As COP17 draws to a close International sustainability recruitment Consultants, Allen & York takes a look at how the uncertainty of a decision can affect businesses worldwide.
The most pressing issue at COP17 was the question of what will happen after the end of the Kyoto protocol in 2012.
A document outlining the combination of suggestions for an international agreement on climate change was given to delegates for their consideration over this past weekend. It was intended to provide a basis for negotiations during the second week of the conference.
Outlined in The Guardian, it was suggested that the G77 group and China raised concerns that the amalgamation outlined in the document did not reflect the discussions that had taken place in Durban whilst India has said an agreement on a second commitment period of Kyoto is unlikely; Canada’s environment minister announced that it would not commit to a second phase of Kyoto starting in 2013. However, Australia and the EU have been more upbeat and there are signs that China would support a new agreement, with a key Chinese official stating, “every country shall undertake obligations and responsibilities according to their capacity”. This is an encouraging sentiment, however the same old tensions will no doubt emerge between developed and developing nations when it comes to agreeing on the definition of “capacity”.
So where does all this uncertainty leave business? Firstly, it must be said that regardless of whether a new international agreement can be struck in Durban, at national level most countries are already committed to greening their economies. Inevitably, business will be the protagonist in terms of providing investment and practical implementation through goods and services to deliver this, continuing the work in which many companies are already engaged.
But business should also be paying attention to the development of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) according to The Guardian. The UN will need to build the institutional capacity of the GCF so it can disburse up to $100bn (£64bn) effectively. In the short term, this means there may be a role for NGOs and, possibly, businesses in seconding staff to the relevant national body.
With limited public funds available globally, business could have another important role to play here in mobilising private capital to support investment in low-carbon growth. But what type of finance could be used? Nick Robins of HSBC has already asserted that listed equity and bank capital are a no-go. Debt capital markets could offer a feasible route, but lending is expensive and short-term.
So what other opportunities will the fund offer businesses? Trevor Manual, chair of the transitional committee for the GCF and South Africa’s planning minister has indicated that the focus of the GCF is likely to be on climate change adaptation, as the recipients of funding would be developing countries with low GHG emissions. Allen & York are witnessing an increase in the number of roles in this area. Clearly, this offers businesses the chance to export skills and expertise – consultancies will be needed to advise on adaptation strategies, design and engineering businesses to help manage coastal areas, specialists to assist with issues of water security – the list of possibilities is endless.
In terms of other aspects of the negotiations that may affect businesses, progress has been limited. We’ve heard little, thus far, about the proposed implementation of a financial transaction tax in line with recent EU proposals of 0.01% for derivatives and 0.1% for shares and loan products (which would raise revenue of up to €55bn (£47bn) a year in Europe). Likewise, nothing concrete has yet been agreed on aviation and shipping taxation in line with the polluter pays principle. All three taxes are possible funding mechanisms for the GCF. One proposal outlined how the shipping tax could work, and has received the broad support of the shipping industry provided it is applied globally, however no agreement has yet been reached.
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The next generation of business leaders believe that sustainability must be a priority for all businesses and 96% plan to incorporate sustainability into their careers, according to a recent study by Sky.
The ‘Sky Future Leaders’ study highlights the importance of sustainability for future business success. The study was based on the views of 751 graduate trainees, MBA graduates and middle managers who have shown potential for leadership positions.
The future business leaders referred to themselves as the first ‘sustainable generation’, based on their engagement with social responsibility in their own lives and in the media.
70 % of respondents believe that sustainability can create new opportunities for business, and just a fifth think that sustainability has to come at the expense of profit. Two thirds said that the economic climate should not affect businesses’ involvement with sustainability initiatives.
Almost all of the participants plan on engaging with sustainability matters in their future careers, however almost two thirds of respondents said that they have not received sufficient sustainability training from their business schools or employers.
The research was carried out between September and November 2011 and the report is based on findings by market research firm Populus.
