Why 'The 3% Solution' is 100 percent right

A landmark study being published tomorrow by WWF and CDP aims to change the conversation in business about addressing climate change — primarily by showing how profitable it can be to do so.

"The 3% Solution: Driving Profits Through Carbon Reduction" (being released Tuesday via a GreenBiz.com webcast that I’ll be hosting) begins with a hopeful premise: that U.S. business can reduce carbon emissions sufficient to meet science-based goals for avoiding a 2°C rise in global temperatures. And do so while capturing hundreds of billion dollars in savings and  creating new business opportunities.

Sound too good to be true? Perhaps. But the WWF-CDP study is based on analysis from an impressive consortium of players, including McKinsey & Co., Deloitte Consulting, and Point380, a technical strategy firm that specializes in energy efficiency and renewable resources.

I’ve had the chance to preview the 32-page report and talk to the project’s leads at both WWF and CDP. It’s too early to know whether the promise of "The 3% Solution" will be fulfilled, but it seems clear that the report is engendering a new level of engagement and excitement in the two organizations. It stands to do the same in business.

With good reason: The conversation about climate in the United States has been largely political, not science- or business-based. It’s been mired, like so much else these days, in polarized camps that spew their own rhetoric and “facts” to bolster their already-hardened positions. Among the polarized arguments has been the macroeconomic one — that addressing climate change (if it really exists, and if humans really are causing it) would undermine the fragile U.S. — and global — economic recovery. That’s assuming the creation of carbon taxes or other regulatory mechanisms. In other words: government intervention.

WWF and CDP take a decidedly free-market approach. And they began with asking my favorite kind of question: What would it take to bring U.S. carbon emissions to where scientists say they need to be by 2020? And to compare that to where we are now in order to create a roadmap from here to there.

“To be quite frank, I thought this was going to be a story about a gap between where we need to be and how far we can get with a traditional business case,” Lou Leonard, Managing Director of the Climate Change Program at WWF, told me last week. “And lo and behold, where we’re at blew my socks off because we’re not talking about a gap. We’re talking about a consistent trajectory between what the business case says is possible and what the science says is necessary.”

Next page: An alignment between science and business