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Updated: November 2, 2020 Focus: Energy

Green biz strategist: Businesses, gov’t both crucial to averting climate disaster

Photo | Flickr Creative Commons An aerial view of some of the damage Hurricane Sandy brought to Connecticut’s shoreline in 2012. The resulting power outages have spurred grocery stores and other businesses to place a higher focus on resiliency planning.

In September, the Business Roundtable, a powerful group of 200-plus CEOs from major U.S. companies, including some of Connecticut’s biggest corporations, made waves when it endorsed putting a price on carbon emissions as a way to combat climate change.

A carbon pricing policy, if enacted at the federal level, would certainly cost some of its member companies money.

The pivot by the Roundtable, whose members include the likes of Raytheon Technologies Corp., CVS Health, Travelers Cos., Cigna and Stanley Black & Decker, was the latest example of a growing movement in corporate America to acknowledge and commit to taking action on climate change, and it followed a 2019 commitment from Roundtable CEOs to move away from the group’s long-held principle of “shareholder primacy” and toward one that aims to benefit a broader group of stakeholders, such as customers, employees and communities.

Andrew Winston, Author and Sustainability Advisor

Seeing companies feel compelled to address their role in society, and state their principles publicly, is a promising sign, but there’s still far more progress to be made, said Andrew Winston, a Yale alum, author and sustainability advisor for large companies like Kimberly-Clark Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Unilever and PwC.

“Every large company has a sustainability report and sustainability goals, almost all of them have some kind of carbon or energy-reduction goal, so on some level, we’ve won, we got it on the agenda,” Winston said during a keynote address at the recent Connecticut Climate Action Business Summit. “But we’re still going at a far slower pace than what we need, according to the science.”

He said government and businesses alike will be crucial to any successful effort to slow global rising temperatures this century and mitigate the worst potential impacts on the environment, economy and public health.

“Part of the answer is that business needs to embrace really deep and very broad collaboration and partnerships in ways that we really haven’t very much before, and working very aggressively but in a much more connected way with governments as well,” he said. “Not lobbying, not walking in and saying how do we get my taxes lower, … but sitting down with them, with NGOs, with civil society, with peers and working together on ‘what are the right policies, what can businesses do?’ ”

Systemic change could take years, if it’s successful at all, Winston added, but he said if businesses are willing to use their access to capital and political power for good, “not just for lobbying,” the effort will have a better shot at success.

Winston perceives several similarities between climate change and the COVID-19 virus that spread around the world this year.

“I think the pandemic has really demonstrated, … we quite literally share one big immune system and we’re seeing that we’re connected by the same illness,” he said.

COVID-19 could be seen in some ways as a fast-moving version of climate change, with impacts felt within days rather than years, he said.

“These things move in a nonlinear and exponential way,” he said. “Emissions were moving exponentially for years and we didn’t respond. Early on in COVID, it moved exponentially too.”

Both public health threats have also created pushback against scientific consensus. There are those in denial that man-made climate change is real, or that there is anything that can or should be done to address it, just as there are those who believe the pandemic is a government ploy, or not serious enough to merit measures like wearing masks or restricting gatherings.

“This is a particularly American problem,” Winston said of those deniers. “We don’t see it as much around the world.”

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