What Next After COP26? Be the Ball.

December 2, 2021

Before, during, and after COP26, I could not stop thinking about the final scene in the movie Caddyshack. In the film, young Danny Noonan vies to win a golf match to fund his college tuition. His winning putt teeters on the edge of the 18th hole when suddenly the golf course explodes. Bedlam ensues, with people running in all directions. But caddy manager Lou Loomis keeps a steady eye on the ball. As the tremors build, the ball wiggles and drops into the hole. Victory! 

COP26 had a similar dynamic. Climate chaos drove unprecedented calls for action by young people and communities harmed by climate change. The private sector showed up in force with pledges to decarbonize. I tried to keep my eye on the ball. Would there be enough pressure to force the world’s governments to “ratchet up” their commitments to prevent catastrophic climate change? 

In Glasgow, sadly, life did not imitate art.  

Governments did make new commitments, including pledges to cut methane emissions and end deforestation, but the net result will not be enough to limit climate change to the needed goal of 1.5 degrees. And questions remain about governments’ ability to deliver on the commitments they made.  

Why this failure of political will in the face of unprecedented global pressure? 

Call it the “plus one” problem. The strength of a government’s commitment in international negotiations depends on its ability to enact policies back home to cut emissions, most importantly to switch to non-fossil energy. As any politico will remind you, enacting policy in a democracy requires 50 percent of the votes in the legislature “plus one”—even more when a supermajority is required, as in the United States Senate.  

According to the International Energy Agency, all but two of the G20 countries responsible for 80 percent of global emissions rely on coal, oil, and natural gas for over 70 percent of their energy (France has nuclear power and Brazil has bioenergy). Switching to non-fossil energy at the scale required will hurt states and provinces that produce the coal, oil, and gas, at least in the near term. The legislators who represent those jurisdictions will be skeptical at best.  

In the United States, the Biden administration and Democratic leaders in Congress are trying to pass legislation to implement the U.S. pledge to cut emissions 50 percent by 2030. Using budget legislation, they need only 51 votes in the Senate, which they can reach with only Democrats. The “plus one” is West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who rejected the administration’s preferred approach, a clean energy standard for electric utilities. Why? Mining, oil, and gas made up 17 percent of West Virginia’s economic output in 2019—a major source of jobs, livelihoods, and funding for schools, hospitals, roads, police, and other services for Senator Manchin’s constituents. West Virginia is not alone. One in five U.S. states depend on mining, oil, and gas for 5 percent or more of their economic output, some as much as 20-30 percent, based on data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

At COP26, in the most consequential mulligan of all time, governments agreed to revisit their commitments a year from now at COP27. With the political situation in G20 capitals dominated by the ongoing pandemic and its economic impact, deeper pledges are unlikely, especially from China, India, Indonesia, Australia, Russia, and South Africa who with the U.S. are the world’s leading coal producers. 

I do not elaborate this point to excuse inaction. I have dedicated my 30-year professional career to climate action, and I am as angry as anyone that we have allowed climate change to become the deadly threat that we predicted it would be decades ago. But I think any progress going forward demands brutal honesty, and the truth is that the move away from fossil fuels will not be immediate. Political reality, as much as technical and economic feasibility, means that the global energy transition will take decades. Yet science tells us we must act urgently in this decade to cut emissions at least 50 percent to avoid catastrophe. 

What do we do now? I see four immediate priorities: 

First, the private sector must implement its decarbonization commitments, even where policy signals are not sufficient. While voluntary action is not enough to solve the problem, it is an immediate source of incentives for emissions reductions throughout the global economy. The growing demand from investors and financial regulators for climate action and disclosure may become the most consequential driver of emissions reductions in the near term. The good thing is that many companies see the Race to Zero as a business opportunity. 

Second, companies and governments need to collaborate on carbon removal. The global economy is unlikely to decarbonize fast enough to meet the 1.5-degree target. Carbon must be removed from the atmosphere. Natural climate solutions such as regenerative agriculture and habitat restoration are available immediately at scale and provide economic benefits to local communities while they sequester carbon. Human engineered technologies for carbon capture, utilization, and storage will be needed to decarbonize the fossil energy production that we cannot eliminate.  

Third, companies and governments need to invest in resilience with the same urgency as decarbonization. Climate advocates once considered adaptation a distraction from mitigation. We no longer have that luxury. Communities are suffering climate-induced floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves, and pandemics today, and it only gets worse from here. Infrastructure and public services need new thinking and investment for climate resilience. This cannot come at the expense of decarbonization, as more emissions today means more expensive adaptation in the future.  

Fourth, companies need to help build political constituencies to deliver the “plus one” votes for climate policy, especially in districts that produce fossil energy and agriculture, which tend to view climate action as a threat to their livelihoods. Investments in clean energy, carbon capture, natural climate solutions, resilience, and new employment for energy workers can address these concerns by showing that climate action delivers economic benefits. 

