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12 C-suite Sustainability Champions for 2022

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As the world settles uncomfortably into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic, environmental and social volatility of this era are coming into clearer focus.

Stock market tickers have been flailing wildly. The lists of extinct creatures and endangered ecosystems have reached dispiriting new lengths. The climate crisis was amplified on the world stage during COP26, and yet with all the convening and clashing among the leaders of nations, businesses and activist groups, the results from Glasgow were mixed. Meanwhile, authoritarianism is on the rise in many places, imperiling the mechanisms that empower people to vote according to their values.

That leaves large businesses — those with some foresight and risk aversion, at least — to pick up serious slack in terms of speeding up efforts to draw down carbon, restore natural systems and empower communities.

This year, we’ve selected 12 business executives who stand out in 12 areas that are key to accelerating action on climate and delivering positive social benefits. These dozen leaders seek to steer their companies to help build a better world as good business practice, whether it’s through decarbonizing the literal bricks and mortar of infrastructure, detoxifying supply chains, electrifying transportation, regenerating soil, advocating for sound government policy — or financing any of the above solutions and more. They hail from three continents and five nations: the United States; Denmark; India; Switzerland; and Mexico.

Several of these individuals are turning around former fossil-fuel-powered giants, such as Ford, DSM and ?rsted. Two on this list are the first women in their seats of corporate power. We’ve also selected a couple of executives outside the Fortune 500 and for the first time, someone with the chief sustainability officer title. Read on to meet them. And take some time to get reacquainted with our cohorts for 2020 and 2021, some of whom hold entirely new positions.

Policy: David Barrett, Founder & CEO, Expensify; Portland, Oregon

LinkedIn | Company profile | @dbarrett

For the head of a relatively small tech company, Dave Barrett wields a substantial voice. Twelve days before the 2020 presidential election, he emailed 10 million Expensify users to vote for Joe Biden, thrusting himself into the national spotlight overnight.

Some recipients viewed the expense-report app founder as a partisan spammer butting into their professional inboxes. Barrett said about one-quarter of recipients replied to the email with a mix of feedback, and traffic to the Expensify website and interest in careers there skyrocketed.

Michigan-raised Barrett, who started coding at age 6, didn’t hit send on a whim. First, he broadcast the idea for the mass email to all 130 Expensify employees on a Slack channel. Support was high enough that upper management gave the thumbs-up.

He viewed the move as a salvo in defense of an imperiled democracy. His “I told you so” moment came less than two months later, when Trump’s attempted coup led supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol. “This is not normal politics,” Barrett said shortly after the deadly Jan. 6 riots. “This is like the destruction of our nation up for discussion. The only reason I felt it was important as a CEO to weigh in was that the stakes are too high to be neutral here.”

Barrett’s idea for the fintech startup evolved while living in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, wishing for a digital way to send cash to unhoused people. As for its internal decarbonization efforts, Expensify has leaned on offsets to address its carbon footprint, indicating it is seeking to adjust to carbon removal to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.

Barrett said his company’s profitability, with $100 million in annual revenues, offered a relatively safe soapbox.

“I think most CEOs, it’s not that they’re bad people; they’re just cowards,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, I would like to take a stand, but I can’t because of investors, customers and things like this.’ It basically comes down to, ‘I care more about hitting the next-quarter results than preventing a civil war,’ which is so f-ed up. They’re more afraid of their investors than they are of militants.”

Mobility: Jim Farley, CEO, Ford Motor; Dearborn, Michigan

LinkedIn | Company profile | @jimfarley98

Childhood storytime for Jim Farley meant his grandfather, a Ford Model-T-era plant worker, reading auto magazines. Now leading the company, Farley is taking a sharp turn away from Ford’s combustion-engine past, toward an electrified future.

Ford jolted the industry last spring with an ambitious lineup of electric versions of iconic brands, including the Mustang and the F-series truck. Orders rolled in so fast that the company in November doubled its production targets to 600,000 EVs by 2023. The car maker is steering toward 40 to 50 percent EVs by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050 in line with science-based targets. (Ford’s sustainability leadership includes early support for the Paris Agreement and California’s emissions standards during the Trump years.)

As one of the top U.S. auto employers, counting 186,000 workers, Farley seeks to build a beachhead for U.S. battery manufacturing. The company is spending $11.4 billion on new factories in Kentucky and Tennessee. Most of the planned 11,000 jobs are for the nearly six-square-mile BlueOval City campus in Tennessee. Ford is working with Redwood Materials to establish closed-loop battery recycling there.

“This is a chance for us to redo manufacturing in this country,” Farley said last fall. “This is a carbon-neutral site, geothermal-powered, zero landfill, totally recycled. It’s our commitment far beyond the tailpipe emissions to go green.”

Born in Buenos Aires and raised in Connecticut and Michigan, Farley helped finance his MBA at UCLA by restoring vintage cars. The gearhead, who has called racing “my yoga,” cut his teeth as a VP at Toyota Motors’ Lexus group, launching the Scion and was recruited to be a sales and marketing VP at Ford in 2007 by then-CEO Alan Mulally. Farley led a turnaround of Ford Europe in the 2010s, eventually rising to COO in March 2020 and CEO just eight months later.

“For someone who’s grown up in the car business, an electric car is just a better car,” he said in May. Developing and selling EVs is the easy part, he added; the harder part lies ahead of building out infrastructure and U.S. jobs in a future of electrified, connected mobility.

Green Finance/ESG: Jane Fraser, CEO, Citigroup; New York City

LinkedIn | Company profile

Jane Fraser to climate laggards: Take your business elsewhere. On her first day as Citigroup’s first female CEO in March, she issued a goal to reach net-zero GHG emissions in the company’s financing by 2050 and in its operations by 2030.

How can the fourth largest U.S. bank, moving more than $4 trillion each day, achieve this? Citi is expected to share a roadmap in the next few months. Fraser has been examining each industry with which the bank does business, hinting that it would ultimately not just lose some customers but gain others in support of its carbon decree.

Fraser, a Citi leader in multiple divisions over nearly two decades, lined up a number of other notable moves in her earliest months as CEO, including a partial coal exit strategy. The company committed $1 trillion toward sustainable finance by 2030, including in renewable energy and low-carbon technologies. Last year, Citi was among 43 founders of the Net Zero Banking Alliance and the broader Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, in addition to its ongoing participation in Principles for Responsible Banking and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

As the megabank catches activist flak for being one of the world’s top four financiers of fossil fuels, and for not ruling out oil and gas investments, Fraser’s view is to help clients shift “responsibly” to new technologies as they retire legacy assets.

