A sustainability shift?

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By Sheila Moorcroft

We may be seeing the beginning of a significant shift in approaches and attitudes to sustainability and climate change among corporations, consumers and cities. This combined shift could be enough to instigate the level of change that the experts increasingly say is necessary if we are to live with and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

What is changing?

Several reports and initiatives have appeared recently which document changing attitudes, highlight issues and impacts and call for new leadership and approaches – especially from business as a key player – in addressing sustainability and climate change.

A report from Globescan called on business to rise to the challenges and the opportunity, outlining the characteristics and capabilities companies need for the extended leadership role, in particular to develop and enable technologies to help us adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz have launched ‘Plan B’ for business which echoes the same call: that we need to rethink profit and processes and look for future forms of leadership, bottom line and incentives.

An example of those changing approaches is the growing interest in bio-system services among business and government. Companies such as Disney, BP and Weyerhaeuser and government departments in places as far apart as Brazil Canada, China and the UK are conducting risk analysis and assessments to make a clear business case. The benefits are already emerging with previous unidentified risks emerging from the discussions as well as increased collaboration and consultations with stakeholders and suppliers.

An international survey among 6000 consumers identified growing concern about sustainability – issues such as clean water or health, but also rising expectations of business to provide solutions and products, which address climate change/ sustainability issues. Consumers in emerging economies – especially in China and India, were most strongly represented among a group, which the report defined as the Aspirationals and represented 37% of the sample, and wanted consumption and sustainability.

Cities are, and will play an increasingly significant role in addressing climate change and sustainability as urban populations increase. To this end numerous initiatives are emerging to encourage and develop new thinking, develop smart city and smart building technologies which may reduce GHG emissions. Two in particular stand out, because they aim to work with cities, share ideas, and develop processes as well as technologies for change. A sustainable city incubator aims to encourage, develop and share ideas, policies and approaches which cities can use to address specific problems and effect wider systemic change. 14 cities in the USA have so far enlisted. The Rockefeller Institute’s 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge will also work directly with cities to become more able to cope with and recover from disasters, if and when they strike.

Why is this important?

Systemic problems need systemic solutions. Without the engagement of key players across the board we will not get the scale of change that is needed. Business is increasingly recognising the risks and opportunities as the leaders in the field indicate. Insurance companies and investors will increasingly look for clear strategies to enhance the undoubted opportunities and mitigate the definite risks.

The forthcoming, but leaked, IPCC report includes a new scenario – although it is seen as improbable- that governments take sufficient action to reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2070. The result of this scenario is to widen the range of potential temperature changes by 2100 to between 1o and 5o Centigrade. However, to be optimistic, cities may provide a bottom up impetus to political change while business and consumers provide demand for new technologies, products and services. The combination might achieve that improbable scenario.

– See more at: http://www.shapingtomorrow.com/trends.cfm?output=1&id=22879

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