COP26 did not put us on track to a safe climate. But the forces it unleashed among young activists demanding a better future, communities facing climate chaos, and business leaders banking on the transition are unstoppable. Which reminds me of another scene from Caddyshack. Danny asks the club’s top player for tips, and Ty Webb replies, “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. All you have to do is get in touch with it…and be the ball.”   

It is time for all of us to be the ball. 

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Download PDF version HERE.

Decarbonizing Value Chains Requires the Next Tier of Sustainability Leaders 

October 20, 2021

Private sector decarbonization commitments are more vital than ever to meet the challenge of climate change. Only days remain until the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow where governments are expected to “ratchet up” their commitments under the Paris Agreement to avoid catastrophic climate change.   

At this writing, the U.S. Congress has not enacted legislation to back the Biden Administration’s pledge to halve emissions by 2030. China has not accelerated its prior commitment to peak emissions by 2030 and has ordered increased coal production to meet energy shortfalls. Leadership from these two global powers is essential to the summit’s success.

Meanwhile, September’s “Climate Week” in New York City saw the number of businesses and local governments pledging net-zero emissions double.  According to a UN-backed report, 1,500 companies with combined revenues over $11.4 trillion and emissions exceeding that of the European Union are now committed to net zero.   

With leadership from national governments uncertain, business can drive the transformation needed in industry and land use to decarbonize economies and adapt to climate change.  In the process, business can help mobilize broad-based public support for governments to act more decisively.   

The greatest challenge for companies to deliver their net-zero commitments lies in Scope 3, the emissions of their suppliers and customers. Often the majority of a company’s total greenhouse gas footprint, these sources are beyond a company’s direct control. Persuading consumers and other companies in a value chain to cut emissions requires a carefully targeted combination of voluntary incentives and public policies. The right tools and approaches vary by industry and geography.

WEC is committed to helping companies implement net-zero commitments across their value chains. With Trane Technologies, Chemours, and Toyota we have launched a series of Executive Roundtables on Decarbonizing Value Chains focused on the built environment, transportation, agriculture & land use, and industry & energy production. In these 2-day roundtables, senior executives and technical experts learn from one another about innovative solutions they can deploy in their business today and strategic challenges that demand collective action into the future.

Efforts by WEC member companies and others to decarbonize value chains place new demands on suppliers and customers that don’t have a history of engagement on sustainability. The challenge is magnified by simultaneous scrutiny from investors concerned with environment, social, and governance (ESG) performance and rising customer demands for sustainable supply chains more generally.

WEC has launched our Next Tier Membership program to support companies that are new to managing sustainability in their business. Next Tier members will benefit from specialized webinars and roundtables that deal with the basics of building a sustainability management system. They will have access to the WECosystem, our new digital platform, so that they can meet and learn from WEC’s global members. The WECosystem includes a geo-located directory of WEC members, a digital toolbox of sustainability resources, and a forum for queries and discussion of challenging topics. Next Tier Members will also be eligible for 1-1 mentorships to learn from more experienced WEC members in a structured, 9-month program that we will organize and support.

WEC will do all we can to help our member companies and other businesses drive decarbonization in their value chains. We hope that you will join our Executive Roundtables on Decarbonizing Value Chains and that you will encourage key suppliers and customers to become Next Tier Members of WEC. The more engagement we have from our members, the bigger the impact we can have in driving the transformation to a net-zero economy.

We don’t have any time to lose.   

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Download PDF version HERE.

Pictured: Mark Erickson photographed by Glenn Prickett

Nature is Calling – The Business Case for Resilience

August 9, 2021

In late July, as wildfires and drought raged across the western United States, I paid a visit to my family’s farm in western Minnesota. The land has been in our family for 150 years – ever since my great-grandparents emigrated from Norway in the late 1800s and settled on a tall grass prairie that decades earlier had been taken from the indigenous Dakota people.

As we neared the farm, smoke from wildfires in the northern boundary waters formed a milky haze on the horizon. “Welcome to Boss Ridge Farm,” said Mark Erickson, who farms our land and neighboring properties. “Boss” refers to Bos taurus, the beef cattle that he raises, and “ridge” to the Continental Divide that drains one side of our land to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico and the other to the Red River and Hudson’s Bay.

Mark is a pioneer in regenerative agriculture. With holistic management, he is restoring the native grasslands and healthy soils that my family and our neighbors unwittingly degraded over a century of conventional farming. In Mark’s words, he aims to “create balance between the way God created it and what man needs to live well.”

In a summer of climate catastrophes, Mark’s philosophy is an inspiration. In the past few months, floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and other natural disasters have devastated communities around the world. The haze we experienced in Minnesota was a small example. These are no longer aberrations. Today’s extreme weather events will be the new normal in years to come. As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and global temperatures rise, extreme weather events will be more frequent and destructive. Unfortunately, it only gets worse from here.