Born in St. Andrews, Scotland, the Harvard MBA worked at Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions before spending a decade as a partner at McKinsey, traveling worldwide while she raised two boys. She has spoken candidly about the push-and-pull of working motherhood, and in March instituted “Zoom-free Fridays” for Citibankers. The company is investing more than $1 billion toward closing racial equity gaps.

“Our ESG agenda can’t just be a separate layer that sits above what we do day-to-day,” Fraser wrote on day one. “Our commitments to closing the gender pay gap, to advancing racial equity and to pioneering the green agenda have demonstrated that this is good for business and not at odds with it.”

Climate Tech: Anirban Ghosh, CSO, Mahindra Group; Mumbai

LinkedIn | Company profile | @Anirban007

Ghosh. Anirban Ghosh. From his Twitter handle, @Anirban007, the Mahindra Group chief sustainability officer evokes adventure in his work to incorporate sustainability and climate risks into core business operations, risk management and even its total quality management approach, dubbed “the Mahindra Way.”

Mahindra Group is a many-tentacled conglomerate, with 250,000 workers across some 150 businesses in 100 countries. Its products include tractors, electric cars and e-scooters, including the now-dead GenZe brand. Mahindra is preparing to roll out new electric bikes in Europe under the Peugeot and BSA brands. One of India’s largest companies, Mahindra has various businesses that also offer IT services, solar PV systems and even timeshares. Its biggest carbon emitters, whose carbon reduction targets are approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative, include steel making and processing.

Tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra was the first Indian company to set a carbon price internally, helping to decarbonize its energy use, reduce waste and bolster water security.

Ghosh led that effort in 2016 as the VP for sustainability, CSR and ethics, in the hopes of speeding up approvals for sustainability projects. It worked.

He established Mahindra’s overall sustainability framework and a company-wide dashboard to measure results. Mahindra’s decarbonization efforts focus on four factors germane to each business, including energy efficiency, renewables, electric mobility and offsets.

“Our sustainability framework separates the issues related to people, planet and profit so that it doesn’t seem like a big jumble, and then translates each one of the issues into tangible projects and actions which then show up in each of the businesses’ roadmaps,” he said in early 2020.

The company is pursuing science-based carbon neutrality by 2040. While it relies on carbon offsets — originating from a forest maintained by Mahindra and tribal farmers in eastern India — Ghosh discourages them because they do “not reduce costs or improve the balance sheet in any way.” The company has yet to set a deadline for ending its use of fossil fuels.

A thought leader and regular columnist, Ghosh has contributed to a slate of organizations deep in the details of the sustainability profession, including GRI. Early in 2020, he described climate activism as sparking the chance to discover a low-carbon way of life in harmony with nature, an opportunity “to literally reboot the world.”

Environmental Justice: Karen Lynch, President and CEO, CVS Health; Woonsocket, Rhode Island

LinkedIn | Company profile | @KarenSLynch

Karen Lynch insists that she always planned to make a difference as a leader. Personal hardships — at age 12, losing her mother to suicide, and as a young woman, losing her mother-figure aunt to cancer — led healthcare to be the focus.

In leadership at CVS Health since 2018, including overseeing its absorption of Aetna, Lynch has transformed the pharmacy chain into a multifaceted community healthcare provider. Her evangelization for greater accessibility, simplicity and personalization in the tangled healthcare system kicked into high gear when she stepped into the CEO role 11 months ago, just as the first COVID-19 vaccines debuted.

With its 300,000 workers, CVS Health has since delivered 50 million COVID-19 vaccines, working with the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control for 30 percent of vaccines it administers to be in underserved communities. COVID led the retailer to elevate primary care services as more people seek care online and in their neighborhoods.

“People are the really most important thing that you need to understand, and how to motivate them, how to inspire them, how to pay them,” Lynch said in May, noting the many social disparities revealed by the pandemic. In October, she brought on the company’s first chief health equity officer, charged with reaching more underserved communities.

The CEO has expressed that mental unwellness is the “second wave of the pandemic,” citing mothers and other caregivers specifically when describing CVS Health’s expanded online support for individual counseling. In December, the company committed $1.74 million toward causes to reduce maternal health inequities.

Meanwhile, CVS Health has committed to spend $4.5 billion on diverse suppliers and, by 2030, $1.5 billion more on social impact investments toward healthier communities. The latter includes “wraparound services” for underserved patients that fund 65 clinics in 17 states. Those are targeted where the company is investing $100 million toward affordable housing, creating “health zones” where people can also find good food and jobs alongside healthcare.

“Our commitment is to really build these healthy communities,” Lynch said. “We really need to think about moving from this ‘new normal’ to building a healthier normal.”

Biodiversity: Geraldine Matchett, Co-CEO and CFO, Royal DSM; Heerlen, Netherlands

“Can you call yourself successful in a world that fails?” That’s the question Geraldine Matchett says the multinational DSM collectively asks itself. The co-CEO probably considers the question rhetorical, given the threats to so many living systems today.

Matchett is leading the health and nutrition giant to improve biodiversity and sustainable agriculture beyond its own walls. That’s a paradigm shift for the company that launched 122 years ago as Dutch State Mines. It has long since shed its legacies of coal mines and petrochemicals, now producing nutrition for animal feed, industrial coatings and technology for solar power.

DSM says its products with an environmental or social impact, 65 percent of its business, are the most profitable. The company’s Project Clean Cow has led to developing an ingredient for cattle that slashes methane emissions by 30 to 60 percent. DSM is using artificial intelligence to better estimate the carbon footprint of meat and dairy production. Its embrace of the circular economy includes a goal by 2030 to offer recycled or bio-based alternatives for its products, such as its synthetic Dyneema polyethylene fiber, used in outdoor gear.

DSM’s three-pronged approach to sustainability reaches beyond its own footprint to embrace advocacy and to assist its customers’ sustainability ambitions, which Matchett believes future-proofs the company. DSM’s net- zero GHG goal for production by 2040 expands to all value chains by 2050.

After six years as CFO, she retained that role in her February 2020 promotion to co-CEO alongside Dimitri de Freeze. Matchett is the rare finance chief who weaves sustainability into the financial bottom line. She enjoys changing minds and credits DSM’s internal price on carbon, which is integrated into budget making, with driving its innovation, net-zero ambitions and investment decisions. “It brings the finance team much closer to the rest of the company,” Matchett said in November. “Our intent is to have as many people as possible thinking about this as a normal part of the business.”

DSM was an original member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s One Planet Business for Biodiversity coalition, which is focusing first on promoting regenerative agriculture. Matchett stars in other sustainability organizations, including as co-chair of HRH the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) CFO Leadership Network and as an executive committee member to WBCSD.

