Climate changes hands: how the private sector is leading climate action

Alexsandra Guerra
Dec 4, 2018 · 7 min read

Companies are taking climate matters into their own hands. While last week President Trump stood firm in the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement at the G20 meeting in Argentina, we went to Miami where representatives from both US and global companies met at the Companies vs Climate Change Conference (CVCC). The conference has two events a year, one in Europe and one in the United States. The majority of the companies present have signed the “We Are Still In” pledge which states that they will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement. There was a variety of companies present, from manufacturing to airlines and cruise lines.

When it comes to revamping our economy to be more sustainable, the players are varied and the plays range from simple to complex. Thus, the conference consisted of a broad range of stakeholders within sustainability in the private sector. Managers, directors and chief officers of sustainability (CSOs) of Fortune 1000 companies were present. Present too were a variety of sustainability consultants, sustainability guidance bodies, marketers, and of course, carbon offset aggregators.

Each of these groups creates an ecosystem of collaborators who may just lead the charge on redefining what it means to do business in an economy where climate can no longer be ignored as part of the equation. Consumers are demanding sustainability as part of the businesses they choose to support, and this has lead to the recent rise in the number of “director of sustainability” and CSOs hired by corporations.

United we stand, divided we fall.

And this type of open, non-competitive communication between big businesses, aka big emitters, is vital. In order for the private sector to make significant headway on climate change, it needs to functions as an ecosystem of collaborators.

“We believe that when it comes to energy and environment, there is no competition,” said Royal Caribbean’s Director of Energy Management Anshul Tuteja.

During a time when the rift between values of nationalism and globalism have torn apart friends, families, and nations, and when the existential crisis of climate change is such a divisive issue politically and a consensus on climate action seems nearly impossible, leadership that inspires the combining of forces is needed more than ever. And based on what we saw at CVCC, it might just be that the leadership we’re looking for lies within the hands of the private sector, and in our hands as consumers to demand environmental excellence from these companies.

Jason Youner founded Companies VS Climate Change with support from TD Bank, in order to bring together companies to communicate and catalyze continued climate progress.

“We’re here to meet each other, teach each other, and inspire each other.” — Jason Youner, Founder & CEO

The conference brought together an impressive group of sustainability leaders who were not only the right people to bring to the stage because of their titles and roles but also because of their quality public speaking skills. There were no monotone speakers. No one using the stage to boost their own ego. Speakers were there to have a conversation with the audience and to share what they’ve learned on the journey of improving the sustainability and integrating climate solutions into their businesses.

The urgency is real.

Below are some of our key takeaways from the conference.

First, you need a goal & a plan

You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

The first wave of goals focuses on reduction and cost savings

Goals for emissions reductions are some of the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to giving your company a sustainability make-over, because you can take direct action to address emissions reductions by using less energy, purchasing renewable energy, increasing the energy efficiency of operations and offices, etc. These type of reductions in scope 1 and 2 emissions can typically yield to greater cost savings, i.e. use less fuel, pay for less fuel; use less electricity, pay for less electricity.

And there’s more to the cost savings equation than just energy. Reducing energy can also directly lead to water savings, which also leads to reduced costs. Water is highly localized, and how companies should address water conservation is not one size fits all. Emilio Tenuta of EcoLab announced the new Water Risk Monetizer that businesses can use in order to better understand the tangible and intangible value of water.

Don’t strategize in a vacuum

President of DSM, Hugh Welsh, addressed the room full of directors of sustainability and stated that they must put forward strategies with clearly defined benefits business. Those who can find these opportunities and harness the value of sustainability to grow the value of companies are those who will lead the next generation of business leaders.

“Climate change is going to become a proxy war on capitalism… I really believe that the future CEOs are going to come out of the sustainability groups.” — Hugh Welsh.

What’s next: Carbon “positive”

The fact that large companies are even considering a future of paying down their carbon debt is exactly why Nori is doing what we’re doing. We want to enable these businesses to reach not just their carbon neutral goals, but future goals of carbon positivity. A long-term solution to climate change must include scaling up carbon removal to be greater than the total carbon emitted in the atmosphere.

Disclaimer: as an engineer by study, I personally cringe at this term. Carbon “positive” was created as an alternative to the idea of “carbon negative” which people have said has a “negative” connotation. I, on the other hand, think “carbon positive” is silly and makes no mathematical sense and just gets under my skin.

Pre-Conference volunteer event to plant trees and remove invasive species from Virginia Key, hosted by TD Bank, CVCC and Citizens for a Better South Florida


Nori is on mission to reverse climate change. This is our blog.

Alexsandra Guerra

Written by

Co-founder & Director of Strategic Planning at Nori.



Nori is on mission to reverse climate change. This is our blog.