Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States, sounded the alarm bells at the World Economic Forum this year, proclaiming a “true, full-blown global emergency” for the planet’s oceans. Image source: Robert Scoble/Flickr
Companies committed to tackle climate change are addressing their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) via science-based targets. These voluntary goals are compatible with the global push towards a low-carbon economy that aims to keep the global temperature increase to less than 2℃.
IKEA, Unilever, Tesco, General Mills, L’Oreal, Walmart and McDonald’s are among the large multinational corporations that have signed on to the SBTi.
IKEA Group, for example, has committed to an 80% reduction in GHG emissions in stores and other operations and a 50% reduction in emissions from travel and customer deliveries by 2030, compared to 2016 levels. It will also cut emissions in its value chain by at least 15%, resulting in a 70% reduction in the climate footprint of an average IKEA product.
Large companies can make change within their own operations and along the supply chain. McDonald’s plans to reduce its emissions intensity across its supply chain by 31% by 2030 (baseline 2015) by targeting energy use and packaging waste in restaurants, and streamlining its beef production, which make up more 60% of emissions.
While participation in the SBTi is voluntary, the results are reported publicly. Even though there are few tangible sanctions for non-performance, the absence of achievement or reporting can harm a company’s reputation.
In Canada, only nine companies have joined the SBTi, and all but one remain at the commitment-setting stage. Canadian National Railway has promised to reduce its emissions intensity by 29% by 2030, based on a 2015 baseline.
There are several reasons for the low participation in SBTi among Canadian companies. The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada argues that more than 99% of businesses in Canada are small businesses, with fewer resources, employees and pressures.
SBTi and the participating companies, however, see a number of benefits from setting targets. They also provide companies with long-term goals that will be resistant to changes in management and shifts in business priorities.
A major European electric company, EDP, found strategic benefits in laying plans to decarbonise — it builds reputation, improves visibility and helps it benefit from innovation, and had a favourable response from investors, employees and customers.
Walmart says it is part of their sustainability journey to encourage others to look at emissions as a form of waste with financial value or inefficiency in the value chain. In 2017, it launched Project Gigaton to encourage suppliers to eliminate one billion tonnes of GHG emissions from their operations and supply chains by 2030 by targeting one of six pillars: energy, waste, packaging, agriculture, forests or product use. Suppliers achieving goals and communicating performance publicly are recognised as “Giga-Gurus.”
Unilever looks at science-based targets to boost its competitive advantage in the shift towards a low-carbon economy and to hedge against regulator pressures and the costs related to carbon pricing. In 2017, Unilever reduced energy-related emissions by 47% per tonne of production from 2008 levels, and shifted towards renewable energy in manufacturing. The company also identified a nine per cent increase in GHG emissions from its consumer products since 2010, largely due to the consumers’ hot showers when using their products.
Other global initiatives to encourage businesses to develop responsible practices and meet climate goals are also on the rise. For example, Principles for Responsible Investment has attracted 2,232 investors who believe in an “economically efficient, sustainable global financial system” and who agree to incorporate environmental, sustainability and governance issues into their investment practice.
The Conversation Africa The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. Its aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues, and allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation. Go to: https://theconversation.com/africa
About the author
Rumina Dhalla, associate professor, organisational studies and sustainable commerce; CSR/sustainability coordinator and MBA graduate coordinator, University of Guelph
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