Carbon Removal: Christian Mumenthaler, CEO, Swiss Re; Zurich

LinkedIn | Company profile

The market for carbon removal tech needs customers. Count Swiss Re in. Under Christian Mumenthaler’s leadership, the company in August inked a first-of-its-kind deal with Climeworks to remove $10 million of CO2 over 10 years. The reinsurance giant intends to send a market signal while supporting its goals to reach net-zero carbon by 2030 as a company and by 2050 for its insurance and investment business.

Climeworks’ equipment will essentially sip carbon dioxide from the air, turn it into stone and stash it underground. “By partnering with Climeworks, we can play to our strengths in this endeavor, as a risk taker, investor and forward-looking buyer of climate solutions,” Mumenthaler wrote.

By Swiss Re’s count, 2021 was the fourth costliest year since 1970 due to natural disasters for insurers, with the industry losing $105 billion. Decarbonization is in the best long-term interests of the reinsurance giant, which insures other insurers.

The company, with some $239 billion in assets, views its industry having a special role to accelerate carbon capture for three reasons: improving bankability of removal projects via engineering and insurance; directly financing removal projects; and finally, being early buyers of removal projects to balance a company’s own emissions, according to a Swiss Re report in July. “Do our best, remove the rest!” is the company’s carbon slogan.

Mumenthaler, who holds a doctorate in physics, has been at Swiss Re for 23 years, following two years at Boston Consulting Group. Swiss Re promoted him to Group CEO from reinsurance CEO in 2016, following six years of reinsurance executive roles. He started as strategy risk manager, working through roles including as chief risk officer and head of life and health.

Swiss Re is a founding member of the The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance and Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, and Mumenthaler co-chairs the World Economic Forum Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders. Mumenthaler’s climate leadership is also a strategic move for a company in the business of calculating risk.

Mads Nipper, Group CEO, ?rsted; Fredericia, Denmark

LinkedIn | Company profile | @NipperMads

Mads Nipper is charting a course for the world’s offshore wind leader to become the planet’s “green energy major” by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal for ?rsted, which has been in its current incarnation only since 2017.

Founded as Denmark-owned oil and gas company Dansk Olie og Naturgas (DONG) in 2006, ?rsted flipped its energy mix on its head in only a decade — from 85 percent fossil fuels to 85 percent renewables. That sets the stage of possibilities for Nipper’s next steps as he enters year two as CEO.

To achieve global dominance in renewables, ?rsted is pursuing a mix of wind, solar and green hydrogen. Its name is on one-third of the world’s offshore wind developments, including most coming to the U.S.

Nipper, who calls himself purpose-driven, was lured to ?rsted in September 2020 by the challenge of making an impact on two of the biggest global challenges, water scarcity and energy consumption. He had slaked some of that thirst as CEO for six years at water pump leader Grundfos.

Nipper’s longest tenure was 23 years at LEGO, where he helped to create a global turnaround, reviving the LEGO City brand as the chief marketing officer and instilling a “command-and-control approach to innovation.”

Nipper has served on various boards of other Danish corporations including Bang & Olufsen and Stokke, and since 2016 has been vice chairman of Danish Crown, formerly Tulip Food Company, which raises pigs and cattle.

The decarbonization challenge does not hinge on technology or finance, Nipper said in November. “It’s a leadership challenge because we don’t have the courage to take wholehearted action.” How can the rollout of renewable energy improve biodiversity and help workers to upskill from old oil and gas jobs? “There are so many opportunities but if we think either/or or both/and, we won’t step up to the leadership challenge that we need,” Nipper said.

Catalytic Capital: Anthony Oni; Managing Partner, Elevate Future Fund, Energy Impact Partners; Atlanta

LinkedIn | Company profile

Anthony Oni is well-positioned to nurture cleantech talent from an array of backgrounds by providing capital to what he calls “the underestimated class in the U.S.,” those who were left out of the digital revolution: Black, Brown, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ people and women. “There’s a whole demographic of folks that did not win or participate,” he said last summer.

Climate tech startups have raked in tens of billions of dollars over the past year alone, yet venture capital remains homogeneous, with only 4 percent of venture capitalists Black and another 4 percent Latino. Less than 1 percent of VC funding goes to female founders.

Oni is managing partner at Energy Impact Partners (EIP), one of the largest specialized investment firms, holding $2 billion under management with such investors as Microsoft. The goal of its new Elevate Future Fund is to hire fund managers “who look like me, and other diverse funders … so that they have that authority, the decision-making ability, to write checks in their community,” Oni said.

His primary focus is on writing those checks, by leading that new fund, which is funneling $120 million toward climate tech companies with diverse founders or leaders. Among its investments so far are ChargerHelp!, a Black women-founded app to enable speedy EV “refueling” station repairs, creating jobs and training in the process.

Oni also founded and serves as board chair of Ed Farm, a tech-focused learning center for teachers and students in Birmingham, Alabama. He was involved in envisioning the Propel Center, an innovation hub for the Atlanta University Center community of historically Black colleges and universities. It is a $25 million beneficiary from Apple’s $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, announced in 2020.

Oni was born in New Jersey and grew up with a Bell Labs-engineer dad. He spent 20 years in executive roles at utilities Alabama Power and Atlanta-based Southern Company Gas, where he most enjoyed community and economic development. Oni came to EIP in April after three years at Cloverly, a carbon offset software company that he founded, and which attracted $2.1 million in seed funding last year by the SoftBank Opportunity Fund.

Infrastructure/Buildings: Lara Poloni, President, AECOM; Los Angeles

LinkedIn | Company profile | @larapoloni

The consulting firm founded in 1990 as AECOM Technology Corporation is a hulk in the built environment, counting $13 billion in revenue and leaving its imprint on landmarks on each continent, including the One World Trade Center, the Pentagon and even an Antarctic research site. As AECOM president, Lara Poloni seeks to chip away at the 70 percent of global emissions contributed by construction and infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of power and influence that comes with a role like mine,” she said in 2016 when she was chief executive of AECOM Australia and New Zealand. As company-wide president for the last 17 months, Poloni has been aligned with a new ESG strategy: In April AECOM set targets for net-zero carbon by the end of 2021 and net zero with science-based targets by 2030.

Central to AECOM’s path is a new effort, ScopeX, to assess operational and embodied carbon across the life cycle of every project, as well as to reduce costs and emissions for clients. The company will examine carbon in aggregate across engineering and corporate management, zeroing in on the impacts of specific choices, which it projects will slash 84 million metric tons of carbon each year. Moving forward, AECOM will also consider targets for net-zero carbon, resilience and social value in its approach to client accounts.

AECOM also recently set the “near term” aim for women to comprise 20 percent of its leadership and 35 percent of workforce. Engineer Poloni, a mother of twins, has spoken out about social equity, especially gender parity, expressing that she wants her daughter to enjoy the same opportunities as her son.