What does this mean for business? Decarbonization—as vital and challenging as it is—is not enough. Companies must prepare to do business in a radically different physical climate. Supply chains will face new vulnerabilities. Physical assets will be at risk from floods and fires. In many places, employees may be physically unable to work due to extreme heat. These business threats will also create opportunities for innovative companies to help their customers adapt to physical climate risks and make their businesses, properties, and communities more resilient.

This is where Mark Erickson’s example is so inspiring. Regenerative agriculture is drawing attention in business circles because it removes carbon from the atmosphere. But the business case for Mark is resilience. Healthy soil drains better, so he can graze prairie potholes that used to flood. It holds moisture, so his pasture is weathering a two-year drought better than it used to. Diverse grass varieties ensure that something grows in increasingly erratic weather. Biodiversity even provides natural pest control—this year’s grasshopper infestation is less costly to Mark because nematodes (roundworms) in his soil eat them.

With climate change, nature is calling. Innovators like Mark Erickson are listening and refashioning their businesses in tune with natural systems that are inherently resilient. In Mark’s case, this means “mob grazing” his cattle to mimic the way wild herds grazed the prairie—tightly packed groups grazing small areas intensely and moving frequently to avoid predators. After 10 years, the result is healthy soil and tall native grasses with the inherent resilience of a natural ecosystem. He manages for a profit, but also for natural cycles of water, energy, and minerals in his fields and for the people (family, neighbors, customers, landowners) who depend on his business.

Agriculture is especially ripe to boost resilience by honoring natural systems. WEC has convened a series of Executive Roundtables on regenerative agriculture in the EU sponsored by Syngenta and engaging key actors throughout the value chain. We are identifying practical ways to incentivize growers to adopt regenerative practices and to measure impact. Separately, in collaboration with UNEP, we are conducting applied research with leaders in the food & agriculture sector to identify key opportunities and barriers to scaling nature-positive business. We will publish the results in November 2021.

But natural solutions for climate resilience aren’t limited to agriculture. WEC member Dow Chemical learned from the work of an innovative engineer in Texas that restoring wetlands could be a more cost-effective solution for managing wastewater than building new infrastructure. Based on that insight, the company has delivered over $500 million in value to its shareholders through natural infrastructure projects—halfway toward a goal of $1 billion by 2025.

Coca-Cola FEMSA has invested in over 25 “water funds” across Latin America to restore natural watersheds that provide water for its bottling plants and the communities they serve. This natural infrastructure provides freshwater, sequesters carbon, and boosts livelihoods in rural areas.

Other WEC members are taking these insights and building new businesses around them. Wavin, an Orbia company, markets “TreeTanks” structures that protect root systems and allow cities to plant more trees to provide shade, improve air quality, absorb stormwater, and reduce extreme heat. Ecolab has created the “Smart Water Navigator” to help companies set and meet performance targets for water. A WEC-Ecolab Executive Roundtable earlier this year brought together companies who aim to be “water positive” by returning more water than they consume to the basins where they operate through conservation and watershed restoration.

None of this is as easy or straightforward as it sounds. Each of these examples required time, money, and courage in the beginning to set aside conventional practices and study natural systems for innovative solutions. Some experiments work, others do not. New partnerships with vendors, customers, NGOs, and even competitors can be required to achieve success.

These constraints have slowed progress on natural solutions—for resilience and for carbon sequestration. Despite Mark Erickson’s success with my family’s farm, a drive around the county revealed far fewer regenerative farms than we hoped to see, and Mark himself was uncertain about the prospects for scale, with current market and policy conditions.

WEC will do our part to bring our members together with partners in their value chains to scale innovations for resilience, especially nature-based solutions. We will continue our series of Executive Roundtables on Regenerative Agriculture in the EU and seek to replicate the work in North America. In upcoming Executive Roundtables on Decarbonizing Value Chains, sponsored by Trane Technologies and Chemours, we will explore how resilience can be built into solutions for decarbonizing the built environment, transportation, land use, and industrial & energy production. We will continue our Gold Medal Executive Roundtable series on Climate Action for a Green Recovery with sessions in Asia and Latin America and a special focus on how business can implement the results of this year’s UN conferences on biodiversity and climate change. Our capacity building work in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East will help small enterprises pursue innovative nature-based solutions for resilience in their communities.

For too long, human institutions have seen nature as something we control—to conquer or to save. But we do not conquer, save, or control nature. We are part of nature. By learning what that can mean for our businesses, we can help the communities we serve become more resilient to the new climate ahead of us. We welcome companies and NGOs to join WEC’s members in this work. We have much to learn from one another and no more time to lose.

