"The business case is proven": Niall Dunne on leveraging brands to drive bottom-up climate action

Author:
Ilario D'Amato
13 October 2015

Niall Dunne, Chief Sustainability Officer of BT Group

LONDON: Clean energy initiatives are taking root in businesses through wider recognition of the smart long-term financial investment they present. BT, which uses 1% of the UK’s electricity to power its communications network, expects its energy bill to almost treble over the medium term. To mitigate rising costs and climate risks, the company is investing in renewable energy and is a founding member of the RE100 initiative to amplify the business case for a low carbon transition.

“By joining RE100 we are adding our voice to the many other business voices who are saying, the science is clear, the business case is proven. And by demonstrating that commitment, we have signed up to RE100,” says Niall DunneChief Sustainability Officer at BT, in an exclusive video interview for The Climate Group's digital channel Climate TV

At Climate Week NYC, The Climate Group’s RE100 initiative saw Fortune 500 companies join the movement in pledging to use 100% renewable energy to meet electricity needs. Goldman Sachs, Nike and Procter & Gamblewere among those voicing the opinion that powering companies with renewable energy is a smart economic bet.

“RE100 is one of the simplest things businesses and organizations can do to really demonstrate their commitment to the climate agenda,” Niall Dunne noted. “Particularly in proving moving to 100% renewable is a better way to mitigate the risks around your business.”

In a new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the case for widespread adoption of renewable energies grows stronger. The report assessed capital expenditures, interest rates and operating costs and asserts that it makes more economic sense to derive electricity from solar or wind power than from fossil fuels in terms of cost comparison. Solar and wind, the most commonly used renewable technologies, have reduced costs for businesses this year, while gas and coal generation costs have risen; a divergence expected to only increase.

While the current trajectory of investment and development of renewable energy looks positive within the business sector, consumer action on climate change is another avenue with promise of economic and environmental return.

100% SPORT

Also during Climate Week NYC, BT launched 100% Sport, a global campaign to inspire sports fans around the world to act on reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy. Along with Niall Dunne, Sir Ben Ainslie, Olympic and America's Cup champion, introduced the campaign at the Social Good Summit on September 27 - and the appetite for sports fans to engage in climate change proved unanimous. It is their “own power” that Niall Dunne believes holds the potential to galvanize wide scale climate action.

Then on October 20, BT hosted sport industry experts from around the world to discuss engaging people around sustainable living. A poll taken during the session showed 55% of the guests and online audience agree fans and team mates were the 'most likely' to influence others to take positive action for the environment.  “With 600 million people following the Liverpool football club, what if 10% of them switched to a renewable energy provider? The power of these fans and the numbers can be truly transformational”, observed Niall Dunne.

BRAND LEADERSHIP 

“When looking at overall impact of our carbon emissions, the customer element is many times the size of our own operations, so that’s a big impact. And it is where the biggest opportunity is,” says Niall Dunne.

In recognizing the priorities of a growing consumer group concerned with tackling climate change, there is a strong imperative now for businesses to meet consumer demand for their own gains. And the potential for companies to engage the consumer in tackling climate change is equally substantial.

Our brands are capable of creating that bottom-up pressure if we take our egos off of the table,” Dunne says.

“If you look at 1.8 billion millennials on the planet, they are all very purposeful, values led, they feel very disconnected from the political system, they buy into brands but they will really challenge their integrity if they don’t think they are standing up to their claims - and they are very capable consumer activists, particularly in the online space.”

As the consumer market becomes growingly concerned with addressing this issue, climate-conscious companies can serve as catalysts driving bottom-up pressure to act on climate.

With international climate negotiations in Paris this December expected to produce an ambitious global climate agreement, this pressure is key, says Niall Dunne.

“What a CEO sees is the customers of the future ultimately voting with their feet and saying, ’if your brand is not dealing with the climate agenda, not only are we not going to buy from you, we are not going to work for you’.”

“Any CEO out there [...] you should be joining Collectively.org, particularly if you agree to take your ego off the table and help mobilize young people.”

Text by Andrew Pickens, video by Ilario D'Amato

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