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Sodexo: Why the time for climate action is now

The COP21 in Paris last December achieved a remarkable accord — for all 196 countries attending to sign the agreement is unprecedented. That’s the good news, and everyone involved should take pride in this accomplishment. 

But there’s no time to rest on laurels — the accord was just the beginning. Nearly six month since the signing, we must ensure that action follows and is aligned with the promises of that agreement. Although, of course, governments should lead this movement, action by the private sector can make the difference. 

Very quickly a goal must be set for businesses on how the carbon they contribute to the atmosphere translates into the less-than-1.5-degrees-Celsius goal. We need to know how to transform that stated ambition into measurable and actionable policy at the level from which our businesses are operating — in other words, we need a clear picture of how the micro affects the macro. 

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to the Paris Protocol this week — the sooner this agreement becomes a protocol, the better. And we can’t wait for the 2020 kickoff; the clock is ticking now. 

At Sodexo, a global services company operating in 80 countries on 33,000 sites, we started in earnest on our journey to combat climate change in 2009. Given the specificities of our business model — we operate at facilities including universities, hospitals, nursing homes, childcare centers, corporate facilities and R&D labs — our challenge in tackling climate change is to maximize efforts and impact at each type of organizations we support. 

It has been a transformational process to look at our carbon footprint and everything that affects it, from top to bottom of the company. Now we have the agreement from COP21 to help solidify our aspirations for our future carbon output. 

We quickly learned that only 1.5 percent of the emissions we needed to address come directly from Sodexo when an audit determined that of our total greenhouse gas emissions, 53.6 percent are from Sodexo’s supply chain, 44.8 percent from our clients.

Following that discovery, we set out to create a situation analysis to understand our impact throughout our entire supply chain. We engaged with a powerful partner to arrive at both a full diagnosis of our global emissions and a method of calculation, the World Wildlife Fund. We formed a technical agreement with the World Wildlife Fund in 2010, and its experts are our technical advisers on carbon. 

Because of the quality-of-life services we provide and the breadth of locations in which we operate, we can offer our clients energy management services that allow them to reduce their own carbon emissions, making their buildings more efficient via tailor-made soft and technical services; managing their data in order to calculate emissions and help define and execute action plans to reduce them; and to reduce the financial impact of carbon taxes as they come into force. 

Some results we have achieved include saving a leading health center in Hawaii millions of dollars and reducing energy consumption by implementing an off-peak cooling system known as Thermal Energy Storage. In Singapore, we implemented a wide-ranging energy reduction plan at an international school that led to reduced carbon footprint and utility savings of 30 percent within five months of implementation. A major multinational engaged us for an exercise to help it work toward its 2020 targets; we’re now in phase 2 of the project to help this company manage waste reduction. 

We are passionate in our belief that when your company’s mission is improving quality of life, turning a blind eye to climate change is not an option. We need to seize every opportunity to act to protect our public health and future generations — and with the climate agreement ratified in Paris in December, we know we are in good company. 

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