Climate is strategy - Suzanne Long, Chief Sustainability and Transformation Officer at Albertsons
Last week, Kathryn Wendell and Justine Roberts from CESR traveled to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management for ClimateCAP, the MBA conference focused on business solutions to the climate challenge. Over 150 MBA students, staff and faculty gathered with industry leaders to discuss corporate policy work around climate, sustainable finance, and weaving sustainability into the business school curriculum. It was exciting to hear companies like Patagonia, General Motors, Albertsons and others talk about their commitments to environmental and equity initiatives. Below are some of the key take-aways from the conference:
Demand is Growing
If we don’t act now we won’t have the luxury of asking when because it will be too late,
says Terry Thomas, SVP, Customer Development, Unilever
While many businesses have a specialist who manages sustainability, such as a Chief Sustainability Officer, presenters at this conference argued that increasingly everyone’s job will involve thinking about climate change in one form or another. To stay below 2 degrees warming will require involved shareholders, ethical managers, visionary leadership, policies that support change, industry transformation, and more. Everyone, regardless of their role in the business world, needs to know what the important sustainability questions are to ask, about current reporting frameworks, and have an awareness of trends necessary to bring change and progress. Sustainability is, therefore, a management challenge and MBAs have an opportunity to lead.
Sustainability and Innovation are Linked
Sustainability, as a business input, has the potential to shape consumer demand, reduce supply chain risk, and impact how companies access and scale their use of materials. In other words, it can be a key part of a business resiliency strategy. “Capital markets care about how ‘green’ becomes a transformative lever,” says Suzanne Long. “We need to build sustainability into the heart of the business model, as part of our competitive advantage.”
ESG is linked to strategy and is core to our business,
says Geraldine Barnuevo, Senior Manager Environmental Strategies and Sustainability at GM
Sachu Constantine, Interim Executive Director, Vote Solar agrees that “the path forward requires innovation, new business models and financial tools.” He argues that “there is no path that does not require investment.”
For Nneka Kibuule, Senior Vice President at Aligned Climate Capital and Founder of GreenTech Noir, the need for innovation also means we need an inclusive approach and broad participation in the conversation. “Diversity makes us smarter and decarbonization requires that kind of thinking. It is the world's most complicated problem,” she says.
A Just Transition is Critical
We must embed equity and access into everything climate,
says Justin Marquez, Senior Partnerships Manager, Equity & Access, Elemental Excelerator
The McKinsey on Climate Change report has documented that women are more impacted by climate change than men, as are communities of color and the Global South, and that inequities magnify the risks of climate change. Nneka Kibuule believes that instability in any part of the world will cause instability elsewhere. “We must find a way to stay below 2 degrees warming and address the impact of climate change on our communities in just and equitable ways that take into account the real disparities that people around the world experience,” she says.
We Must Work Together
Acting on climate risk means looking at whole systems, rather than trying to optimize separate components individually, and requires that everyone participates in the work. For Andy Fletcher, Head of Strategic Planning at Patagonia success means prioritizing operationalizing sustainability in every aspect of their business, rather than growth.This has led them to new partnerships, such as working with appliance makers to reduce the amount of microplastics that result from washing their clothing. Sasha Duchnowski, Partner at Bain and Co. says this is also true in the energy development space where “customers, communities, investors and startups must all work together.”
Climate risk is the uniting call of our time,
says Jason Offerman, COO & Co-Founder, Persefoni
Customers cannot be left out of the conversation. Fabiano Lima, Global Vice President, Corporate Affairs, at Mars Wrigley, emphasizes that “customers are keepers for the product.” Pia Baker, Partner, GroundedWorld says the way to do this is through transparency and bringing stakeholders with you on the journey. “Be honest about your challenges and your goals,” she advises.
Get Involved at Leeds
CESR runs programs for undergraduate and MBA students committed to a low carbon future. We partner with companies in the clean energy transition, the natural and organic food sector, and impact finance throughout the year. If you are interested in participating as a speaker in one of our programs, a judge or underwriter of a case competition, or a Trek stop for our students to learn more about your company, please contact Justine Roberts.
And if you are looking for professional development opportunities, we are pleased to share two executive education programs we offer.
- Our Executive Certificate in Natural Products: Building and Scaling Healthy Businesses program will be running summer 2022.
- The Certificate in CSR, now in its 6th year is open for registration for Fall 2022.