There are a number of what's called ‘side events' here in Rio, that are officially sanctioned by or in conjunction with the UN. One such side event was "Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD)," a well-organized day that brought together industry luminaries, and covered topics from transportation and water to cement and power utilities.
The theme of the conference was Scale Up; point being that we need solutions to address climate change that scale. In the opening plenary it was stated that even if we execute on all of the commitments being made in Rio, we'll still miss the mark needed. What is necessary are different business models, a different way of thinking and a commitment to keeping the human element at the center of our actions as businesses.
One of the 20 breakout sessions was led by the Corporate Eco Forum (CA Technologies is a member) and the Nature Conservancy. The session centered on the topic of valuing natural capital and infrastructure, extending the commitments made at the Clinton Global Initiative last year. The capper was the unveiling of 24 companies who have made significant commitments that recognize the interrelatedness of their business interests with ecosystems. You can check out the full report at: www.corporateecoforum.com/valuingnaturalcapital. Panelists from Dow, Disney, Coke and FEMSA (a Central and South American bottling company for Coke) all had the opportunity to speak and introduce commitments that they are making to change business as usual and provide environmental and sustainability leadership. Here are some of the highlights.
Neil Hawkins (the same Dow executive who spoke at the energy efficiency seminar), discussed the need for businesses to take the lead in sustainability and not only take action, but to show action as well. With this in mind, Dow's commitment is to lead the world in sugar cane to polyethylene development. This is the most sustainable polyethylene (read: plastic) in the world, and it sequesters carbon in the process.
In addition, they are developing the largest bio plastics plant in the world and are committing to share their learnings and methodologies as best practices with the broader business community. An impressive display of corporate leadership, innovation and sustainability.
In the vein of leveraging your core competency, Beth Stevens from Walt Disney explained that Disney is committed to helping kids develop lifelong conservation habits (good, they need to make up for that iCarly show!). As she mentioned, taking this leadership role is expected of them by their employees, the community and their shareholders.
On a more concrete level, Disney is committing to zero net direct carbon emissions, and plan on achieving this by focusing on forests. They have committed to reforesting 6,000 acres, funding an ‘improved forest project' and are running a pilot study to evaluate the reforestation benefits to an ecosystem beyond carbon sequestration.
What came up in the Q&A was that Disney, like Microsoft, has put in place an internal carbon tax to help drive choices and behavior. The desired outcome is it the tax generated fund will decrease over time. But in the interim, it funds sustainability initiatives.
Everyone knows that water is essential to Coke's business. But here is something that came up in the Q&A that shocked me - It takes 2 liters of water to produce a liter of Coke. No, that is not the shocking part. When you take into consideration the total embedded water (water used in agriculture for beet sugar, corn and other ingredients, transportation, etc.) it totals 70 liters of water to make one liter of Coke. Wow.
Jeff Seabright, the Coke executive on the panel, discussed their commitment to conduct a source water analysis (risks and vulnerabilities) and develop conservation action plans around the world to address this challenge. They have a previously articulated goal to give back as much water as they take in by 2020, and they are nearly at 100% in Mexico and India. With water supplies becoming an ever more vital concern for countries around the globe, leadership like this from a worldwide brand like Coca-Cola is critical.
Coca-Cola FEMSA, is the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the world, in terms of sales volumes, delivering more than 2.5 billion unit cases a year. That's a lot of Coke. Femsa is based out of Central and South America and has committed to establish three water funds in Brazil. Their efforts are on conserving watersheds, especially in the home of the Amazon Rainforest. They are working to coordinate the ongoing money necessary, engage the needed government capital and encourage community capital and involvement.
While the scale of the challenges we need to address has never been more apparent, it is critical that leading businesses take up the gauntlet and provide real leadership in corporate sustainability. This session was a great example of how to do that - and it only highlighted 4 of the 24 companies who are truly stepping up. Thanks to the Corporate Eco Forum, the Nature Conservancy and all the participants for making it happen.