the right thing to do part comes in.)

Here’s IKEA US President Mike Ward on how his company is taking steps to lighten their global footprint. And how there is a right connection between those actions and bottom-line, profit-reaping, employee-growing results:To Fix the Climate, Think Like a Business

According to the Ceres’ announcement, the inaugural signatories “provide approximately 475,000 U.S. jobs and generate a combined annual revenue of approximately $450 billion.”
I signed on yesterday for my small business. I hope millions of others will too.