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Download PDF version HERE.

Climate Action for a Green Recovery?

June 4, 2021

This week WEC presents our 2021 Gold Medal Award to Microsoft.  The pioneer of our digital age has also been a pioneer for sustainability with an impressive pledge: remove all the CO2 from the atmosphere that the company has emitted since it was founded. Microsoft is committed to decarbonize its business, invest with others in scaling carbon removal technologies (nature and technology-based), and push for public policies to transform the global economy to net-zero.  Microsoft’s leadership described this challenge as a “moonshot for the world” when they made their pledge in early 2020.

COVID-19 has made the challenge even more urgent and complex.  While vaccines are helping wealthy nations emerge from the pandemic, it continues to rage across the developing world, with some countries experiencing their worst rates of infection, hospitalization, and death since its outset.  This crisis in public health has already delivered a damaging blow to societies and economies by pushing more than 70 million people back into poverty – the first such increase since 1998.  Decades of hard-won progress on sustainable development are at risk of unraveling.

Climate action is urgent.  But in the aftermath of the pandemic, we must pursue climate action in ways that advance other Sustainable Development Goals.  The world committed to the “Global Goals” in 2015, the same year as the Paris Agreement on climate change.  However, even before the pandemic, progress on the Global Goals was uneven.  At our SDG Workshop in May, WEC member ERM shared a sobering survey of development experts who agreed that the world is falling behind on the most urgent SDGs and that most companies and organizations are not focused on the most urgent goals beyond climate change, specifically ending poverty and advancing social equity.

Companies have an impact on the Global Goals—positive or negative—whether they intend to or not.  At minimum, the world needs more transparency on private sector performance against the SDGs. Disclosure against a common framework would hasten accountability and could lead to more societal pressure for action. 

I’m thrilled that this week, WEC and Microsoft will launch a series of Gold Medal Executive Roundtables on Climate Action for a Green Recovery.  The roundtables will focus on consequential actions that companies, governments, and NGOs can take to eliminate greenhouse gases, enhance resilience to climate change, and create economic opportunity for all – especially for underrepresented communities.  

The first roundtable on June 9, 2021 will cast a broad, global lens on the topics of clean energy, natural climate solutions, and climate justice. To stimulate dialogue, we’ll hear from a diverse panel of experts, including Microsoft’s Lucas Joppa, Woodwell Climate Research Center’s Marcia Macedo, Trane Technologies’ Scott Tew, and UCLA Center for Diverse Leadership in Science’s Aradhna Tripati.

Subsequent roundtables will dive more deeply into carbon removal, regional priorities in Asia and Latin America, and a “post-mortem” on this year’s UN conferences on climate change and biodiversity.  Like all WEC roundtables, each of these sessions will focus on practical steps that companies can take to advance sustainable development.  We will hold them under the Chatham House Rule to encourage a frank and honest exchange of ideas.   

I’m not sure that anyone has the answers yet to how we can advance the imperative goals of climate stability, economic growth, and social justice simultaneously. I know that we need to apply a broad lens to the problem, but beyond that I have more questions than answers. Sometimes “thought leadership” means asking the right questions, listening to others, and working across diverse constituencies to develop answers. That’s WEC’s approach, and I’m proud that we can apply it to the urgent challenges in front of us.

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Download PDF version HERE.

Time for a Reset

March 29, 2021

Spring has arrived on time in Washington, DC. Tender yellow and white buds poke out of forsythias and magnolias. Warm sunshine and fresh, earthy smells fill the air. Nature is renewing itself like clockwork.

In the Prickett family, we are preparing for Passover seder. Wait, didn’t we just have a Zoom seder? Where did the year go? And at the same time, how did it feel so unbearably long?

Welcome to the pandemic reset.

The pandemic is far from over. But in fortunate places like ours, with vaccination underway, we are emerging from our quarantine shells into a renewed world and starting to wonder what our “new normal” will be.

A reset is what we need.

The world went into lockdown at the start of 2020, just as scientists told us that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half and conserve a third of the planet by 2030 to ensure a livable future. The pandemic revealed the inequities of our economies, as poor people and underrepresented communities suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 and its economic impact. The senseless killing of unarmed citizens in the U.S. contributed to a global movement for racial justice.

To be honest, a year ago I had a difficult time imagining how we could make the systemic changes needed to ensure planetary sustainability. The world seemed set on its economic course — despite the environmental and social warning signs flashing around us.

Then came the pandemic. We realized that we could make abrupt changes in our economies when our lives depended on it. While painful, governments and the private sector instituted shutdown plans and relief packages. We managed our way through a tragic year without the economy collapsing.

We learned to reset. Along the way, a surprising number of global companies declared deeper and more urgent commitments to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. A new government was elected in the U.S. with a renewed commitment to act on climate change, economic inclusion, and racial justice. As we emerge from the pandemic, some of the emergency changes we adopted—working from home, replacing travel with Zoom meetings, spending more time outdoors with family—may take hold permanently.

