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Environmental Planning: From Science to Business

2009 is an interesting and “critically important year” according to Nicolas Stern of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, following last...

Tamara Giltsoff
Tamara Giltsoff on March 23, 2009.


Message 3) Long-term strategy

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

The point is that business and government need to accelerate the massive reductions in carbon emissions, regardless of perceived impact on the bottom line today. Sir Nicolas Stern made it quite clear, in 2006, that global warming will shrink the economy 20% (at a minimum), but if we invest 1% of global GDP now we can dramatically reduce this over time. Mitigating climate change through business innovation needs to be a core business objective: the long term view. And it’s starting to happen, with companies like Gap, E-bay Symantec, Nike, Timberland, Sun Microsystems, Starbucks Coffee Company and Levis Strauss founding or joining The Business Coalition for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy. The goal is to bring business and congress together to pass ‘meaningful’ energy and climate change legislation.

Take away: Lead the debate and legislation development with business allies. And build ‘climate mitigation’ into the long term business plan.

Message 4) Equity dimensions
Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Why? Businesses must understand that poor nations and communities at risk, the other side of the world, are a global economic and environmental issue, or ‘net cost’. Take for instance illegal logging of Indonesian rainforests. Desperate for fast cash returns loggers strip the rainforest of un-managed trees, sell the wood cheaply to China who turn the wood into furniture that’s then shipped to another country, like America, for a brand to distribute and sell. Forests are also being stripped to create mass supply of biofuels. All the way along the value chain the logger loses, as does the rainforest and the climate. The brand also eventually loses because the source of its value disappears (the trees), and will be hit by the cost of climate change. The only winner is net CO2 atmospheric level (a win-lose situation). It is these communities who will suffer most under climate change yet are most dependent on the natural capital they destroy – for us to buy. In the end, we all lose.

Take away: Investment and innovation are needed to support poor communities with social innovation and climate mitigation strategies today (eg, supporting rural loggers), as their adaptation needs of the future change, because we (the rich nations) rely on these communities for rich sources of natural and human capital to fuel the global economy. Environmental issues are a truly global economic driver. For a brand, that might mean investing in parts of the supply chain and markets, which they once otherwise externalized.

Message 5) Inaction is inexcusable
There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches — economic, technological, behavioural, management — to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Take away: Um, yes! Building the new energy economy and an economy of restoration (restoring natural capital) will create value for business and stimulate the job market. Stern suggests earmarking 20% of global GDP or $400 billion over the next year for green investment. Contrary to short-term business planning, the investment freeze and dealing with ‘crises’, now is the time to be focusing investment on sustainable innovation opportunities and energy efficiencies. Which is really the essence of all these messages.

6) Meeting the challenge
To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

Take away: the public is aware of climate change, to a degree, but needs to be more aware of emerging data on climate AND many other related issues (such as water), to shift belief systems, lifestyles and ultimately drive new types of demand. (The public being global citizens who also happen to be business leaders or policy makers).

These urgent 6 messages need to be heard by the public and translated into digestible communications, belief systems (an ideology) and new ways of consuming that support a low carbon, restoration and sustainable economy. That is a massively critical role of educating the public/business, a role that brands can take on. We’ve seen M&S enter this realm, educating their audience on packaging and supply chain issues with their “Look Behind The Label” work. That’s what I am talking about. There is space to educate in every capacity of the ever-emerging climate/environmental science and economic agenda. John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto, describes this as a “Knowledge role” for brands. Now we know plastic bottles are bad, who’s going to tell the world about the poor management of water and the looming shortage of supply?

- Contributed by Tamara Giltsoff, Sustainability Strategist

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