Author: Mark Porter, Director, Supply Chain & International Collaboration, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA)
Mark Porter moved to REBA from Rocky Mountain Institute's Business Renewables Center (BRC) initiative in March 2019. Mark continues to support the BRC initiative across all areas and grow REBA's membership. He is developing initiatives to support supply chain engagement and international collaboration between NGOs acting in this space worldwide.
Leading businesses recognize the planet's rising temperature is correlated to atmospheric CO2 levels (levels surpassed 400 ppm in 2013 for the first time in recorded history1 and increased to 410 ppm in 20192), and are acting in the knowledge that sustainability is a necessity to survive and build value for current and future stakeholders. The channels to demonstrate commitments to act are growing, from the recent Climate Pledge led by Amazon3 to the more established science-based targets -- showing the hundreds of companies where sustainable practices are being deliberately incorporated throughout the corporate structure. Indeed, using the metrics from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), we can see that 1,1284 companies have committed to or set science-based targets to curb their emissions.
Most, if not all, of these leading businesses were born without sustainability as an area of focus. But one thing they have in common is the understanding that sustainability is a contemporary discipline, and education is paramount to be able to advance. Leading businesses recognize that the work of sustainability practitioners involves the education of internal and external stakeholders so that all can participate in progress, and understand the measures of success and consequences for failure.
The year 2020 saw floods in Asia, locusts in Africa, storms and drought in Europe, and wildfires in the Americas (the full catalog of stronger-than-average weather events touched every continent and came in all forms, reportedly displacing over 13.5 million people5), and included a pandemic that highlighted when human activity recedes, skies become more clear and the animal kingdom takes a breath. The pandemic and climate change both represent "shocks'' to almost every metric we track as a society; the similarities of the two forces cannot be overstated. The past year has again shown that global catastrophes carry a heavy cost in economic terms, as well as in environmental and human terms:
Humanity's inaction to stop climate change is costing us; the U.S. annual average of weather-related events costing over $1 billion in 2015-2019 was 13.8 events. However, 2020 had recorded 16 events by October (all tallies are CPI-adjusted)6.
Human costs are equally staggering -- over 14,000 deaths from 1980-2019 in the same weather-related events costing over $1 billion in the U.S. -- and the number of people impacted is an order of magnitude higher. Our experience with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is showing a plethora of impacts on people being isolated during the crisis (as one example), and no one wants an ongoing series of climatic crises to double down on the same adverse human costs.
All these events are triggering additional corporate action from those already engaged, such as Akamai, and spurring more companies than ever before to join the sustainability movement. The key question being asked by all businesses: How do we build stakeholder value and avoid a repeat or escalation of 2020? All answers lead back to education:
Experienced sustainability practitioners ask what is the next level of impact that aligns to their company's stakeholders, and are becoming educated through active engagement with stakeholders to increase their understanding and be able to set new goals for greater impact.
Companies new to sustainability seek fundamental education to understand their options and start their sustainability journey. Typically, this involves understanding the benchmarks for goals, and learning what is materially impactful for one company is likely different for the next.
The LESsor Sustainable Energy Network, or LESSEN, is an education platform supported by Akamai that is training a cohort of landlords of physical real estate and colocation data centers to understand their sustainable energy options. The LESSEN program covers benchmarks for goals and helps attendees understand why leading companies chose their goals, energy efficiency measures, on-site generation project considerations, off-site generation project considerations, and the value from different consultants. The program aims to build a network among attendees and the experienced-buyer faculty such that a group of well-connected industry champions emerge from the 10-month program and can transact to meet their sustainable energy goals more expediently than would have otherwise been possible.
If you are interested in joining a LESSEN cohort, contact email@example.com. We encourage everyone to consider 2021 as the year of education, where you challenge your own assumptions and respectfully challenge others to help accelerate the arrival of a zero-carbon energy future.
1 The relentless rise of carbon dioxide, NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/graphic-the-relentless-rise-of-carbon-dioxide, accessed 8 January 2021
2 Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, NOAA, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide, accessed 8 January 2021
3 Information on The Climate Pledge, https://www.aboutamazon.com/planet/climate-pledge, accessed 8 January 2021
4 The Science Based Targets initiative, https://sciencebasedtargets.org, accessed 8 January 2021
5 Asean Post, https://theaseanpost.com/article/2020-weather-disasters-boosted-climate-change, accessed 8 January 2021
6 NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2020), https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions, accessed 8 January 2021