Now we can apply the lesson of this reset. Societies can act decisively to tackle the ongoing challenges of sustainable development. WEC member companies can play vital roles in driving the changes we need.

We must decarbonize. As companies set science-based climate targets, they need to help governments enact smart policies for net-zero emissions. Companies on their own can’t achieve the emissions reductions needed without public policies to drive changes among their suppliers and customers. WEC roundtables this year on decarbonizing value chains will explore policy and market incentives to decarbonize the built environment, transportation, land use, industry, and energy production.

We must invest in nature. The value of biodiversity is underappreciated because nature is a public good—we get its benefits for free. Yet investments in nature—conserving biodiversity through protected areas and sustainable use—deliver tangible economic benefits in water supply, flood control, agricultural productivity, climate stabilization, and more. WEC will continue its partnership with UNEP this year to document nature-positive business models and hold roundtables on regenerative agriculture and achieving net positive water.

We must pursue environmental justice. We all have a stake in ending systemic racism. As societies rebuild their economies, we must ensure that investments benefit underrepresented communities and don’t further disadvantage them. This applies to companies’ own sustainability initiatives, as well as to public projects. WEC will convene a roundtable this year on environmental justice and how companies can help to advance it. We will also continue our long-standing work to build capacity in micro, small, and medium enterprises in the developing world.

A year ago this month, in a column about the looming challenges of the pandemic, I wrote “we can…start thinking about opportunities to emerge from this crisis on a more sustainable and resilient path.” We’ve learned a lot from the reset. Now it’s time to act.

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Turning the Page on 2020

December 8, 2020

As I write this, encouraging reports on President-elect Joe Biden’s early cabinet picks and policy plans suggest that we are starting to turn the page on 2020 at last.

Of course, we are not through the global pandemic yet.  Infections rates are rising, promising a long winter with more suffering and death among vulnerable populations.  With stimulus funds drying up, the prospect of a double-dip recession is all too real.

But the arrival of vaccines in 2021 and a new U.S. administration with a more disciplined approach to combatting the virus offer hope that, with shared effort and sacrifice, we can put this pandemic behind us.

Beyond a shared commitment to public health, we will need a shared determination to tackle the four challenges that all societies face in 2021:  defeat the pandemic, rebuild the economy, fight climate change, and deliver racial justice.

WEC and our members can play a key role in this effort.  Our mission is right on point.  Sustainable development is the ideal framework for acting on these multiple, interconnected challenges.

Societies don’t have the political or financial capital to address each problem in isolation.  We must integrate economic recovery with aggressive action on climate (and other urgent environmental issues), racial and social justice, and public health.  

Gro Brundtland’s definition has never been more apt:  “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

WEC’s 2021 program of Executive Roundtables will arm our members with practical tools to deliver integrated outcomes for decarbonization, human rights in supply chains, sustainable food production, water security, plastic waste reduction, and more, all with a through-line of broad-based economic growth.   

Our Capacity Building programs will continue to help small enterprises in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East strengthen the economic, ecological, and social fabric of their societies while contributing to the solution of global and regional environmental challenges, most importantly climate change.   

Our Gold Medal Award will again recognize a global corporate leader—like the Ford Motor Company in 2020—whose deep commitment to sustainable development makes a difference in its own right and inspires other companies to raise their ambition. New jurors from Asia, Europe, and the U.S. will ensure that our Gold Medalist is truly world class.   

I’m especially excited about the opportunity we’ll have in 2021 to provide a sounding board for governments on effective policies to advance economic recovery, climate action, social justice, and public health through sustainable development.  WEC is not an advocacy organization, but our members have encouraged us to add public policy to our agenda, since our sustainability priorities depend on it.

With a new U.S. administration and other governments embarking on economic recovery programs, WEC can convene roundtables with policymakers for our members to share effective policy recommendations.  Our board is beginning to make plans for this work, and I will reach out to members for your advice in the coming weeks. 

As we turn the page on 2020, I wish all of you and yours happy and healthy holidays.  I can’t wait to start working with you in 2021 to help all of our societies build back better. 