“We should seize this moment as an opportunity” to help those with the least economic security, Poloni wrote in May 2020. “Traditionally, infrastructure investment has been key to getting economies back on their feet. In their selection of projects, decision-makers should not lose sight of social objectives. If we are to emerge from this pandemic stronger, we must ensure that those who were already disadvantaged before the crisis are not left behind.”

Food Systems: Daniel Javier Servitje Montull, President and CEO, Grupo Bimbo; Mexico City

LinkedIn | Company profile

Daniel Javier Servitje Montull is baking sustainability into the business strategy of one of the world’s largest bread makers. With the purpose of “nourishing a better world,” Grupo Bimbo reaches $15 billion in annual sales for 13,000 products across 100 brands, including Entenmann’s, Sara Lee, Thomas’ bagels and Oroweat. Grupo Bimbo’s net-zero carbon goal, issued in November for 2050, includes its indirect emissions. Present in 33 countries, the bread maker’s influence in food systems ripples beyond the fields from which it sources.

Grupo Bimbo’s regenerative agriculture efforts include working since 2017 with the nonprofit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and partners, including Cargill, on pilot projects in Mexico that reduced fossil fuel emissions by 30 percent for corn and by 18 percent for wheat. The company has also explored pairing conservation techniques with social benefits for Mexican producers of potatoes, goat milk and cocoa, in addition to promoting traceability efforts for palm oil, soy and sesame.

“We value the person more than anything else in our company,” Servitje said in 2015. “This allows the businesses to prosper. And, it’s universal — it sits very well in all cultures.”

The recipe for leadership at Grupo Bimbo was partly measured out when Daniel Javier Servitje Montull was born to Lorenzo Servitje Sandra, who co-founded the business in 1945. The younger Servitje warmed to business as a child, raising hens and carrier pigeons, and hawking primitive solar heaters with high school friends. He joined his dad’s company at age 16 and dabbled in sales, accounting and personnel roles until completing an MBA at Stanford.

Servitje then helped Grupo Bimbo expand distribution into the United States in directorial roles in the 1990s. The billionaire has described internationalizing and modernizing the business while at the same time seeking to maintain its social purpose.

Since Servitje became CEO in 1997, then chairman in 2013, the company has demonstrated continued participation across major sustainability coalitions, including “firsts” for a Mexican company, such as signing on to the United Nations’ Race to Zero Campaign. Grupo Bimbo is 80 percent on its way toward fully renewable energy in global operations. It first installed wind power a decade ago, and its plants’ solar photovoltaic systems — in Argentina, Chile and Mexico — are among the largest in South America. Bimbo operates one of Mexico’s largest EV fleets, too, with more than 1,000 vehicles. Servitje is leading the company to embed sustainability into other key areas as well, including packaging, waste reduction and alternative fuels.

Circular Economy: Fran?ois Adrianus “Frans” van Houten, CEO, Royal Philips; Amsterdam

LinkedIn | Company profile

As CEO of Royal Philips, Frans van Houten has placed circular principles at the core of corporate strategy, making refurbishment, dematerialization and service-based sales models de rigueur. Since 2011, he has also recast the former domestic appliance giant as a healthcare innovator, and the company in 2020 reached carbon neutrality.

By 2025, Philips seeks to be taking back and putting back into use all of its professional medical systems, which are built from the outset to be modular and serviceable. Its low-carbon innovations include pioneering low-helium magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems.

Van Houten, co-chair of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, which launched in 2018 with the World Economic Forum, has been ahead of the game in pushing to slash healthcare industry emissions and waste. He has refined Philips’ several-decade embrace of “EcoDesign” by reducing single-use packaging and removing harmful chemicals from products. By 2018, two-thirds of sales came from “green products.”

Van Houten joined the former electronics giant in 1986, moving up through marketing and consumer electronics, leading its semiconductor units. Even his path at Philips has been circular; his father was a board member.

He has spoken out against a “hit-and-run linear” business model in favor of a circular one. “If the product is 5 percent more expensive initially, but I get 30 percent of the value back after eight years, then that’s a great proposition,” because investors appreciate the recurring revenue streams that fit “perfectly well with circular economy thinking,” he said in 2017.

For other companies considering circular models, van Houten has recommended brainstorming across teams about what customers value. “It took Philips 50 years to get where we are, so don’t think this is a solution overnight. You will grow into it, I’m sure,” he said.

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Environment

Investors Aviva, BMO Toughen the Line on Net Zero Pledges

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Environmental campaigners may remain sceptical over the investment industry’s ability to translate its myriad net zero pledges into real world action, but pressure from institutional investors on corporates that do not have credible net zero strategies is continuing to move in only one direction.

Just days after BlackRock CEO Larry Fink reiterated his view that CEOs needed to embrace a new form of stakeholder capitalism that would allow them to turn the net zero transition into the “greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime,” two of Europe’s leading investors stepped up warnings that they would vote against boards that fail to deliver ambitious and effective climate strategies.

First up, Aviva Investors announced updates to its sustainability expectations, alongside its annual letter from CEO Mark Versey to the 1,500 companies in its $354 billion portfolio. In the letter, Versey stressed that the company wanted to see firms step up action on biodiversity and human rights, as well as climate change. “We will hold boards and individual directors accountable where the pace of change does not reflect the urgency required,” he warned.

“We want to encourage companies to consider the whole picture of sustainability because this is how they will create the greatest return for shareholders, while helping to build a better future for society,” he said. “Companies must now turn their pledges into concrete and measurable plans of delivery. Our letter sets out clear expectations as to how they should do this, and what those plans must address across climate impact, biodiversity and human rights.”

He particularly stressed the need for climate strategies to incorporate plans for protecting and enhancing nature. “Simply cutting emissions but allowing the destruction of the rain forest to continue will do little to reverse global warming,” he argued. “Companies need to adopt an integrated approach for maximum benefit.”

Growing numbers of investors have pledged to deliver net zero investment portfolios, with various coalitions totalling trillions of dollars of assets under management joining forces at last year’s COP26 Glasgow Climate Summit to reiterate their support for accelerating the transition to net zero emissions. However, environmental groups have repeatedly accused many of the world’s largest investment firms of continuing to invest in carbon intensive companies and failing to apply adequate pressure to ensure such firms really do accelerate efforts to decarbonize.

However, Aviva Investors insisted its engagement with carbon intensive firms had “teeth.” The company said it undertook 1,277 substantive engagements with investee companies in 2021, voted at 6,648 shareholder meetings and voted against 26 percent of management proposals tabled. It also stressed that it wanted to see all executive compensation structures and performance targets reflect sustainability goals and would “divest in cases where companies consistently fail to meet its requirements.”

