While circular economy certainly took the stage at COP25, there were many other topics that arose in side events and discussions surrounding corporate sustainability efforts. These topics represent areas of interest in sustainability that are gaining momentum in the corporate world. More conversations on these topics are expected to emerge over the next year and have an even greater presence at COP26 in Glasgow next November.
Adaptation is no longer a concern for countries and cities alone, but many businesses are starting to look towards developing adaptation plans. Adaptation planning offers many incentives for corporations including: managing risk and avoiding reactionary costs; capitalizing on new markets and business opportunities; and ensuring compliance for policies, regulations and investor interests.
As the narrative shifts and begins to highlight opportunities for companies, many are realizing the importance of addressing areas of risk for the business, especially in regard to their supply chains. Without changes in the strategy, governance and risk management of corporations only small-scale efforts will get done, and adaptation planning is an important step towards achieving these changes.
Land use is a new area of concern for businesses, such as Mars and Danone, whose climate goals depend on the use of the land where they grow the ingredients for their products. For Mars, emissions from deforestation and land use for the production of cocoa accounted for the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint. They are working towards ensuring there is no deforestation on lands they use and also are supporting reforestation efforts.
As corporate sustainability continues to grow, company liability for land use change is a likely future. This raises a lot of questions and concerns, especially around the idea of double-counting and the interaction between deforestation and a company’s reforestation efforts. Deforestation must be accounted for prior to any reforestation efforts could be counted in order to avoid many of these concerns.
Other companies, such as Danone, are pursuing options including regenerative agriculture. These types of farming practices have a three-fold sustainability benefit helping to increase biodiversity, mitigate climate concerns and improve food security issues.
Water offers a cross-cutting solution to many climate challenges. It is a complex issue but there are many strategies available for resilient water management. Water resilience can be achieved locally, with the key being to bridge the gap between the public and private sector. Both the production of potable water and the treatment of wastewater are critical to aspects of both public and private sector activities and must be considered equally by both.
The private sector plays an important role in the goal of reducing carbon footprint through changes to packaging, transportation and waste of water. With the rise of the circular economy, water is on the list of resources to become circular, as several companies are already looking towards strategies for packaged H2O and other water intensive products.
Plastic is an issue quickly gaining momentum in many countries, cities and businesses. Speakers at COP25 discussed how the plastics issue may be ten years behind the climate crisis, but it also potentially easier to solve. One of the speakers described waste as a “design error”. For companies it is important to understand your products and the waste they produce to be able to address the plastic issue effectively.
Many solutions have been proposed, from bio-based products to banning plastic products, however each of these alternatives needs to be carefully considered depending on the situation to ensure that it is the most sustainable alternative. Some bio-based products are not decomposable, and may potentially have higher emissions. This leads back to the importance of addressing the waste issue at the initial design stage and having a better understanding of where we actually need to use plastic versus other material options.