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

A Hot Summer for Sustainability

August 10, 2020

It’s been a busy summer for sustainability leaders. Companies have issued new goals and strategies at an astonishing rate. Just since June:

  • BP announced a strategy to reach its previously declared goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, including a 40 percent drop in oil & gas production and a $5 billion annual investment in low-carbon energy by 2030.
  • Microsoft articulated implementation strategies to reach its goal of removing more carbon from the atmosphere by 2050 than it’s emitted since its founding.
  • Apple declared it will be carbon neutral across its value chains by 2030.
  • Unilever set out new sustainability goals, including net-zero emissions from all its products by 2039 and a deforestation-free supply chain.
  • Ecolab set new 2030 impact goals for water, climate, food, and health, including a 50 percent cut in emissions and a positive water impact.
  • P&G pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Citigroup launched a new sustainable progress strategy, including $250 billion in environmental financing.
  • Cargill announced 2030 goals to restore water, reduce pollution, and ensure safe drinking water in priority watersheds.
  • Kering pledged a net positive impact on biodiversity in its supply chains by 2025.
  • Leading companies and NGOs partnered to form the Transform to Net Zero Coalition to accelerate implementation of net-zero commitments.

All of this in the midst of a global pandemic and a resulting, worldwide, economic recession. What’s happening?

Many expected 2020 to be a transformational year. It was to mark the first “ratcheting up” by governments of their Paris Agreement commitments, with extreme climate events signaling the need for greater urgency. New global goals for biodiversity were to be set at a landmark UN conference in China. And companies and industry associations around the world had set 2020 as a target year to reach and reset their own sustainability goals.

One would think that the global disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic would have interrupted this collective, corporate exercise in long-term, global planning. Amazingly, it hasn’t. In fact, it may even be helping to accelerate corporate commitments.

The focus isn’t so much on the calendar anymore. The UN climate and biodiversity conferences have been postponed. Companies’ own goal-setting deadlines still came due, but the ambition and depth of this summer’s commitments are startling.

Business leaders seem to be responding to a more important, real-world lesson: that natural events—the pandemic in this case—can trigger massive disruptions in the global economy that require systemic changes to mitigate and prevent. Companies are rethinking core business strategies in light of the disruption. The record drop in global energy demand this spring is a good example. While energy demand has recovered, the energy sector faces a more uncertain outlook, which encourages all companies to think more deeply about their own energy dependencies. Similar disruptions and uncertainties loom for supply chains, consumer behavior, public sector budgets, and other planning parameters.

Analysts have long warned that climate change and other environmental threats could have disruptive impacts on the global economy. But threats of such magnitude—not linked to war or political unrest—have always seemed remote and easy to discount. No longer. While the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have a direct link to climate change, it anticipates climate-driven disruptions to come, including disease outbreaks, droughts, floods, storms, heatwaves, and more. We have learned in 2020 that we ignore the warnings of science at our peril.

On top of the pandemic and its economic impact, the sudden and welcome rise of the Black Lives Matter movement is forcing companies to think more deeply about their impacts on society and their obligations to dismantle long-standing systems of oppression. As I wrote in my last blog, sustainability and social justice are intimately linked. An economy that grows by benefiting some at the expense of others is inherently unsustainable. The urgency of this summer’s sustainability commitments in part is a response to the renewed social justice movement.

Stepping back from the specifics of 2020, it’s clear that disruptive change is becoming the norm, and the changes are accelerating. Sustainability is a strategy to “future-proof” a company to unpredictable shocks and disruption by minimizing dependencies on vulnerable natural resource supply chains, building resilience and efficiency in operations, and responding more quickly to changing societal priorities and demands.

The World Environment Center aims to help its member companies surf these waves effectively. We are convening executive roundtables on decarbonization, ESG investing, circular economy, sustainable food production, nature’s contribution to the SDGs, and more. We are welcoming a next tier of members new to sustainability, who want to learn from more experienced companies. We are redoubling our capacity building programs for small enterprises in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East and linking them to the supply chains of our members.

Our members get out of WEC what they put into it. The same is true for our peer organizations who convene business leaders on sustainability. The pandemic has left us all more stressed, isolated, and burdened than ever. It’s easy to let the urgent overtake the important. I encourage you to get involved in WEC and other programs that are meaningful to you and your business. Share your ideas and challenges with your peers. They can help you position your company to capture the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls that disruption brings.

In 2020, we are all learning. WEC believes we are stronger if we learn together. Join us!

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

Systemic Racism: What it Means for WEC

June 3, 2020

It feels like the world is coming apart.  First, COVID-19 devastated our communities and shut down our economy.  Now America’s cities are burning in reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Robert Avitia, the latest victims in a wave of violence against people of color. 

For those of us dedicated to sustainable development, it can be hard to stay focused on long-term goals that seem remote in comparison to today’s urgent crises.  

But are they?

Look behind the emergencies of the day, and it’s not hard to connect dots that lead right back to our mission—and that challenge the ways that many of us have pursued that mission.

One of the first patterns to emerge starkly is the pervasive impact of systemic racism.  

Why are black Americans dying of COVID-19 at a rate 2.5 times greater than white Americans?  While they make up 13 percent of the population, African Americans have suffered 25 percent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths.  It’s not because black people are inherently more vulnerable to the novel corona virus.  But they are more likely to hold jobs that don’t allow them to work from home—leading to greater exposure.  And they are more likely to live in communities that are more densely populated, with worse air quality, fewer healthy food options, and poorer health care services than their white neighbors—making them more vulnerable to die and less likely to recover from infection.    