Specifically, the company said it was executing a new 1.5-degrees-Celsius-aligned engagement program focused on 30 of the world’s worst carbon emitters, which was introduced last year and includes an “ultimate sanction of divestment if expectations are not met over one to three years.”

The news came the same day as BMO Global Asset Management (EMEA) outlined its 2022 engagement priorities, underscoring its focus on climate change, biodiversity and human rights, and similarly stressed that firms had to be held accountable for their environmental pledges.

“The events of the past year, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather events, have reinforced the importance of creating a more resilient future,” said Claudia Wearmouth, co-head of BMO GAM (EMEA)’s Responsible Investment team. “Climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights are all issues that require urgent action. Active ownership is a key cornerstone of our work and we have a role to play as a conduit to concentrate and amplify our clients’ voices with companies. It can take time to build consensus for change within a business and to develop the tools to do so. We support companies on that journey, but in 2022, a key focus of our work will also be holding companies accountable on their commitments.”

The company said its engagement priorities for the coming year were delivering a phase out of unabated coal power in developed economies by 2030 and in the rest of the world by 2050; holding companies to account on their net zero pledges, with a particular focus on ensuring financial institutions have net zero strategies, including a carefully managed decline of coal, oil and gas within their lending and underwriting portfolios; curbing biodiversity impacts and risks across the most critical sectors including food and beverage, extractives, materials, transportation and finance; and working with chemicals companies to enable a sustainable transition.

The company said it would also continue to call for executive remuneration to be linked to the achievement of climate-related objectives and would directly engage with companies across industries including oil and gas, mining, materials, electric utilities, transportation and automotive and financial institutions about their executive pay policies.

Alice Evans, co-head of BMO GAM’s Responsible Investment team, said the company was well aware of the risk of “net zero-washing” where firms make bold net zero commitments but then fail to produce credible plans for delivering on their goals. “COP26 in November last year served to further highlight the scale of the challenge in addressing climate change,” she said. “But it also proved a catalyst for action, with the push for private sector commitments resulting in over 3,000 corporates and financial institutions, representing $130 trillion in assets, taking on net zero commitments. Concerns on net zero-washing abound and our 2022 engagement agenda will have a sharp focus on implementation, ensuring that these commitments are backed up by concrete actions to decarbonize.”

And in related news the UK’s biggest pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), today announced it is to shift $6.76 billion of assets into an index that excludes some of the worst polluters, slashing the emissions of its portfolio by 30 percent in the process.

USS Investment Management said it would introduce a climate “tilt” to a portion of the Global Developed Markets Equity component of the Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution funds. It said the move, to be managed by Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), would initially reduce emissions compared to the broad equity market by at least 30 percent and further decrease its carbon intensity by 7 percent each year thereafter.

USS said the approach would effectively reward companies that can demonstrate they are on the path to lowering greenhouse gas emissions by giving them a higher weighting, while the converse will be true of companies that lack credible decarbonization plans. “Today’s news is a natural progression to our investment strategy following our announced ambition to be net zero for greenhouse gases by 2050 if not before,” said Simon Pilcher, CEO of USS Investment Management. “We think we will be one of the first major U.K. pension schemes to do this and is a significant step towards achieving our net zero ambition. The move will also inform our thinking on the way we approach investment more widely in both the Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution segments of the Scheme.”

Innes McKeand, head of strategic equities of USS Investment Management, said the firm was confident the new approach would deliver competitive returns. “We believe investment in more climate-friendly assets — those positioned to adapt or benefit as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy — offer upside return potential, while lower exposure to companies poorly positioned to adapt to such a world reduces our exposure to downside risk,” he said.

However, the new plans again underscored the challenge investment firms have in the face of growing calls from campaigners to more quickly divest from fossil fuel assets.

Paul Kinnersley, an emeritus professor at Cardiff University and a coordinator of the group Divest USS, told the Guardian that many academics paying into the fund wanted to see a more aggressive divestment strategy. “Any shift by USS to decarbonize or clean up their investments is obviously a step in the right direction,” he said, “but they’ve been slow about changing and they’ve been slow about sharing detail on the target of net zero by 2050. We’re welcoming it, but there’s a long way for them to go.”

Investment firms of all types can expect calls for them to strengthen their net zero, engagement and divestment policies to intensify with each passing year. And in truth the industry has not always helped itself over the past few years, with too many investment firms touting ESG and climate strategies that demand far too little of carbon intensive businesses. But at the same time, as today’s announcements highlight, many of those same investment companies are steadily ratcheting up the pressure on the firms they own. On the same day as COP26 President Alok Sharma calls on governments to deliver on the pledges they made through last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, the message from top investors to listed firms is increasingly clear: We will hold you to your climate promises.

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How to Center Environmental Justice in Conservation Finance Projects

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Environmental justice in land conservation requires practitioners to slow down and consider the foundations that exclude or enable relationships with and control over land. The following stories highlight three organizations using conservation finance strategies to advance environmental justice outcomes.

Each considers the history and context that has led to the land ownership, land use patterns, policy decisions and wealth accumulation in the places where these groups work. In each story, participants have asked: Why is this so? They have spent time listening to community groups and tribal nations to understand what these groups desire, and have worked creatively to identify solutions towards these aims. These organizations are working in the intersections between land and human justice, giving consideration to the intertwined rights of natural and human communities.

In these cases, justice means broadening the definition of conservation to ensure more people benefit, using conservation funds in new ways in order to ensure co-benefits and expanding the group of people with power to make decisions about land use.

The story of the Swinomish Forest Bank illustrates how ecosystem markets can be inaccessible to Indigenous peoples due to histories of land fractionation and presents a strategy that respects and acknowledges this history while also creating new legal structures to enable that access.
Greenprint Partners’ work with the city of Peoria illustrates how community organizing strategies can use public investments in green infrastructure to support community benefits.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is using its philanthropic funding to expand the diversity of people working in the conservation field, encouraging conservation organizations to better connect with justice efforts, and funding organizing capacity at a local, grassroots level in BIPOC communities.

Each effort broadens the definition of what is considered a conservation organization and what is imperative for conservation groups to consider.

Swinomish Forest Bank

The traditional territory of the Swinomish Indian tribe extended throughout the Salish Sea region of northwest Washington state, and includes the lands surrounding the Skagit and Samish River Valleys; the Skagit, Padilla and Fidalgo bays; and the Fidalgo, Camano, Whidbey and San Juan Islands.

