Two Steps Forward

While you were grilling, the world moved forward

GreenBiz photocollage via Shutterstock

There was a time when summer was a slow season for sustainable business, as companies, NGOs and others, or at least their communications arms, dialed back for a couple months to gear up for the fall, when the flow of announcements, events and press pitches would resume in full force.

That was then. These days, sustainability news is a year-round event, the product in large part of diverse and robust leadership around the world.

If you need proof, consider last week, the first week of July. It was a three-day workweek in the United States, thanks to Independence (or Interdependence) Day celebrations. But while Americans were grilling, the rest of the civilized world was moving forward on climate and other pressing issues. As a result, there was no shortage of developments, launches and announcements coming from beyond U.S. shores, burnishing America’s second-class status in sustainability leadership.

A sampling:

  • At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of New Champions in Dalian, China, a new coalition, Global Ledger, was launched "to support greater environmental transparency and accountability using blockchain technology." The plan is to make the data — from drones, cameras, nano-satellites and soon-to-be-ubiquitous Internet of Things apps — available open to governments, NGOs, companies and the general public so they can verify that environmental commitments are being kept.
  • Also in Dalian, a group of influential international organizations announced another global coalition, Business for Nature, "to elevate a business call for comprehensive action to reverse nature loss and restore the planet’s vital natural systems." The group will convene a united business voice at international negotiations, such as the 2020 U.N. Biodiversity Conference, "to clearly demonstrate that the protection of nature is an economic as well as a moral imperative, and to call on governments to adopt an ambitious new deal for nature and people to protect and enhance the natural world, supported by specific sets of actions."
  • A group of international investors managing more than $12 trillion wrote to 500 of the world’s top companies calling for more information about the treatment of their employees. More than 100 institutional investors from 11 countries signed a letter sent by the Workforce Disclosure Initiative seeking better data on issues such as diversity, workers’ rights, and health and safety in their supply chains. Coordinated by U.K.-based pressure group ShareAction, the initiative aims to improve the quality of jobs in the operations and supply chains of multinational companies.
  • The global campaign to encourage insurance companies to phase out support for the coal industry secured one of its biggest victories to date, as U.S. insurance giant Chubb announced a detailed new coal underwriting and investment policy. The company said it no longer will underwrite the construction and operation of new coal-fired plants or new risks for companies that generate more than 30 percent of their revenues from coal mining or energy production from coal. In addition, insurance coverage for existing coal-plant risks that exceed this threshold will be phased out by 2022.
  • According to the Climate Bonds Initiative, global issuance of green bonds just hit yet another milestone, for the first time surpassing $100 billion inside six months. The $100 billion mark was first reached in November 2017 during the COP23 climate summit, and again the following September. Now, for the first time, the milestone has been reached during the first half of the year. The record means the global green bond market has quadrupled since 2014.
  • The U.K. government proposed mandatory disclosure of climate-related risks for listed companies and large asset owners beginning in 2022, as part of its green finance strategy (PDF) announced last week. Aiming to "shift to a world at net-zero emissions," the British government said it is setting a new target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The government wants to align mainstream financial flows from publicly traded companies and asset owners in order to redirect capital to green investments in cities, energy systems and land use around the world. (Keep in mind that the government managed to do this in the midst of the Brexit chaos and on the cusp of an election to choose a new prime minister.)

Meanwhile, back in the good old USA …

  • President Donald Trump last week decided to slap tariffs of as much as 30 percent on solar panels and related equipment made abroad, a move that threatens to kneecap the $28 billion U.S. solar industry, which relies on foreign-made parts for 80 percent of its supply. The Solar Energy Industries Association projected tens of thousands of domestic job losses in a sector that currently employs 260,000.

It’s not surprising these days that the United States is swimming upstream, a renegade nation trying, however futilely, to hold back the tides of change. But those tides are growing stronger in lockstep with the perceived threats to economic and human well-being. Fiercely independent Americans are watching from the sidelines as the rest of the world tackles the tough stuff.

As we Americans celebrated the Fourth of July, it felt ever more that being a beacon of independence in the community of nations can be a lonely place, especially when the world is counting on us to act, and act boldly.

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