Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore sparked a global conversation about climate change in 2006 with the groundbreaking film “An Inconvenient Truth,” a call to action about the human impact on the environment through CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
Gitte Schjøtz, president of UL’s Software division, recently had the opportunity to speak at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in Seattle, Washington alongside Gore and a broad range of leaders driving sustainability efforts, including REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, and Microsoft President Brad Smith.
Here are Schjøtz’s top five takeaways from the Bloomberg summit as told to Inside UL:
The conversations throughout the day were informative and insightful and reiterated my belief that the notion of big “C” Compliance, companies aspiring to achieve sustainability goals beyond the base level requirements set by local regulation, is becoming the new norm. Gore summarized this perfectly: “The world is in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that has the magnitude and scale of the industrial revolution but at the speed of the digital revolution.”
Sustainability is increasingly a core component of corporations’ business strategy.
Most successful businesses are those that integrate sustainability considerations throughout the development of their business, new services, value chains and products. They integrate sustainability analysis from the beginning – not as an afterthought or an overlay.
UL, for example, supports companies including Philips, Nestle, and McDonald's in the collection and analysis of sustainability data. This enables them to keep track of their progress in multiple aspects of their sustainability strategy, from energy transition to the improvement in recycling rates, from the carbon intensity of the generation assets, to the adoption of energy-efficiency measures within households.
Short-termism and sustainability don’t mix.
During his remarks, Gore reiterated the challenges of concentrating on short-term objectives for immediate profit at the expense of long-term sustainability. 80 percent of CEOs said they would not invest in sustainable business practices if doing so would negatively affect quarterly earnings, he noted.
So how do we make it easier for companies to invest in green initiatives?
One way is to reduce the resources required for environmental, social and governance reporting (ESG). During a recent meeting with industry, I learned that in some cases, up to 70 percent of a sustainability manager’s time was spent reporting to a variety of ESG schemes. The number of reporting schemes continues to grow. In 2013 there were 180 ESG-related reporting instruments in 44 countries. As of 2016, there were over 400 in 64 countries.
Standards are at the base of many of these initiatives as they enable companies to measure, report and improve. UL looks for opportunities to harmonize standards and leverages a variety of digital solutions to streamline and reduce the time customers spend on reporting.
Public-private partnerships are an effective tool in driving solutions for the public good.
Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy highlighted the value of public-private partnerships. As president and CEO of the world’s largest conservation organization, he promotes the idea of “natural capital” — valuing nature for its own sake as well as for the services it provides for people, such as clean air and water, productive soils and a stable climate.
But how do we leverage public-private partnerships to drive sustainable investment?
There was agreement that opportunities should be assessed based on revenue and environmental impact, shifting from siloed initiatives to comprehensive programs that track multiple aspects of environmentalism, social impacts and circularity across the entire supply chain.
UL has been working closely with universities to develop the UL Reach-Across tool that enables companies to assess the impact of chemicals without the use of animals while partnering with governments to help them understand the science behind this technology to drive the alternatives to animal testing approach.
Autonomous driving offers opportunities to reduce environmental footprints.
Self-driving cars that communicate with each other and monitor their surroundings could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent, according to research from the Department of Energy. More proof that the future impact of this technology will depend on the policy choices we make today.
But as more companies rely on digital technologies and data to solve sustainability challenges, they are confronted with new risks and challenges around security and privacy. We’ve seen for more than a decade, for example, how cybersecurity challenges have slowed the adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) devices including smart meters and smart grids – which hold great promise for dramatically cutting energy consumption and better incorporation of renewables.
To fully benefit from such technologies, we must leverage industry-driven standards that account for the fast-paced advancement in technology while helping to address security and sustainability concerns.
Zero waste is a big gain.
I heard about several impressive zero waste initiatives that are working to reuse and/or divert material from landfills to minimize carbon emissions. In 2015, the Seattle Mariners recycled or composted 87 percent of all waste generated at Safeco Field. Nearly everything used at the ballpark is recyclable or compostable including food service items (plates, knives, forks, cups, straws, bottles, etc.). It was no surprise then to learn that compost and recycling bins have replaced garbage cans on concourses there.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing UL’s public safety mission, has facilitated the development of UL ECVP 2799, a Standard to help industry measure, report and improve on zero waste efforts. Case in point: DuPont Building Innovations slashed its annual amount of waste sent to landfills from 81 million pounds to zero in three years. Further, we have launched UL software solutions to manage and reduce waste overhaul.
Data is critical to the evolution of sustainability. There are billions of data points that will help to inform decisions and strategy as it relates to both leveraging and addressing ESG gaps in our businesses. However, to fully leverage these data points, we must be able to process and analyze these vast amounts of data.
During my summit conversation with sustainability leaders from PIMCO and Novo Nordisk, I learned how data allows PIMCO to incorporate ESG considerations into its investment considerations and how it enables Novo Nordisk’s successful, responsible sourcing program. Data is a critical part of the science UL uses to help companies adapt their supply chains, production processes and components used. Effective use of the data at fingertips is the key to reducing our footprint by adapting product design, production and operations throughout the supply chain.
What was once “an inconvenient truth,” is now mission critical for businesses looking to build a resilient and successful future.