Sometimes it seems as if the world has been turned upside down. We’re facing so many global challenges at once – geopolitical, supply chain and inflationary – that it’s hard to stay focused on the most pressing challenge of our time, namely climate change.
But it’s essential that we keep our eyes on the ball and maintain our focus because the news around climate is not getting better. It’s getting worse. And as we learned coming out of COP26, there is a growing chorus of consumer and stakeholder outcry about corporations making pledges without a defined path to achieve them and, as a result, falling short of their goals.
That’s no surprise given the urgent need to address this issue and the dire consequences of inaction. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that the world faces “unavoidable multiple climate hazards with global warming of 1.5oC (2.7oF).” And that temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in “severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible.”
After a slight reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, CO2 emissions rebounded when economies and production bounced back. In 2021, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 6% to 36.3 billion tons, their highest level ever and the largest increase in global CO2 emissions in absolute terms, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Couple that with the fact that the planet continues to get hotter, with this year so far ranked as the fifth warmest ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
And let’s not forget, water. Climate change, population growth and economic development have led to increased competition for water resources. As a result, water has become scarcer and costlier and that will continue in the years to come – with a projected global freshwater deficit of 56% by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). In many ways, water is the number one physical risk that companies will face in a changing climate.
Businesses also need to prepare for the proposed SEC ruling to enhance and standardize climate-related disclosures for investors. The rule would require public companies to provide detailed reporting of their climate-related risks, emissions and net-zero plans, including emissions from direct (Scope 1), indirect (Scope 2) and upstream and downstream activities in their value chains (Scope 3) beginning in 2023.
Clearly, there are a lot of reasons why it is incumbent on businesses to do more, faster. But the primary one, quite frankly, is that it’s the right thing to do.
For many companies, there is a disconnect between commitments and actions, something that we refer to as the “Say/Do gap.” This inability to move the needle on sustainability actions is an obstacle toward progress and the source of so much consumer and stakeholder frustration.
Among the questions these groups want businesses to answer are:
- What is your current baseline?
- What is your ambition?
- What is your roadmap for getting there?
- And how do you measure your progress?
It’s imperative for businesses to have clearly defined action plans with achievable goals and support from the highest levels of their organizations to ensure that they can achieve their objectives.
At Ecolab, we’re working to advance a sustainable future together with our customers. In 2021, despite the many challenges facing us, we made tremendous progress toward our ambitious customer outcome goals. We’ve also made great progress in our efforts to achieve a net positive water impact and tackle carbon emissions. As a result, we’re on a glide path toward achieving our 2030 impact goals.
Recent highlights include:
- Our progress as founding members of the Water Resilience Coalition, a CEO-led movement to work collectively to address global water challenges
- Receiving Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification for two additional manufacturing sites in Mexico and our first-ever platinum certification for our facility in Taicang, China
- Signing a virtual power purchase agreement in Finland that will enable us to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030, instead of by 2050
- Launching an employee-led Global Sustainability Network to accelerate Ecolab’s growth and impact
I’ll be the first to say that it isn’t easy for a company to achieve sustainability goals while simultaneously growing its business and creating value for stakeholders. But it can be done. First, companies need to develop a culture that enables them to achieve and operationalize ambitious sustainability goals. It also takes:
- An unwavering commitment from senior leadership
- Alignment with business strategy
- Readiness of an organization to act
At Ecolab, we’ve learned that having our CEO and executive leadership committed to supporting us on our sustainability journey is critical. And what helps get senior management on board is understanding the implications to our business strategy in terms of risks and opportunities. If we don’t address the challenges posed by water scarcity and climate change, we can’t continue to succeed and grow.
The journey isn’t an easy one and the challenges are many, but when the course is set by leadership, we can achieve seemingly unsurmountable tasks. We have a lot of work to do to overcome the gap between where we are today and where we need to be in the not-so-distant future. But with a leadership commitment, a timeline and clearly articulated goals, it can be done. And when that happens, everyone will benefit – businesses, people and the planet.
About the Expert
Emilio Tenuta is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab. His 37-year tenure at Ecolab includes 25 years of technical, marketing, and business management experience in various industries including Food and Beverage, Pharmaceutical, Lodging, Healthcare, Primary Metals, and Automotive. In the past 11 years, Tenuta has led Ecolab’s strategic sustainability journey focused on corporate responsibility, internal environmental stewardship, and helping customers operate more sustainably. He is actively involved in advancing global sustainability practices, with a significant focus on water stewardship and climate action. In recent years, he’s become a leader in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices and reporting and has collaborated with a number of large impact investors. He sits on the board of directors of the World Environment Center, a global non-profit, non-advocacy organization, and the leadership council of the Corporate Eco Forum.