Industry leaders declare 'net positive’ the new way of doing business, at London summit

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29 May 2013

LONDON: Hundreds of high-level decision makers from business, government, academia and civil societies set out to reframe the sustainability debate and push instead for new ‘Net Zero, Climate Positive’ business models, at a global summit held in London.

B4E Climate Summit 2013 was hosted in partnership with The Climate Group, Carbon Disclosure Project, Imperial College, CNN International, Global Initiatives and WWF, and sponsored by Hitachi, HP and Renault Nissan.

New words, new action

Opening the day’s events, Will Day, Sustainability Advisor, Fellow of PwC and University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership began by defining the Summit focus terms ‘net zero, climate positive’ as "words which confuse some people, but excite others", and urged the audience to cut through the 'tangle of jargon’ to collectively act on climate change.

Focusing on this need for urgent action, Jim Leape, Director-General, WWF International, said: "The UK has been a leader legislatively; 2013 can be and needs to be a turning point.” He added: “Pledges need to be translated to action”, and suggested that “governments get serious about pathways to clean energy”.

Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group also honed in on utilizing ‘net good’ strategy to ensure companies’ survival. He warned: “In 2013 the game has changed, corporates are now aiming for net positivity. But this is not social responsibility 2.0. It is not a new way of doing CSR, it is a new way of doing business. You need to be ‘good’, not ‘less bad’.” He suggested that while exemplary companies like IKEA and BT are leading the way, this transformation would not happen ‘overnight’ for many businesses, and advised high-level ambition, measurable targets, transparent reporting and continuous engagement of customers to progress.

Sally Uren, Deputy Chief Executive, Forum for the Future declared frankly: “If nature was a bank, she would have been bailed out years ago.” She said there is no ‘silver bullet’ to businesses becoming the ‘system innovators’ that are so needed. She suggested that the focus be on collaboration, citing the Consumer Goods Forum as a prime example.

Solutions to challenges

During the next panel, ‘Accelerating new zero business solutions’, Ralph Thurm, Founder & Managing Director, A|HEAD|ahead, admitted, “on the journey to net zero, we have no clue what is good enough.” Interestingly, he suggested coining another term ‘thrivability’, rather than ‘sustainability’.

But Tom Burke, Environmental Policy Advisor, Rio Tinto, cut to the heart of the matter with: “In a 4 degree world, you don't have business. We need a carbon neutral energy system by mid-century.” He said that the challenge for business today is to go beyond responsibility towards risk, developing a corporate culture that accounts for its own behaviour as well as external risk. Tom added boldly: “We know what we need to do, and we have the tech and policy to get there. But government is not the issue. Politics is. […] Our scarcest resource is time.”

Digging deeper into examples of low carbon success stories, Bruno Zago, Environmental Strategy Presentation, HP, talked about 'Project Moonshot', a new set of servers HP has installed that are 80% more efficient, 70% cheaper and use 80% less space. He concluded by stating: “Europe is ahead of the game, US and Asia have a lot of catching up to do.”

Continuing the discussion on innovating more efficient products as part of the low carbon transition, during an interim speech, Jerry Hardcastle, Global Chief Marketability Engineer and Technical Director Global Motorsport, Nissan, shared a video of the new Forumla E motorcar, declaring: “Electric cars are the future and the future is fun to drive.”

Business impacts

In the second panel on ‘Climate Positivity’, Ian Cheshire, CEO, Kingfisher, said companies must pick the most relevant areas and importantly, help colleagues understand the net good business case. Returning to the key summit theme of collaboration, he said: “It’s about putting together effective coalitions for pragmatic progress.” Peter White, Procter & Gamble, agreed with Ian’s call for cooperation with competitors, and shared the company’s commitment to cleaning up the supply chain as well as consumer products.

Paul Crewe, Head of Sustainability, Energy & Engineering, Sainsbury's Stores, highlighted the need for “a living plan which is supported at every level of your business”, especially from the company CFO. He said frankly: "Sustainable success must make commercial sense."

Magnus Rosen, Portfolio Manager, SKF BeyondZero Portfolio, reiterated suggested action to “strive for incorporating sustainability at everything we do” and touched on the earlier definitions topic, saying: “We are in need of more uniform ways to define what is climate positive”.

Ian Cheshire ended by stressing that business must “step outside existing paradigms" and have a 10 to 20 year plan or risk getting caught out and missing opportunities. He conlcuded: “The biggest impact we can have is helping our millions of consumers to live differently."

Smarter ICT 

In the afternoon, attendees split into four separate working groups to identify policy changes and commit to collective action within sectors needed to achieve ‘net zero’ opportunities. The Climate Grioup's Head of Smart Technologies, Molly Webb moderated the ICT Working Group.

Speaking first, Dexter Galvin, Head of Supply Chain, CDP spotlighted Dell as a business successfully mandating for its suppliers to disclose scope 1 and 2 emissions, among the many top IT companies CDP works with on corporate supply chain emissions reporting. 

One of the IT sector panel delegates, Mary-Anne King, Head of Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft UK, highlighted Microsoft’s 2012 carbon neutrality pledge, which will be achieved through more efficient data centers, renewable energy, flexible working and improved accountability. She said: “Climate and green comes on and off agenda, but one thing that never comes off the agenda is cost savings.”

Philippe Tuzzolino, Environment Director, France Telecom-Orange Group, spoke of his company's commitment to reducing its 2006 carbon emissions level by 20% by 2020, and called for governments to “set incentives for industry and challenge industry to invest in these new solutions”. Dominique Roche, Head of Sustainability Standardisation & Operators, Counsellor & Co-chairman, WG Data Centre & Sustainability, France Telecom-Orange Group and CTO Alliance/CRIP, was similarly decisive around the need for global indicators to benchmark ICT areas and define energy management.

Neil Harris, Head of Sustainability EMEA, Cisco, referred to our SMART2020 report as having accelerated green ICT progress, but beyond 2013 warned that we face 'new challenges', including the economy. He spoke of how “organizational benefits of sustainability make us more competitive” and that we must “dangle the dollar in front of business to get them to create greener and leaner systems”, and attract private capital.

Suresh Babu Sugumaran, Head of Eco Sustainability Services, Europe, Tata Consulting Services, echoed a message that had been shared by many of the speakers and audience members at B4E when he exclaimed: “What does not get measured well, does not get managed well.” Demonstrating one such bold measurement practice, Gabrielle Giner, Environmental Sustainability, BT, explained BT’s new Net Good methodology, vision and goal: to help customers reduce their carbon emissions by at least three times the end-to-end carbon impact of BT’s business by 2020. The program is one of three key parts of BT’s Better Future program, the 2013 report of which was released last week.

B4E Summit continues today, where we will be launching our exciting new crowd-sourcing contest, The EarthHack, in partnership with Marblar, IKEA and Philips. The contest asks entries to combine, repurpose or modify existing technologies and products to create tomorrow’s practical and scalable low carbon solutions for the home. 

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