Today, land managed by the Swinomish has been reduced to a 15-square mile reservation on Fidalgo Island. Within the designated reservation boundaries exists a checkerboard of public, private and tribally owned lands; private lands are owned by both Swinomish citizens and non-Swinomish people. The Swinomish Tribal Government owns in trust and in fee a very small percentage of the overall reservation land in a patchwork of small, non-contiguous parcels. The tribe has been working for many years to knit together land, and especially forestland, within the reservation. It currently holds title to about 1,200 of the reservation’s 4,500 acres of forestland. Due to this heavily fragmented landscape, the Swinomish have faced significant barriers to implementing landscape-level forest management strategies.

In 2014, the Swinomish asked Ecotrust, a nonprofit that works across the Pacific Northwest to support equitable, climate-resilient land stewardship and economic development, for help developing a new forest management plan. The Swinomish had previously worked with Ecotrust and appreciated both its forestry expertise and willingness to work collaboratively in order to advance Swinomish goals. The Swinomish sought Ecotrust’s technical expertise towards their wish to unify land management practices across their fragmented acreage.

Today, the loss of tribal lands combined with the mixed ownership patterns within reservation boundaries poses serious challenges for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian nations.

One strategy involved creating a forest bank, a new legal entity wherein the owners of individual parcels of land (which in this case could include the Swinomish Tribal Government, tribal members or non-tribal residents) enroll in the forest bank. The forest bank manages and harvests enrolled parcels according to a unified forest management plan, enabling landscape-scale management strategies that are impossible on small parcels.

Many climate-resilient forest management practices, a priority for the Swinomish, are only possible on this large scale. As the Indian Land Tenure Foundation says, “Today, the loss of tribal lands combined with the mixed ownership patterns within reservation boundaries poses serious challenges for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian nations.” The Swinomish’s checkerboarded and fractionated landscape exists due to the imposition of private property boundaries atop traditional, collective management regimes. The legacies of fractionation have harmed the tribe’s ability to control their land.

Fractionation formed part of the process of colonization. The United States Government imposed private property ownership structures and oversight systems on the traditional territories of Native Americans. The government defined a system of reservations and restricted Native Americans to only these areas, often a mere fraction of the size of traditional territories. In so doing, the government forced participation in the U.S.’ private property frameworks rather than respecting many Native Americans’ collective and relational conceptions of land and land use migration patterns. These actions took place by force, by treaty and by allotment.

This Salmon River stretch shows the value of centering equity, even when working that way feels like swimming upstream. Photo via Ecotrust.

In 1855, the U.S. Government and the Swinomish tribe signed the Treaty of Point Elliot, which defined 15 square miles on Fidalgo Island as the Swinomish reservation. Despite this, the Swinomish had to fight to protect their treaty-defined land base in 1873, when President Ulysses Grant attempted to further reduce their land base (a move which the U.S. Supreme Court blocked). Within the 1887 General Allotment Act (which many call the Dawes Act) the U.S. government awarded 40- to 160-acre parcels of land within the reservation to individual families, both Native American and settlers, with the aims of encouraging the establishment of settled, agrarian societies. As these parcels went to successive generations, land was subdivided and fragmented into smaller parcels (thus the term fractionation).

Due to this history, typical barriers to landscape-level management and accessing markets for ecosystem services such as parcel size, forest cover and composition, and past management regimes are compounded. Unifying land through a forest bank would aggregate management across parcels with the potential for both climate resilient and financially beneficial outcomes. The Swinomish anticipated that a large carbon credit sale might help them “seed” the forest bank: Proceeds from the sale would create a source of capital to allow purchase of more acreage and compensate individual landowners for ecosystem services.

In 2015, Ecotrust and the Swinomish received a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant to support their work to revise the Swinomish Forest Management Plan. The partners established a stakeholder group of tribal members to provide input on the project. Brent Davies at Ecotrust said about the committee: “Rather than practice co-management, we were seeking to put indigenous communities in the driver’s seat.” This involved both carefully considering the Swinomish’s wishes for how forest resources could be managed using climate-smart practices and considering different governance models for establishing the forest bank within the legal constructs governing tribally owned and managed lands.

Unifying land through a forest bank would aggregate management across parcels with the potential for both climate resilient and financially beneficial outcomes.

Because there are few forest bank models, Ecotrust and the Swinomish worked together to envision what an appropriate structure and entity might look like. The Swinomish and Ecotrust together completed their new forest management plan in 2018, which includes an intention to establish a forest bank. Ecotrust and the Swinomish continue to work together towards this aim.

Peoria, Illinois, and Greenprint Partners

Peoria, Illinois, contains one of the poorest zip codes in the country and is a majority-minority community. In 2006, the EPA declared Peoria in violation of the Clean Water Act due to stormwater and sewer overflows, and mandated that the city address these hazards. Although underfunding has resulted in significant infrastructure failures, Peoria’s leaders have sought to use philanthropic and public capital to upgrade infrastructure while also investing in community assets.

Peoria is not unique. Because of histories of disinvestment and redlining (racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices), many urban areas have underfunded and failing infrastructure. In 2014, Peoria won a Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation award to create a Chief Innovation Officer staff position. With this added capacity, the city contacted Greenprint Partners, a women-run, green stormwater design and project engineering firm. The city needed to make large public investments to comply with the EPA mandate, and wanted to work with a partner who could help them creatively deploy these funds to also benefit the community.

Greenprint says on its website that it aims to develop equitable, scalable, holistic stormwater solutions that also revitalize neighborhoods, increase public health and safety and create new job opportunities in low- to moderate-income communities. A key element of Greenprint’s model is to thoughtfully deploy large public investments in infrastructure to simultaneously incorporate community benefits and community goals. As co-founder and CEO April Mendez commented: “We believe that infrastructure could be developed and designed with communities in mind, but only if the community is centered from the beginning.”

Rather than rely upon traditional, expert-driven infrastructure project models, Greenprint asked the community what their goals were and figured out how to create infrastructure that would satisfy them.

The city of Peoria was a great partner, said Mendez, because it was willing to “design green stormwater infrastructure with the perspective that the parts of the community that most needed this infrastructure also needed other organizational supports.” With support from a $940,800 grant from the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grant program, Greenprint established a stakeholder advisory group that was representative of the full community’s demographics.

Greenprint asked this group what they needed and what they wanted to see in their community. Rather than rely upon traditional, expert-driven infrastructure project models, Greenprint asked the community to say what their goals were and figured out how to create infrastructure that would satisfy those goals. The advisory group identified local employment opportunities, access to healthy food and accessible urban green spaces as priorities.

