Skip to main content

For Real Results on Climate, Look Beyond Copenhagen

[Editor's note: This article was authored by BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability.]

The task in Copenhagen is clear: Build a global policy framework enabling the transition to a low-carbon economy.

To help achieve this goal, BSR worked with many of our members to prepare for COP15 and presented webinars and other briefings on climate and public policy. We also are attending the negotiations and related events in Copenhagen.

But it's important to remember that, as consequential as COP15 is, 12 days in Denmark won't solve the climate challenge.

Regardless of the outcome, when the negotiators head home on December 18, the world's attention will shift back to the question of how to make practical progress. And at BSR, we will focus on how to help unleash the creative force of business to meet the challenge of shaping new pathways to prosperity.

In my view, the formula for doing that is a combination of innovation, efficiency, mobilization, and collaboration.


At every turning in point in history, from the advent of the railroad to the Internet revolution, innovation has redefined the economy. Solving climate change requires exactly the same thing. Fortunately, I've seen significantly heightened interest among our member companies in exploring how sustainability, and especially climate considerations, can drive innovation. I expect that in 2010 we will be working with many of you on this, along with innovation on products, business processes, and business models. In this context, companies that maintain R&D budgets -- especially in these times of disruptive change -- will be best able to compete.


Study after study has reinforced the value of efficiency. Early this year, McKinsey found that an investment of US $50 billion in efficiency measures would deliver some US $1.2 trillion in savings -- and achieve emissions reductions equivalent to removing all passenger vehicles and light trucks from American highways. Individual companies have learned the same lesson: Wal-Mart estimates that it can save between US $35 million and US $50 million for every additional mile it squeezes from a gallon of gasoline, making its decision to improve the efficiency of its truck fleet an easy call. Opportunities exist for all companies to achieve these kinds of savings.


Mobilization is not usually part of the business playbook. Recognizing the need to create market opportunities, shift consumer habits, and develop sound policy, many companies are leveraging their unique communications platforms. By helping consumers understand how climate-friendly products create savings, business helps to move markets in more sustainable directions. In addition, companies have an indirect impact on policy debates when they convey the importance of sustainability, which builds a constituency for action to combat climate change. Given that many recent polls have shown a drop in public interest in climate change, mobilization can create the double win of influencing both buying and voting patterns.


All of these efforts are made stronger through collaboration. We are supporting collective action through initiatives like our Clean Cargo Working Group and Sustainability Outlook forecasting project. And many businesses have banded together to promote climate legislation in Washington and an agreement in Copenhagen, with the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) showing potential to push legislation over the finish line. No business can do this alone -- collaboration is essential.

With a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in the offing, it is worth noting that many Kyoto targets have been missed. This serves as a reminder that the road from Copenhagen will prove to be more important than the road to Copenhagen. And the road map to successful climate action depends on innovation, efficiency, mobilization, and collaboration.

If you want to make progress on this immense global challenge, look beyond Copenhagen and the treaty negotiations -- and follow this path.

Aron Cramer is president and CEO of BSR. The original version of this post was an open letter from Cramer to BSR members. It is published in its current form with permission.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Kim Bach.

Click here for full coverage of COP15 from the and teams, including posts from Copenhagen by Executive Editor Joel Makower and Senior Contributor Marc Gunther, and from dozens of guest contributors from the business world.


More on this topic

More by This Author