Allen & York are a leading International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, specialising across the environmental, renewable energy, energy services, built environment, health & safety, waste, engineering and mining and resources sectors.
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The New York state Senate is dragging its feet in implementing the Affordable Care Act’s state exchange, but a new survey from HealthPass finds that New York’s small businesses strongly support the measure and say they may be “more likely to offer health insurance if such a health insurance exchange were available”:
The survey found that more than eight in ten (84%) respondents describe health insurance exchanges as a “good idea” after reading a description of the proposed New York State SHOP (small business) Exchange. Additionally, more than three-fourths of respondents (76%) would consider using such a health insurance exchange when enrolling their employees in a health benefits program. Even more striking, among businesses that do not currently provide health insurance to their employees, 60% said they would be more likely to offer coverage if an exchange was available.
Interestingly, despite increasing health care costs, small businesses say they would consider providing health insurance in the future, with 75 percent of respondents agreeing “that offering health care benefits helps them attract and retain quality employees.”
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 29 states “are making significant progress in creating Affordable Insurance Exchanges.”
by Jorge Madrid and Matt Kasper
Last week President Obama, with the help of former President Bill Clinton and other partners including the Center for American Progress, flexed some executive power to leverage $4 billion in government and private sector funds to finance energy efficiency building projects across the United States – creating jobs, reducing pollution, and cutting energy costs.
“The Trifecta” President Obama called it.
With commitments to retrofit over 4 billion square feet of commercial real estate, American construction and manufacturing workers will be getting back on the job — at zero cost to taxpayers.
That’s right. The investment will pay for itself by way of energy savings.
The executive order will direct all federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy-efficiency upgrades in the next two years. This investment will be matched dollar for dollar by a coalition of over 60 private-sector companies, including 3M, Alcoa, GE and Southern California Edison, along with nonprofit organizations, state and local governments and universities, to upgrade a minimum of 1.6 billion sq. ft. of commercial and office space.
The efforts were made in response to a challenge set by President Obama earlier this year called the Better Buildings Initiative, a program that would achieve 20 percent energy saving by 2020, saving American business’ nearly $40 billion every year in energy costs. Former President Clinton, who was asked by President Obama to help lead this Better Buildings challenge, spoke forcefully on the economic common sense of moving forward immediately on energy efficiency:
“The best opportunity to preserve and rebuild this economy is through energy efficiency… I believe as strongly as I can say that this is good business, creates jobs, makes us more energy independent and helps to fight climate change.”
Other partners made specific pledges for retrofits, including major commercial banks like Citi, industry voices like the Chamber of Commerce, global real estate investors like the Lend Lease Corporation, and a broad cross section of other organizations. Most striking was the commitment of organized labor into pension funds to support these projects — making them investors in the future by helping develop the next generation of smart and clean infrastructure jobs.
Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who helped bring these investments together, lauded the effort:
“This is big news, and the leadership vision of these two U.S. Presidents has made this accomplishment possible. The Center for American Progress is proud to have played a key role in developing the Better Buildings Initiative and engaging public and private partners in this vital work.”
While action in Congress is at a standstill, this project shows the immense progress that can be accomplished outside of legislative action.
Jorge Madrid is a research associate with the energy policy team at the Center for American Progress; Matt Kasper is an intern with the energy team at CAP.
While International Negotiators Deal with China’s Carbon, Chinese Citizens Deal With Impacts Closer to Home
by Melanie Hart and Tong Zhao
Many eyes are on the international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa this week — particularly on China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
The international community is upping the pressure on China to take serious steps to reduce emissions. China’s biggest climate pressures, however, are coming from within.
As living standards go up, Chinese citizens are paying more attention to quality-of-life issues, particularly air quality. They are pressuring their government to reduce air pollution — much as U.S. citizens pushed for the Clean Air Act — and that pressure is giving the Chinese leadership new incentives to adopt tighter air pollution standards and to take on more ambitious emissions reduction programs.
