Two Degrees and the SDGs

I recently finished reading GreenBiz’s 2018 State of Green Business Report, where GreenBiz Group Chairman and Executive Director Joel Makower declared “two degrees and the SDGs” as the new manta for sustainable business. In case you don’t know what that means, two degrees refers to keeping global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the goal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), also set in 2015, cover a wide range of topics, from poverty and hunger to sustainable cities and responsible consumption.

Image courtesy of Trucost and the 2018 State of Green Business Report

Image courtesy of Trucost and the 2018 State of Green Business Report

The 80-page report lists ten trends to watch. These trends reflect many things I’ve already learned about through writing this blog, researching and writing my book, and writing content for clients.

1. Rising importance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues and greater understanding of their impact on financial performance. Positive ESG performance correlates with better stock price performance. Tools are available that can calculate the effects of climate change, water scarcity, or pollution on the bottom line.

2. Increased emphasis on science-based targets for emission reductions. For companies in the oil and gas, petrochemicals, and mining industries to adopt such targets, however, they will have to dramatically change the way they do business. Dong Energy in Denmark serves as a key example. The company rebranded itself as Ørsted, sold off its oil and gas business, and shifted its focus to wind power.

3. Banking industry support for a transition to sustainability. Loans and bonds in the green finance (GreenFin) sector are funding more green buildings, renewable energy, pollution prevention, and other similar projects.

4. Rethinking the use of carbon in the information age. Big data is shifting to renewable energy to provide the immense quantity of electricity its operations demand. Extracting carbon from the atmosphere or industrial emissions and reusing it productively is becoming more of a realistic goal.

5. Linking economic inclusion to sustainability. One of the SDGs envisions clean energy for everyone. This requires bringing low-income communities into the picture and giving them a voice, since they are the most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change and pollution.

6. The critical role of energy storage. Batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and thermal storage all provide ways to better balance intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. Improved energy storage will be necessary if the world is to move beyond fossil fuels.

7. Cities addressing peak delivery congestion. Goods ordered online need to be delivered to their destinations, a process that should be improved to avoid unnecessary traffic congestion and pollution. This could involve more efficient routing or the use of drones for delivery.

8. Artificial intelligence becoming smarter. AI is already in common use, despite concerns about ethical implications. The AI of the future could measure energy use, emissions, and pollution in real time and use those data to take immediate action.

9. Electrification of everything. This primarily refers to vehicles of all sorts: cars, buses, trucks, and perhaps eventually even airplanes will run on electricity instead of oil and gas. Some countries will implement bans on combustion engines that will accelerate this trend.

10. Synthetic biology coming of age. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), already controversial, may expand and revolutionize agriculture, energy production, and materials production. Genetically modified yeast is already being used to create a plant-based protein that closely resembles meat. Agricultural waste is a promising source for bioplastics.

Want to learn more? Read the GreenBiz report. I invite you to subscribe to my blog to hear my perspective on many of the topics above. I’m also looking for beta readers for my book, Get the Lead Out. Review copies will be available this spring.