Why are black Americans killed by police at a rate 2.5 times greater than white Americans?  Again, they are 13 percent of the population, but African Americans were victims of 24 percent of fatal police shootings in 2019—and more likely than white victims to be unarmed.  We know that racial profiling plays a role, along with higher rates of policing in minority neighborhoods.  

All of these factors—from poorer, more polluted minority communities to inherent biases against people of color—are products of America’s systemic racism:  generations of decisions by public and private institutions to value black and brown lives less than white ones.     

What does this have to do with WEC and our mission?  Everything.  Development isn’t sustainable if it disadvantages whole communities.  It’s unjust and inherently unsustainable.  A COVID hotspot anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.  In the prophetic words of James Baldwin, written nearly 60 years ago, “a bill is coming in that I fear America is not prepared to pay.”

If we are serious about sustainable development, we need to ask ourselves who benefits from the development and who pays the costs, especially when systemic factors lead some groups of people regularly to bear an unfair burden so that others can benefit.   Across many American cities, for example, minority neighborhoods are located downwind of wealthier white ones, leading to dirtier air and contributing to higher rates of asthma and negative health outcomes.

If systemic racism is a fundamental stumbling block to sustainable development, how is our sustainability community doing in addressing it?  

Not well.

While the environmental justice movement has been a positive force for change for more than 30 years, the mainstream of sustainability activism continues to focus on important macro-level changes (think decarbonization, circular economy, biodiversity conservation, or clean energy) without assessing or addressing sufficiently how these initiatives impact underrepresented communities.  While the intentions may be good, systemic racism means that the outcomes are unlikely to be just, without more conscientious attention.

What can WEC and our members do?

First, we need to diversify our ranks, especially our leadership.  People of color are underrepresented in the leadership of American businesses and organizations in general.  The situation is worse in academic and non-profit organizations, and even more so in environmental organizations and the natural sciences.  We need to support initiatives like UCLA’s Center for Diverse Leadership in Science, which partners with academic institutions, businesses, and NGOs to bring more people from underrepresented communities into the environmental sciences at every level, from high school, through college and graduate programs, and into professional careers.  All companies and organizations have to put more people of color on our boards and leadership teams.

Second, we should ensure that our sustainability initiatives serve diverse constituencies, especially historically unrepresented communities.  This isn’t just about token projects.  Sustainability goals and metrics, for companies and NGOs, should ensure that marginalized communities are benefited by initiatives, and not further burdened.

Third, we should advocate for systemic change.  As with sustainability in general, individual company initiatives are important, but far from sufficient.  Real progress requires policy change.  Companies need to make sustainability a priority in their public policy advocacy, and they should pay special attention to racial justice.  WEC can serve as a sounding board for valuable policy initiatives.  Should the earned income tax credit be expanded?  We can debate this and other possibilities.  

Lastly, we all need to listen and learn.  I am a cisgender, heterosexual, white male, and so I have far more to learn about systemic racism and other forms of discrimination than I can ever know.  I’ve shared some ideas here, but I am eager to learn from my peers who have more wisdom.  I want WEC to be of service in this moment of crisis as a place for thoughtful people to learn from one another and build a path to a better future.  We are an organization built on honest and respectful collaboration, and our society needs to collaborate now more than ever.

Perhaps George Floyd didn’t die in vain.  Perhaps a better world can emerge from this moment of pain and tumult.  I am hopeful.  I encourage all of us to listen and build together.

How Do We Shape the Future?

April 22, 2020

Today, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I planned to be with thousands on Washington, DC’s National Mall, calling for action on climate and sustainable development.  Instead, I write this message at my dining room table, with one ear tuned to the radio for the latest on the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Yet even as our days are consumed with near-term challenges, as I speak to corporate sustainability professionals around the globe, we all have a larger question in mind: How can we manage our way to positive change when this is over? Can our response to this terrible pandemic bring about the kind of societal changes we saw after the first Earth Day?

For instance, might employees and employers realize that those who can work from home should do so more often? Could this lead to lasting reductions in commuting, congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions? How could we encourage this through corporate initiatives or public policy incentives?

What about corporate travel? From this experience, have we learned that video platforms work just as well for some conferences and business meetings as gathering in person? Can we minimize corporate travel and reduce the expense, loss of productivity, and CO2 emissions associated with it? How can we move to a more sustainable mode of travel without bankrupting important sectors of our economy?

On the other hand, how will reduced energy demand and record low oil prices affect the transition to a low-carbon economy? Will those companies and governments remain committed to their recently announced decarbonization goals, or with cheap oil will they pull back? How does this disruption in energy and capital markets keep the transition to clean energy going on schedule?

