At the recent GreenBIz Forum 2013 in New York, there was an informative and energetic panel discussion, “The Power of Wall Street in Promoting Sustainability,” with Erika Karp, head of UBS Global Research and Matt Arnold, head of environmental affairs at JP Morgan Chase.
He gave the example of Novelis, which is looking for ways to make aluminium cans without mining bauxite. CEO Phil Martens has pledged that by 2020 the cans Novelis sells will be manufactured with 80 percent of the aluminium coming from recycled cans. They call it the EverCan. “[T]hey are disrupting not just their company, but their entire industry,” Arnold said. “And their sustainability strategy … is their business strategy.”
The new mantra of sustainability is becoming “disrupt or be disrupted,” and there are many examples of disruptive sustainability emerging in today’s economy.
When a house can be heated and cooled to the same level of comfort using only 5 percent of the energy of a conventional home of comparable size — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When the relationship between a utility and its customers is fundamentally redefined by changing roles — customer as generator and seller of clean energy and utility as buyer and distributor — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When a company that uses garbage as the source for making 300 million pounds a year of high-grade plastics that satisfy the most exacting customer requirements — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When a small home-cleaning supplies start-up can capture ever-growing market share from industry giants because its products don’t leave a thin film of toxins on kitchen and bathroom surfaces and actually clean them better — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When new financing models take the capital and operating expenses out of the cost of clean energy and provide electricity at competitive rates that are fixed for 10 years — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When a 100 percent recyclable industrial carpet, designed using a rainforest floor as inspiration, becomes the best-selling product in the company’s history and redefines an industry — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When a major real estate developer announces the construction of the largest net-zero-energy commercial building in the United States, and finds it fully leased two years before it even opens — that’s disruptive sustainability.
When a five-year-old hospitality company helps property owners increase their asset utilization through sharing and renting among peers, and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues without building, owning, leasing or managing a single property — that’s disruptive sustainability.
“My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.” – Obama at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 6, 2012.
“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change. … But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.” – Obama in his State of the Union speech, Feb. 12, 2013.
While the USA may not want to sign the Kyoto Protocol, it was always understood that the Country would move towards sustainable practice at its own pace. Although the reason of it is complex; some of the reasons are not that difficult to discern.
For one, it needed its corporates to adjust to the new reality and find it profitable to do so. The GreenBiz Forum talk of “Disruptive Sustainability”is just the beginning of the hype which will increase day by day until, the rest of the World especially the least developed and underdeveloped Nations are shamed for not following the American example of saving the planet from Climate change.
So what if they call sustainability – disruptive!
And the proof of it follows the Obama’s State of the Union speech, with the report below –
General Motors called on Barack Obama and Congress to work together on climate change on Wednesday, saying the effort would be good for business. GM, which makes the plug-in Chevy Volt, was the first of the big three car makers to sign on to a new push from the business world for greater action on global warming from Washington, the Climate Declaration.
“We want to be a change agent in the auto industry,” Mike Robinson, GM vice-president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, said in a statement.
The declaration, now endorsed by 40 companies, was launched in Washington last month with the aim of capitalising on public concern about climate change after Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s re-election in the hope of pushing a climate law through Congress. More than half of Americans now blame climate change for the extreme weather of recent years, according to a study released on Wednesday by the Yale Project on Climate Change.
The short statement, endorsed by GM, leads off: “Tacking climate change is America’s greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century (and it’s simply the right thing to do).”
In the above short statement lies the opportunity and danger for the USA and the World !
Let’s not forget the story of The Three Little Pigs – a wolf in sheep’s clothing must be dealt with care.
The classic example is of General motors. A company which is the past has overtly or covertly killed many a invention towards sustainable transport –
The General Motors streetcar conspiracy (also known as the Great American streetcar scandal) refers to allegations and convictions in relation to a program by General Motors (GM) and other companies who purchased and then dismantled streetcar and electric train systems in many American cities.
While it may be argued that times have changed, and the management ( made of humans – who have the right to err ! ) of today is more informed and wants to undo the wrongs of its predecessors.
But when one reads through the news article further, utopia evaporates !
…It does not prescribe specific solutions beyond a “coordinated effort”, but said that promoting clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help America remain a superpower.
…The effort was guided by Ceres, the sustainable business network, which argued that declarations of support from the business world could give members of Congress the cover they needed to engage on a topic widely seen as a third rail in politics. Obama began his second term pledging action on climate change. But Congress was unmoved by his appeal in his state of the union address to work on a law that would cut the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
A majority of Republicans oppose action on climate change, or discount the science behind climate change.
Aside from GM, the effort was endorsed by household names such as Starbucks, Intel, and eBay, as well as a number of outdoor clothing manufacturers.
…Before signing on to the Climate Declaration, GM had been pressing the Obama administration to adopt a national energy policy, promoting natural gas and renewable.
…The announcement caps a steady transformation of GM’s market strategy.
A company which once produced gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs and fought higher fuel economy standards was now identifying with the green technology behind a car like the Volt.
One must remember that the Corporate giants have the most short-sighted vision in the world, next only to the Political giants. And as all know, giants are by default carnivores and man-eaters.
The earth trembles with every step they take, uprooting trees and trampling the flora and fauna as they chase the human they want for dinner ! Just read your child’s bed-time story. It just proves that our ancestors knew what giants do. The modern word for giants is Conglomerate ! Some of them are as hostile as the giants in our children story books. Trampling the Earth and gobbling up resources.
Sustainability for the Corporates, World-wide is nothing more than another business opportunity, which they were unwilling to look at till there was enough traction to make it worth their while. Now, that it is proving to be profitable they will plunge into it wholeheartedly. But for all the wrong reasons, I’ve pointed out in amber in the paragraphs above.
Sustainability would be the worst causality if we look at it as another tool for Political up-man-ship or hegemony. It is important that the mindset of those who are powerful become humble. For without humility, the same standards of capitalist market laws would be applied to make the World “greener & safer”. And that would be a disaster.
Why does the USA need to be a super-power or its politicians need sustainable practice as a weapon. Why can’t it be made as a way of life and projected so? Why could GM not say – “Tacking climate change is America’s greatest RESPONSIBILITY of the 21st century (and it’s simply the right thing to do).” What USA does the World fortunately or unfortunately does follow. To be a leader one must think as well as act as one.
If we continue using the old yard-stick to measure the new, we will come up short.
And we don’t have the luxury of time to know that we were wrong.
- Panel of sustainability leaders touts shifts in practices (onlineathens.com)
- China leads in climate change’s ‘critical decade’ (newscientist.com)
- How to Reduce Carbon Emissions: Listen to Business (washingtonmonthly.com)
- C40 Initiative: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall, Which Is the Greenest City of All? (jbsnews.com)
- Is sustainable business still possible? (guardian.co.uk)
- General Motors urges Obama and Congress to unite on climate change (guardian.co.uk)