Air quality has been a hot topic in China for years, but the U.S. Embassy in Beijing added to the debate by offering an alternative source of information about local air pollution and the potential impacts on citizen health. In 2008 the U.S. embassy installed a roof-top air quality monitoring system that samples the Beijing air every hour. The embassy provides a mobile app that anyone can register for to receive the hourly readings, which define the conditions as “fine,” “terrible” or “hazardous” depending on the amount of pollution particles in the air.
These reports have created a major controversy in China, because the U.S. embassy bases their assessments on EPA standards that measure particulate air pollution down to the smaller (2.5 microns in diameter and below) particles. China’s standards, in contrast, only measure and report particles down to the 10 micron (micrometer) level. That is a critical oversight, because PM 2.5 particles are among the most dangerous. Due to their small size, they can penetrate deeper into the lungs and cause more severe health damage.
If Chinese officials include PM 2.5 particles in their environmental reports without also tightening up regulatory standards to control those particles, that would lower the country’s environmental assessment ratings and create new pressures that many Chinese officials are not yet ready to deal with. This is a particular concern for China’s local government officials, who need good reports to pass up to their superiors, and who sometimes struggle to accurately measure local pollution emissions.
Chinese leaders are working to shift their economy toward cleaner and more efficient energy sources, but those upgrades are costly, and Chinese citizens and enterprises have limited ability to absorb higher utility bills. The government is stepping in to subsidize many of these upgrades, but the improvements still take time. In the interim, Chinese officials prefer to tailor their monitoring standards to their ability to actually regulate and enforce them. As long as they think controlling PM 2.5 particles is too difficult and costly, they prefer to keep those measurements out of their official assessment reports.
Some Chinese officials, therefore, were not too happy with the U.S. embassy’s mobile air pollution service, and they reportedly asked the embassy to shut it down (to no avail). But local citizens — many of whom have long distrusted the government’s air quality readings — have been signing up in droves.
This fall, Beijing is suffering repeated bouts of extremely severe air pollution. For multiple days running, the U.S. embassy monitoring station has registered air in the “hazardous” category, which according to the U.S. EPA is an “emergency condition” that could impact the entire population, not just sensitive groups. China’s official government reports, in contrast, have called the same conditions “level-3 minor pollution” (where level-1 is the most severe).
That discrepancy — and the severity of the health warnings from the U.S. embassy — have triggered serious public concern in China and a new round of debates about government transparency and the reliability of the government’s monitoring data.
At first, Chinese environmental officials and state media pushed back, claiming that their PM 10 standards were more scientific. Chinese citizens, however, did not back down. The air quality issue became a hot topic in the Chinese media and on online discussion forums, and the government has begun to realize that they will lose credibility if they do not address citizen concerns.
China’s Environmental Protection Ministry has responded by issuing the country’s first PM 2.5 air pollution standard, and they are also talking about heightening the existing PM 10 standard and adopting new measurements for carbon monoxide and ozone. Local officials are also setting up a new PM 2.5 monitoring station near Beijing.
There are two key takeaways here. First, Chinese citizens are pushing hard for cleaner air, and although they do not elect their leaders, they have more political influence than many foreign observers realize. China’s domestic environmental advocates are a strong ally for the international climate community, and we should not overlook them. Anything we can do to improve their access to accurate pollution information (as the U.S. embassy did with their air monitoring program) or increase their involvement in international climate discussions would be a good thing.
Second, this domestic pressure is pushing the Chinese government toward stricter air pollution standards and greenhouse gas emissions reductions domestically, and that will likely increase China’s willingness to accept more serious commitments at the international level.
These changes will certainly take time, and in the interim, the international community should keep pressuring China to do more.
However, we should not forget that when it comes to Chinese emissions, it is not the international community who has the most to lose. It is the Chinese citizens themselves. And when it comes to reducing the country’s emissions, they are a critical driving force that we should not overlook.
Melanie Hart is the China Energy and Climate Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress; Tong Zhao is an Intern on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.
