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Why Businesses Should Be Advocates for Climate Action

Photos: Courtesy of Eliana Marzullo

Hank Cauley

Senior Vice President, The Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, Conservation International

News headlines remind us daily about environmental challenges threatening life as we know it. From severe weather to wildfires to rising seas, the future of our planet often seems bleak.

It’s easy to see business as the problem, but I am convinced that business needs nature and that we have only scratched the surface of possibilities for mobilizing the power of the private sector to help protect the environment while providing the food, water, energy and employment needs of our rapidly growing world. 

Yes, we need to increase investments in innovative new businesses that are better for the environment and embed the value of nature into their design. But the immediate and massive opportunity to make significant change is by environmental organizations working together with companies to transform all sizes of business to balance production, profits and environmental protection.

Take agriculture as an example. Growing the food we eat accounts for 80 percent of forest loss each year – forests we need to absorb and store climate-warming carbon and that provide critical habitat for threatened species. To put an end to this, companies need to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, but they can’t do it alone.

As my organization’s CEO, Dr. M. Sanjayan recently put it, “No corporate effort can take the place of government action, policy enforcement, civil society engagement, and science working in concert to create sustainable livelihoods, increase productivity in already cleared lands.”

This work will have the most profound impact on slowing climate change, but it will require the right incentives – both sticks and carrots – to help companies move away from business as usual. 

Business needs nature

Business cannot success long-term in a failing environment or with an eroding supply base. Our forests, oceans and freshwater habitats supply the natural resources needed to sustain business, create resilient communities and drive global economic growth. Sustainability is smart business.

For example, water is essential for a number of industries, from agriculture to energy, to produce the products consumers need and want. Businesses that understand their water use can minimize waste in their supply chains. This is smart business.

Similarly, the private sector has a growing role in reducing carbon emissions globally. Companies that understand their carbon footprint – the total amount of greenhouse gases their operations emit – and work to reduce it, can minimize their exposure to new government regulations. This is smart business.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the social media that drives today’s “cancel culture.” Consumers and employees are watching and expecting more from our companies. Social media is helping shine a powerful lens on corporate behavior.

Earlier this year more than 4,500 Amazon employees publicly pushed the company to take aggressive action on climate change and reduce its carbon footprint. Amazon has since committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. The Company’s commitments include financial support for conserving and restoring critical carbon sinks like forests, mangroves and peatlands. It is worth pointing out that these important ecosystems also provide people with sustainable livelihoods, access to resources such as fresh water and medicine, and offer protection from climate change impacts, including rising seas and storm surges.

Businesses need nature, so protecting nature is nothing but smart business.

Scale for good

Ultimately, I believe that the key to the challenges we face lies in partnership – communities, governments, scientists, environmental organizations, consumers and businesses. Together we have created the strains on our planet’s ecosystems, and only together can we confront the impacts of these changes and harness the innovation, energy, investment and commitment needed to turn the tide and safeguard nature’s essential services for the long-term benefit of all people.

I am encouraged that some companies are increasingly awakening to their dependency on nature, but we need to do more. Companies not yet engaged must get off the sidelines. They must go beyond their operations and supply chains, work across their industries, and also align their lobbying efforts to support climate action and sustainable development policies.

The science tells us that there is little more than a decade left to stop accelerating temperature increase and limit the worst effects of climate change. Now more than ever, businesses must raise the bar and make protecting nature mainstream. Only together can we solve the climate crisis and create a healthy planet that supports us all.

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