Together, Greenprint, the city of Peoria and the stakeholder advisory group decided to develop a 1.5-acre farm that can slow, sink and store stormwater runoff while also providing job training and educational opportunities in growing food and running a farm business. Greenprint facilitated a placemaking visioning exercise, inviting community members to share ideas about what the farm might look like, and the types of infrastructure it would have. The farm was intentionally located in one of the poorest parts of Peoria, thus ensuring that both its stormwater retention and job training benefits stayed in the community of most need. The project team named this farm The Well Farm. In major rainstorms since this infrastructure was installed, it has absorbed 98 percent of rainfall.

Greenprint seeks to bring principles from its founders’ community organizing backgrounds to its work. Although Mendez acknowledged that equity-centered work can cost more in staff and design time, she said: “Community engagement changes the end product … It’s not box-checking, it’s about changing the design of what you’re building … It’s important to have the creativity to design things from a multi-benefit and place-making perspective and not just think about putting the facility in the ground.”

This multi-benefit perspective has had important ripple effects. This project is one that the community is excited about and will benefit from in multiple ways. It also has created potential opportunities for public utilities and public infrastructure funding programs to simultaneously fund equity and community development outcomes. Greenprint estimates that for every $1 invested in establishing Well Farm, $1.50 in community benefits flow out.

Greenprint estimates that for every $1 invested in establishing Well Farm, $1.50 in community benefits flow out.

Upon its completion in 2019, the $1.9 million Well Farm received a number of accolades from green infrastructure thought leaders, industry groups and foundations. These include the prestigious U.S. Water Prize from the U.S. Water Alliance. Other recognition came from the Illinois Green Alliance Emerald Award and the Sun Foundation Making Waves Award.

This project also informs Peoria’s stated goal to address its clean water mandates with entirely green infrastructure. Greenprint is working with the National Green Stormwater Infrastructure Exchange to design an educational accelerator program to train other municipal planning and finance entities who are interested in implementing similar “water equity” projects. With the recently signed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act committing $55 billion to wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure, there is an opportunity to use public funds to support community benefits and water infrastructure goals simultaneously.

The Doris Duke Charitable Organization

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (“Doris Duke” for short) has rethought its goals and processes to better root its grantmaking in equitable decision-making and work under an expanded definition of conservation. Four programs of the foundation highlight this evolution.

In 2020, according to Green 2.0, about 30 percent of staff, 25 percent of leadership and 32 percent of board members at U.S. environmental nonprofits identified as people of color. Each metric has increased significantly since 2017 when Green 2.0 began compiling this data. Doris Duke has carefully considered who holds power and positions in the environmental movement, and it has reoriented grantmaking in support of a more diverse talent pipeline. For many years, the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program supported masters-level students in environmental studies and land conservation. In 2013, Doris Duke changed the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program to fund college-age, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) young people to build conservation careers. By funding students at the undergraduate level, Doris Duke seeks to create earlier exposure to environmental work for BIPOC youth, making this a more tangible professional path. Building a diverse pipeline of young conservation practitioners will help facilitate a more diverse group of staff and leadership at environmental non-profits.

Doris Duke’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Capacity Building Program was created in 2020 to provide capacity to both white- and BIPOC-led conservation organizations. Doris Duke awarded two-year grants of up to $60,000 to organizations ranging in size from The Conservation Fund (with hundreds of staff) to the Utah Din? Bik?yah (eight staff), to support staff engagement in diversity, equity, and inclusion capacity building, organizational assessments and structural changes.

Building a diverse pipeline of young conservation practitioners will help facilitate a more diverse group of staff and leadership at environmental non-profits.

Doris Duke’s new “Inclusive Conservation” grant program launched in 2021. Doris Duke partnered with an advisory committee of conservation practitioners who primarily represent and serve BIPOC communities to develop this program, which invests in “culturally driven and community-centered conservation work that builds more positive outcomes for biodiversity, nature and people.” These expanded parameters of what conservation is create a broader set of activities for Doris Duke to fund. The advisory committee nominated organizations who could then apply for grants.

This program awarded long-term, unrestricted, $300,000 grants to five organizations (‘Aina Momona, Ekvn-Yefolecv, McIntosh S.E.E.D., Native Movement and Soul Fire Farm) for the work that each organization does to “prioritize the bridge between environmental and land justice” and “in recognition of and contribution to the pivotal leadership roles they play” in doing inclusive, human- and equity-centered conservation work.

Doris Duke and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, together with the Prevention Institute, created the People, Parks, and Power program to geographically redistribute where conservation dollars go. These partners initiated this partnership in 2021 in order to support community organizations “working in urban, low-income communities of color across the United States to increase park equity through local policy and systems change.”

Histories of racially exclusionary housing finance (redlining and racially restricted federal lending programs) and racial covenants prohibiting home ownership by people of color or other ethnic groups have shaped today’s cities. Historically redlined neighborhoods typically are made up of majority renters, have less-well funded schools, have fewer public funds invested in natural amenities and are often majority BIPOC communities. Black, Latinx and Asian communities are more likely to live in historically redlined and today, nature-deprived areas — meaning, areas without access to trees, streams or parks, or poorly maintained park amenities — and thus less access to the benefits parkland offers, such as physical exercise, mental well-being and clean air, water and cooling.

Black, Latinx and Asian communities are more likely to live in historically redlined and today, nature-deprived areas.

Lack of urban access to green space is also a result of the rural bias of land conservation. This is a result of factors such as the funding priorities of private, philanthropic and public conservation funders and the fact that conventionally defined biodiversity conservation targets (presence of large carnivores or minimum acreage thresholds) most often are found in the large tracts of undeveloped land more readily found in rural landscapes.

Because conservation is reliant on philanthropic gifts to support its work, it often happens nearer to where well-resourced communities live. As Sawyer Cresap commented in her recent article on equitable conservation finance: “Low-income communities and communities of color are markedly deprived of access to privately conserved open spaces and less frequently affiliated with private land conservation as land donors, visitors, members, staff or board.” Conservation dollars are much less often invested in urban landscapes, and the outcomes that conservation organizations seek to achieve have been defined by perspectives and beliefs that give less weight to urban parklands.

Doris Duke seeks to support the organizations and community members working on the ground to address the underlying reasons why certain places are underserved by park and other infrastructure.

As it brings a portion of its grantmaking into urban areas, it hopes to not only improve green spaces in urban areas, but more importantly to seed power and capacity among local groups. It seeks to support these groups in building new narratives and greater participation, access to resources and authority over land use decisions.

Philanthropy “holds normative power to make things mainstream and render them visible” through deciding what to fund and which stories to elevate, said Sean Thackurdeen, program associate for the Environment at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Through continued consideration of how it invests philanthropic dollars, Doris Duke seeks to give both resources and power to BIPOC communities, enabling them to create, implement and share their visions for what land conservation could be.