Led by Unilever, Astra Zeneca and Nike, consumer brands are taking climate change more seriously than ever, says a new report from Climate Counts, a nonprofit that rates some of the world’s largest companies on their climate impact.
Big companies are reporting emissions, committing to targets and becoming more vocal in the policy arena, according to the report.
“There’s evidence to suggest we have reached a remarkable tipping point,” says Mike Bellamente, project director of Climate Counts. “Global corporations are increasingly acknowledging climate change as reality and are adopting measures to reduce their emissions and environmental impact.”
This is the fifth report from Climate Counts, which is the brainchild of Stonyfield Farms CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg. The ratings are intended to make consumers more aware of leaders and laggards on climate — the term of art for this is “rank ‘em and spank ‘em — as well as to spur companies to do better. or whatever reason, companies are improving: Bellamente told me over the phone the other day that the average score for the 136 companies rated this year is up by an impressive 54% from the initial set of ratings.
This is nice to hear but the news comes with a big caveat. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this past decade of growth in both “green” talk and carbon emissions, it’s this: Voluntary corporate behavior won’t produce an adequate response to the climate crisis. Indeed, it has not: Greenhouse gas emissions rose by record levels last year. “We haven’t made (climate) progress as a society,” Mike acknowledges. Only climate policy will bring meaningful progress.
The trouble is, even companies that have adopted their own sustainability programs are not as active as they need to be in the policy and political arena. Climate Counts reports that 30 of the big companies it ranks expressed strong support for federal level climate policy, but 82 companies (or 60%) remained silent or in opposition of such efforts. The companies in the survey don’t include stalwart opponents of climate regulation–the coal, utility and oil companies–and so it actually overestimates the degree to which business supports climate action.
Still, as more companies acknowledge the reality of climate change and reduce their own emissions, this will help set the stage for better policy.
“Many companies are performing well,” Mike told me. “Sustainability is integrated as a philosophy across their business.” Prominent examples include Unilever, this year’s No. 1 company with a score of 88 out of 100, and Nike, with a score of 85, which topped the list last year. (See my blogposts, Unilever CEO: Don’t stay on the sidelines and Nike: Running towards sustainable consumption.)
Other companies that led their industry sectors, with scores in parentheses, include Southwest Airlines (55), Anheuser-Busch/InBev (57), Bank of America (82), UPS (83), Starbucks (70), Herman Miller and Masco (63), Marriott (73), L’Oreal (78), AB Electrolux (80), Microsoft (68), GE (77), AstraZeneca (86) and Hasbro (52).
Some other highlights:
Amazon and Apple are among the laggards in the Climate Counts ratings. That may surprise you because both are innovative companies, and tech companies generally score well on green behavior, but it shouldn’t. Amazon is all but invisible on the climate issue, scoring a meager 11. “There is little evidence to suggest that Amazon has a management plan in place to account for emissions, reduce their overall environmental impact or report on their progress,” Mike told me. (Not coincidentally, my friends in Seattle tell me that the company plays a minimal role in the sustainability conversations and civil life of the city, in contrast to Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, REI, etc.) I emailed Amazon for a reaction, and haven’t heard back.
Apple does far better, scoring 60 out of 100, but it still places last in the electronics sector, behind leaders Siemens, HP, IBM, Nokia and Sony. “Unlike corporations of similar size, they fail to disclose a formal company-wide emissions reduction target,” Mike says. Nor does Apply publish a sustainability report.
Rising up the charts were Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Amgen and VF Corp. Wyndham Hotels surged 30 points to 57 by launching a green initiative, topping Starwood (48), Hyatt (36) and Hilton (22). Pharmaceutical company Amgen rose 29 points to achieve a score of 57, and VF Corporation, which owns such brands as Nautica and Wrangler, gained 13 points to lift its score to 34.
The “footprint” graphic below reflects the fact that Climate Counts divides companies into three groups. Those that score 50-100 are “striding” towards a low carbon future and identified in green, those that score 13 to 49 are “starting” to address their climate impact and marked in yellow, and those that score 12 or less are “stuck” and colored red.