By Nuria Marquez Martinez, Masters of Journalism candidate & CRB Editorial Writer
Leaders in sustainability and responsible business met Thursday April 19th to discuss their carbon neutrality goals and the collaborations necessary to reach those goals. Part of the Center for Responsible Business’ Peterson Speaker Series, the cross-industry panel was made up of Marisa de Belloy, CEO of CoolEffect, Paul Hendricks, Environmental Responsibility Manager of Patagonia, Sunya Ojure, Senior Manager of Sustainability of Salesforce and Arjun Patney, Policy Director of the American Carbon Registry.
The conversation varied, but at the forefront of the discussion was the sense of responsibility that companies have for the effects of climate change that directly correlate with business practices. “Climate action is integral, not in opposition to business success,” said Hendricks. He urged businesses to take the lead in environmental action and serve as a hub to bring people, governments, companies, and universities together. Patagonia’s climate strategy is to push their operations to mirror their political advocacy.
De Belloy of CoolEffect, a nonprofit that funds and advocates for innovative projects in sustainability, talked about the problems that come with changing people’s behaviors and beliefs. She said CoolEffect tries to engage people who accept climate change is happening. But even then, emissions are largely invisible making it hard to convince people of the urgency. “We’re trying to bring it home to people to really convince them to change their behaviors.” One way CoolEffect is doing this is through their carbon camera which visualizes carbon as it’s released into the atmosphere. De Belloy also spoke about offsets. She said some companies are only looking to buy offsets “for the heck of it,” but aren’t actually interested in making a real change.
A pivotal part of the discussion was how policy affected business operations. Hendricks made it clear that business leaders need to push policy makers to make bigger strides in sustainable, environmentally responsible policy. “If those gates were lifted off in the U.S., we’d see that type of radical change that we need to see in society,” he said. But, Patney said, a big problem is the lack of transparency from certain businesses which helps make sure that everyone is on the same playing field. After all, he said, it’s up to the industry to make the changes that lawmakers will want to uphold.
Patney used the aviation industry as an example. Airlines are under agreement to limit CO2 emissions from international flights. The industry is pushing this agreement forward, so they aren’t seeing resistance from the federal government. He said it’s crucial for companies in any industry to be completely transparent about their goals and operations so that policymakers will follow. Ojure agreed: “It would be a blessing to have someone establish a reporting framework and have everyone stick with it.”
As the Senior Manager of Sustainability at Salesforce, Ojure has been tasked with developing strategies to avoid emissions. She said people often think storing their data in the cloud is totally emission-free. But data centers and the sites that support the internet have a huge sustainability impact, she said. Their main strategy is to look for infrastructure that exists on a cleaner energy grid and produce additional renewable energy. “As a cloud leader we have a responsibility to run the cloud on completely renewable energy,” she said.
As the discussion concluded, Hendricks and Ojure discussed the importance of partnering with organizations who understand the culture of their organizations. Hendricks said most people know the mission of Patagonia and if they choose to partner with them, sustainability has to be a part of their DNA. In the technology industry, Ojure sees companies that “live and breathe innovation” which created a culture of taking on new challenges. She’s been a part of the change of conversation that puts more focus on community, environmental and labor issues in the tech industry and beyond.