How Ford, Adidas are making climate change work in their favor

Last year was marked by tumultuous weather in the United States. It was the country’s hottest year on record, the wildfire season was the second-largest since the 1960s, a massive drought in the Midwest sent food prices soaring and Hurricane Sandy all but devastated towns along the East Coast. Globally, temperatures too soared, and Arctic sea ice melted quicker than ever recorded.

Scientists say these extreme weather patterns can largely be attributed to one thing: humans. And unless we drastically curb our greenhouse gas emissions, they say, the situation will only worsen.  

Much of the responsibility rests with the corporate sector. In the U.S., companies accounted for nearly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to figures cited during a recent GreenBiz webcast titled Business in the Age of Climate Change. The webcast, which streamed from the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, looked at how companies can best tackle climate change.

The clock is ticking. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), companies need to reduce their carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 to blunt the impact of climate change. That means the U.S. corporate sector would need to cut its emissions by more than 3 percent annually by 2020, which amounts to roughly 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions, said Matthew Banks, senior program officer of climate change at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), during the webcast. If companies don’t start acting now, it will soon be too late, he said.

“The window is closing very quickly to combat this problem,” Banks said. “We won’t be able to catch up if we don’t do it now.”

But many companies still believe going green is expensive, which simply isn’t true, said Banks. Since 1999 the WWF has spearheaded an initiative called Climate Savers, which helps mobilize companies to cut their carbon emissions. Many of the companies involved, which include Coca-Cola, Sony and HP, have reported a higher return on investment for sustainability projects than their average portfolio investments across other business units, said Banks.

“It makes incredibly good business sense,” he said. “There is a significant amount of savings to be harvested.”

Author and green business expert Andrew Winston told the webcast audience that companies should move away from the notion that being sustainable costs money. Rather, the key is for businesses to make sustainability their driving goal, and integrate it into their core mission.  

“We have to pivot and think of it as profitable and an incredible opportunity to create value,” Winston said. “Innovation needs to get much deeper. Change needs to get much deeper.”

Image of melting Artic ice cap provided by Wyatt Rivard via Shutterstock.

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