Conclusion

These case studies showcase ways in which some conservation practitioners are taking responsibility for the histories, policies, stories and circumstances that have led to the patterns of land and wealth ownership we see today. These patterns are rooted in discriminatory practices such as fractionation and redlining, which have harmed many non-white communities and restricted their ability to own and manage land. Said in a different way, traditional measures of conservation success will feed off longstanding and systemically reinforced inequities in wealth, power and control, and will continue to produce inequitable outcomes in who the benefits of land and resource conservation accrue to.

Without directional shifts and justice-oriented recalibrations, those with historical access to resources such as land will be able to access conservation benefits predicated on land ownership and accumulate additional and compounding wealth, while those who have been systematically denied access to land will not have the same opportunity.

How can these groups’ willingness to listen and learn and change serve as models?

The organizations above have sought to ensure that the outcomes and benefits of their work do not only accrue to those who already have resources. In place-based, historically informed and community-defined ways, they have both broadened and expanded what conservation is and who conservation is for. They are working with and ceding power to new partners. How can these groups’ willingness to listen and learn and change serve as models? How might these examples inspire future steps along the long journey towards just conservation?

Practitioner reflections

How would your organization answer the questions, “Why does property ownership in our landscape look the way that it does? How is unequal access to land and wealth evident in your operating area today? What historical responsibility might you, individually or organizationally, hold? What could your organization or firm’s role in addressing these histories be?”
How would your organization answer the questions, “What is the conservation we practice, and who is it for?
Who has authority and decision-making power in your organization? How do you partner with other groups in your community? Who is in the ‘driver’s seat’ in your partnership projects?”
What are the specific histories of Native American communities in your region? Who used to call your current region home (see native-land.ca)? Which Native American communities continue to call this place home? If they are no longer here, where did they go (see https://nativeland.info/)?
What do the actions of Ecotrust, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Greenprint make you think about? Is there anything in the above three case studies that your organization might consider adopting?
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What 50 Years of Public-private Partnerships Lends to the World’s Green Transition

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Since the 1970s, Denmark has had a tradition of enacting agreements with broad consensus across the political spectrum on energy and environmental policy issues. Political stability has been vital in securing continuous investment and establishing ambitious, long-term targets. In this regard, public-private partnerships have proved a highly successful way of devising solutions to many sustainable development challenges.

Effective public-private partnerships have allowed shifting Danish governments to enact regulations and programs with the support of business and industry, ensuring successful implementation and adherence. The Danish way of conducting public-private partnerships is characterized by openness and high levels of societal trust. Beyond harnessing the strengths of public and private stakeholders, the Danish model tries to cushion the unavoidable twists and turns faced on an unknown path.

While the public sector provides the ambitious long-term goals and stable framework conditions, the private sector supplies the innovation, solutions and investments needed to achieve the visions. As a current example, Denmark’s 14 industry-specific Climate Partnerships, initiated by the government in 2019, is an instrumental to realizing Denmark’s 2030 climate target. Spanning from energy and finance to construction and transport, industry leaders from ?rsted, Maersk and Danfoss have been tasked with formulating each sector’s contributions to carbon reductions. In simple terms, it is a green roadmap for the industries by the industries. Collectively, the Climate Partnerships have produced more than 400 recommendations, many of which are being integrated into national policy.

Teaming-up the usually separated players from the energy and environmental fields is not new. Trustful collaboration across sectors and industries has long been a key ingredient in the Danish way of innovating and doing business. An example of this is the linkup between the water and energy sector, where sludge from wastewater treatment plants is used to produce power and heating. Collaborations between Danish players such as Ramboll, an environmental consultancy, Biofos, a wastewater treatment company, and public utilities in the cities of Taarnby, Odense and Aarhus have shown great results. Similar tie-ups within climate adaptation have brought about solutions that prevent flooding in cities, while simultaneously creating greener, more resilient cities with strong liveability. Through decades of working across professional boundaries, we have learned that effective sector integration requires a pragmatic approach, and an experimental mindset. But more so, it comes back to stability and trust.

Everyone may not agree on the measures and the speed, but each play an important role on the journey towards the common goal: a greener future. Constructive and committed interplay is key for any societal change to succeed. This goes for public authorities at national and local levels, the business community, investors, academia and citizens.

What did we learn along the way?

The conclusion to Denmark’s learning curve over the past decades speaks loud and clear: Green business is good business. Investing in renewable energy, water, energy efficiency and resource optimization makes good economic sense.

Today, more than 75,000 Danes hold green jobs out of a national workforce of some 2.8 million people.

Every time one gigawatt of offshore wind is set up in Denmark, 14,600 jobs are secured in Danish companies. Today, more than 75,000 Danes hold green jobs out of a national workforce of some 2.8 million people. Looking ahead, realizing the Danish 2030 climate target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030 may create up to 300,000 green jobs.

With an annual turnover of around $39 billion, Denmark’s green economy share of GDP is roughly 11 percent, more than twice the EU average. Contributing some 12 percent of total Danish exports, the green share of energy and water technology exports has grown by more than 55 percent since 2010 — compared to a 35 percent increase in total exports of Danish goods. Today, green technologies account for more than three-quarters of total Danish energy and water technology exports.

When it comes to research and development in green technologies, the rewards of a whole-of-society approach also stands out. Today, Denmark boasts several companies that hold globally leading positions in the energy and environment industries, and no other OECD country displays a similar development of green technology measured in patent applications. The gains of public-private tie-up further translates into sustainable financing, where the legacy of long-term commitments has resulted in a number of trailblazing asset managers. In 2019, Denmark’s pension industry committed to invest more than $55 billion in green initiatives towards 2030. Only two years down the road, this target appears to be safely within reach. Nationally, Denmark also allocated 60 percent of the EU COVID-19 recovery funds to green initiatives, against the required 37 percent.

We all need the world more than the world needs us

The global demand for accelerated and coordinated climate action is apparent. While Denmark’s well-proven solutions and long-running experiments with green transition and public-private partnerships may prove valuable, the effects are nothing but a drop in the ocean. Unless they fare globally.

Denmark accounts for 0.1 percent of global CO2-emissions. In driving the global path to net-zero, its national efforts offer very little but inspiration. Inspiration that stands on the shoulder of societal efforts underlining why public-private efforts are essential in the quest to develop technologies, policies and partnerships to accelerate the green transition. Above all, Denmark offers a 50-year strong foundation and a green legacy with primed solutions, which hopefully can show the way for bigger economies.

Being neither a silver bullet nor a standalone, the Danish story is simply a sentiment that trust, continuity and binding commitments are paying dividends. As such, it should be seen as a testament to place public-private partnerships and global cooperation at the center of green transition.

[Interested in learning more about sustainable business? Learn more about GreenBiz 22, the premier annual event for sustainable business leaders]

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