"Renewables create resilience" and "efficiency saves money": sustainability chiefs from Marks & Spencer and Unilever

Author:
Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 8 minutes
24 September 2015

NEW YORK: Today at Climate Week NYC, The Climate Group hosted a live Twitter Q&A with Thomas Lingard, Climate Advocacy & Sustainability Strategy Director, Unilever and Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A), Marks & Spencer to discuss how they’re switching to 100% renewable power as part of RE100

On the same day, RE100, a global campaign led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP to engage, support and showcase influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, annouced nine new US companies including Goldman Sachs, Nike, Starbucks and Walmart.

With such high-profile corporates flocking to join the ranks, we began the session by asking the sustainability chiefs from Marks & Spencer and Unilever - one of the founding partners - why they have joined RE100 and publicly committed to going 100% renewable, and crucially, how they hope to achieve their bold goals.

Mike Barry began by stating "the world is reaching tipping point" where renewable power is "disrupting" fossil fuels, which he says Marks & Spencer wants to "help drive collectively" with other businesses. Thomas Lingard stated that a "key solution to climate change is decarbonizing energy, and sustainability begins at home".

Following cuts in energy use, Thomas Lingard said the next natural step is moving to a renewable electricity supply. Unilever is already "working with a range of providers to make that possible" and has now reached 100% renewable electricity in Europe and North America, with "great progress in Mexico too".

But with such notable success being demonstrated by both companies in their journeys to 100%, it's easy forget the challenges companies can face. While both brands mentioned quite different key issues, fossil fuel subsidies act as a clear barrier to many.

 

 

 

There are clear economic benefits to transitioning to cleaner energy sources though, which both experts were keen to illustrate. But does the race to cut costs and carbon mean that forward-looking companies have to keep one eye on the competition? They soon put that theory to bed. "Just see how many are signing up to #RE100 today", tweets Thomas Lingard. "This is pre-competitive. It's about collective action for system change."

With the global COP21 climate talks just around the corner, 10 weeks away in Paris to be precise, we asked Mike Barry and Thomas Lingard how confident they feel that the outcomes will be positive for business and the economy as a whole - and what national governments can do at home to accelerate low carbon growth by making it easier to do business sustainably.

 

But companies aren't making this journey alone. Not only is there customers to consider - does adopting new suppliers and processes impact buying decisions? What do customers want to know? Do they care at all? - but supply chains to analyze, engage or move away from. While this could mean resource-heavy decisions to some, Unilever and Marks & Spencer see these options as opportunities to innovate, evolve and profit.

In fact it is this collaborative aspect of RE100 which both agree is so useful in the renewable energy transition, and has led to such impactful initiatives such as on deforestation through the Consumer Goods Forum.

 

 

Talking on a deeper level about the innovation that can hatch from collaborating with peers, Mike Barry and Thomas Lingard explained how there are opportunties to improve efficiency on energy storage, with potential economic rewards of "billions!" for the person or company that makes strides in this critical piece of the energy puzzle.

 

 

 

While Unilever and Marks & Spencer are household names as multinational consumer goods companies, all sectors must come together to ensure the world lowers emissions to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. But which sectors in particular would they like to see join them in the RE100 network and commit to 100% renewable electricity? Thomas Lingard says the "more challenging industries" such as chemicals, metals and construction are among those most needed.

As we concluded the chat we asked what the business leaders' message is for other companies looking to make the jump to renewables, to which Unilever's sustainability executive borrowed fellow RE100 partner Nike's world-famous slogan: "Just do it". 

 

And why wait? Join us as the world's most influential businesses lead a prosperous. low carbon future for all, during the most critical year for climate action in history.

Learn more about RE100 here.

We will continue sharing conversations with business and government leaders throughout Climate Week NYC and in the critical weeks leading up to COP21. Follow us on Twitter at @ClimateGroup for regular live Q&As, facts, news and graphics about the low carbon economy. 


 

#CWNYC 2015

Climate Week NYC is a key event in the international calendar that brings together leading governments, investors, businesses, innovators and opinion formers. The Climate Group launched Climate Week NYC in 2009, and has acted as the secretariat since its inception.

Host to more than 100 affiliate events from September 21-28, Climate Week NYC 2015 is the collaborative space for climate events in support of the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Climate Week NYC 2015 is supported by BT Group, Siemens, Procter & Gamble, Nike, SkyPower, SolarCity, CBRE Group, and Bank of the West - BNP Paribas; and the We Mean Business coalition members: BSR, The B Team, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and WBCSD.

ClimateWeekNYC.org | @ClimateWeekNYC | #CWNYC

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