Written by Mark Perera, CEO, Vizibl
As 2022 gets underway, we are reminded once again that the 2030 climate change deadline looms ever nearer. The key goal is to keep global warming to 1.5˚C – a task which, despite the efforts of global leaders at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November last year, remains a herculean undertaking.
The ‘what, why, when, and how’ we should tackle this pressing issue were key topics for discussion and debate at our recent Decade of our Lives event. I therefore thought it worth sharing a recap of the key discussion points, from our expert cast of practitioner speakers who shared their insights around climate, carbon, and the Scope 3 challenge.
Actions beats inaction, every time
The Decade of our Lives: Climate, Carbon and the Scope 3 Challenge event highlighted not only the scale of the task facing businesses and the world at large, but also the ticking clock that’s becoming ever-present in our lives. In his keynote, “Action beats inaction, every time”, Jim Massey, Chief Sustainability Officer of Zai Lab, and former VP ESG of AstraZeneca, outlined just how urgent the challenge has become. He commented: “As a former high school athlete, it has always been exciting to watch the countdown of the clock, the end of the game,” he says. “This, however, is a very different feeling for me. This is literally life and death. This isn’t walking off the court a winner or a loser.”
Jim put forward a compelling case for not only action, but the importance of immediacy. He reminded us all that for every five weeks that pass, another 1% of the decade slips away too. The urgency of this call to action is ever-present in my mind as I write this article.
One unsettling takeaway from our event was that as temperature rises continue to march on at an unforgiving pace, the planet has already warmed by 1.1˚C, further emphasising the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead if we are to limit warming to 1.5˚C. Given the power in procurement’s hands to contribute significantly to the climate change challenge before us, Jim is intent on ensuring this isn’t just seen as a daunting task, but as an opportunity to drive change.
Being an early adopter is not easy
However, not every decision will be easy. He reminded us that “It’s a challenge to be an early adopter,” recounting his own experiences in an electric car during a period when chargers were few and far between. He added: “One charger was broken, and we had to wait 30 minutes while another vehicle was charging. It’s tough to be an early adopter when the infrastructure isn’t fully there. It’s about how you bring others along and how you maintain your patience. The actions you’re going to take in the next five weeks might feel uncomfortable – but if you don’t do that action, then who will?”
There were those who said that the pandemic would derail the UK’s sustainability drive and that the desire to fight climate change would instead be replaced by something more fundamental – a scramble for businesses to survive. But, if anything, the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has merely served to emphasise just how critical tackling global warming is. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it has gained pace during COVID-19.
Collaboration is key
Cesare Guarini, the Director of Sustainability Procurement of Philip Morris International, emphasised the importance of collaboration during the event. Using a powerful quote from British explorer Robert Swann – the first person to walk to both the North and South Poles – he reminded us that “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” This statement, he argued, illustrates that this isn’t a crisis that can be solved by individuals working alone: we are all accountable, and this, at its basis, is a collective issue.
This is a fact that Emir Sassi, Global Head of Procurement Sustainability at Novartis, knows only too well.
Novartis is a company that has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030, and during the conference Sassi admitted, to some extent, that this very public commitment represents a giant step into the unknown, saying: “We didn’t necessarily know what needed to be done – we just knew that we needed to get there.”
It’s that kind of bold, can-do attitude which now typifies the approach companies are taking to the environment, and it’s refreshing and impressive in equal measure. Novartis has spent 2021 segmenting its supply base and identifying which suppliers are necessary to work with in order to achieve its sustainability ambitions, a clear demonstration that alignment and collaboration within supply chains is at the core of this fight.
Powerful developments in sustainability
And finally, Deborah Dull, an expert and thought leader on circular supply chains, spoke about the exciting developments taking place in the sustainability space, highlighting the fact that technology is moving rapidly in areas like carbon capture, avenues of regeneration that would have seemed impossible just a short time ago and are now within reach.
“We only have 0.4˚C left [until the 1.5˚C target is exceeded], so I would argue that we don’t have ten years, we have eight months,” she says. “Therefore, we really have to get our act together at this point. The regeneration piece becomes critical for us. We need to start imagining a different type of supply chain, a different type of operating model and business model and certainly different materials.”
Regeneration, collective responsibility, collaboration, and cautious positivity were four key takeaways from an event which not only illustrated the collective desire for action in procurement, supply chain, and sustainability functions, but also reminded everyone collectively that the future starts now.
The next five weeks signify 1% of the most important decade of our lives. And now is the time, as you start to put in place plans for 2022, to look at what you can do immediately to get closer to this target. This is the single most important decade for climate action, and change must happen now. Millions of lives will depend on it.