By Brandy Wilson, Global Sustainability Director at CH2M
About 2 months ago, I celebrated with the rest of Paris as nearly 200 nations signed the climate deal.
Today, people are still asking me why I was there. Why did our CEO sign the Business Proposals for COP21? What difference did it make for business to walk the Road to Paris and show up in town while negotiators worked?
It made all the difference in the world.
Every corporation whose leaders signed the business proposals, joined We Mean Business, supported the Pope’s Encyclical, or who participated in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) meetings as I did, helped make that agreement a reality. For those two weeks in Paris, you couldn’t “swing a champagne flute without hitting one of the dozens of blue-chip corporate events,” Matthew Campbell writes in Bloomberg Business, “a stark contrast from climate gatherings in Copenhagen, Cancun and Lima, where companies made only cameo appearances.”
Several other commentators noted the presence of business, citing corporate visibility as one of the key factors in helping governments to make the commitment. In mid-2015, when Royal Dutch Shell and five other major oil companies sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, saying that they were ready for a price on carbon to drive market solutions for climate change, it helped set the tone for corporate engagement.
Together, we let the world know that corporations are ready to get to work.
What this work looks like is different for every company. For some, it is continuing the path to greater operational efficiency; for others, it is creating completely new business models or innovative products. For CH2M, it is expanding and building upon our partnerships with forward-thinking clients and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with whom we work. In Paris, I had the privilege of standing with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, and Neil Hawkins, Chief Sustainability Officer of Dow, to announce the release of the Natural Infrastructure for Business (NI4Biz) guide, sponsored by WBCSD.
The NI4Biz guide was developed by business, for business. It is intended to raise awareness about natural infrastructure approaches, define the business case for investing in natural capital through robust case studies, and provide a decision tree and support tools for helping business decide when and how to integrate natural infrastructure to their sites. Not only is green infrastructure a cost-effective way for businesses to protect assets, meet regulatory requirements, and achieve a number of other objectives, it is also important tool in the toolbox for climate adaptation and mitigation. As the many case studies supporting NI4Biz illustrate, one tool doesn’t do the trick. If we define resiliency as reduction of risk, combinations of technologies and natural systems, working together like a mini-ecosystem, impart the flexibility and redundancy needed for long-term success.
Indeed, the one thing that works exceedingly well on this planet is an ecosystem. From soil microbes to top predators, anytime an actor in the ecosystem is missing, the other members of that system might suffer or even collapse. The presence of business at the newest climate talks, while not the only factor in success, was certainly a part of it. A piece of our society’s ecosystem that hadn’t shown up before, did.
Regardless of how you choose to cast the roles of the NGOs, corporations, politicians, advocacy groups, and governments in the ecosystem—as the charismatic critters or the lowly earthworms—every one of these actors was needed to move the needle on this issue and give the negotiators support to sign the agreement. Although CH2M is far from a household name and we don’t wield the economic clout of the multi-billion-dollar-multinationals, in this case, being one of hundreds of businesses to sign on and show up was important. I am proud that we did.
Brandy Wilson serves as CH2M’s Global Sustainability Director, helping the firm and clients to improve sustainability performance. Wilson manages the complex production of CH2M’s sustainability report, which won two national communications awards. She was instrumental in piloting the company’s Environmental Management System (EMS) program. Wilson also provides sustainability framework consulting and reporting services for clients. Her career includes public outreach for remediation and environmental decision projects throughout the West. Wilson’s love of the environment is evident in her volunteer work. She has served for eight years as on her city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, helping to incorporate sustainability goals to the 20-year comprehensive plan.