Could more diligent efforts to mitigate future pandemics include a crackdown on wildlife trade and deforestation? SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in bats and may have passed to humans through an intermediate host that is handled by humans — a pathway similar to other recent viral outbreaks. How can public health authorities collaborate more closely with conservation authorities to minimize the risk of novel viruses that originate from the disruption of natural ecosystems?

At a more general level, will society begin to put a higher priority on resilience? The novel coronavirus crisis shows how vulnerable our economy and our institutions are to sudden, systemic shocks. We can’t say that the crisis was “unpredicted” or “unexpected.” Public health and national security authorities have warned for years about the extreme risk of pandemics.

Climate change is a similar “predicted” and “expected” threat for which society remains largely unprepared. We have chosen as a society—through our policies, institutional norms, and even what we reward in our culture—to put a priority on economic efficiency and optimization, even as it creates a system that is more vulnerable to predictable shocks and disruptions. Just consider the staggering level of investment in coastal properties with little provision for the known flood risks associated with climate change.

How can society adopt a systemic approach to preparing for and managing systemic global risks from our environment?

There are opportunities to emerge from this crisis and put our world on a more sustainable and resilient path. The World Environment Center’s member companies are rising to this challenge. We’ve started a dialogue to learn, measure and lead together through this crisis.  I’m encouraged by our members’ commitment to forge a path to a more sustainable and resilient world—a hopeful vision on this historic Earth Day. 

Glenn Prickett is the President and CEO of the World Environment Center. He has spent three decades leading international environmental, natural resource and climate change policy in some of the world’s preeminent NGO’s.

WEC for the 2020s Glenn Prickett President & CEO

March 19, 2020

As we enter the 2020s, the private sector has become the most dynamic driver of action on climate change and sustainable development.  Governments in too many countries are gridlocked by polarized politics and unable to take decisive action. As a result, public institutions are not able to drive change as they have in the past.  Global companies, responding to demands from investors, customers, and employees, are stepping into the breach and taking action.   

The World Environment Center has championed business leadership on sustainable development for over 45 years.  We are redoubling our efforts to drive impact in a new decade, one that demands urgent progress on climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable development to meet agreed global goals.    

We are especially focused on the “next tier” of sustainability leaders in business.  Sustainability is no longer optional for companies doing business internationally.  Capital markets, customers, and employees demand it.  Until recently, companies, even large multinationals, could watch from the sidelines.  Now they recognize that they need to get in the game, and they want to learn from leaders who have been at it longer.  WEC, with our global membership of established sustainability leaders, will be the resource they can turn to for relevant knowledge and practical advice from peers. 

We will continue to serve our global member companies by helping them tackle the issues they identify as their greatest challenges.  These companies must lead the way, and WEC’s role is to help them succeed.  This year, our priorities include climate change (decarbonization & resilience), circular economy & plastic waste, water resource management, and ESG investing.  We will produce more roundtables, webinars, and digital resources for members to learn and share solutions with their peers and with specialized experts.  We will adjust the issue focus of our thought leadership offerings in years ahead by staying alert to the evolving challenges our member companies face. 

We will continue to build capacity in micro, small, and medium enterprises in the developing world.  This is one of WEC’s longest standing commitments, and it’s more important than ever to address the global challenges of climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development.  We will extend our flagship initiative in Latin America, La Red de Innovación e Impacto, which supports small entrepreneurs across 11 countries in that region.  We will look to expand our presence in Africa and the Middle East beyond our current environmental governance programs in Morocco and Jordan, and we will explore opportunities in East and Southeast Asia.  As we continue to partner with public development institutions, we will also engage our members and other companies to build sustainability performance in global supply chains. 

Private-sector leadership for sustainable development is vital, but it is not sufficient.  To achieve the global goals, and for companies to succeed in their own sustainability initiatives, the world needs more effective public policies and institutions.   WEC is not an advocacy organization, and we won’t become one.  But we will provide our member companies a forum to debate policy options and develop policy recommendations that can be taken up by other business associations and NGOs.  

 WEC will remain a lean and nimble organization.  Our dedicated and active members and partners allow us to stay small and punch above our weight.  This attribute is even more valuable today, as change and disruption seem to be constant and accelerating.  Our small size allows us to assess trends and changing circumstances, adjust our focus, and redeploy our resources quickly.  As we expand our programs, we will increase the size of our core staff and budget, but only modestly.  We will continue to devote most of the funds we raise to our thought leadership and capacity building programs and partners. 

Despite the global challenges we face, I am confident that WEC, with our members and partners, can drive strategic changes in business and the economy that lead the world to effective solutions for climate change, ecosystem conservation, and sustainable development for all, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.  We have an exciting future ahead.  Please join us!