Comment: Kristen Lang, senior director of the Ceres Company Network, explains how the Ceres Roadmap 2030 can help companies not only survive, but thrive over the coming decade by changing the way they do business
In the early days of 2020, I sat like many of you in reflection of what had transpired over the last decade. So many events – both negative and positive – served to shape the current state of our economy, our planet and our social fabric.
It was a decade that saw Alaskan glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously predicted. It introduced the previously unfathomable idea that entire cities could run dry, facing Day Zero and the worst megadrought in the US in 1200 years. It brought the number of men, women and children caught in the clutches of modern slavery to more than 40 million worldwide. And, it laid bare the experience of women across the globe as colleagues, friends, and family members stepped forward with courage to say #metoo.
It was also the decade that saw thousands of influential companies ‒ large and small ‒and institutional investors declare “We are Still In” the Paris Agreement. And after years of relentlessly advocating that climate change is a systemic financial risk, more than 500 investors, including some of the world's largest asset owners and asset managers, with $47tn assets under management joined Climate Action 100+ to push the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to act. The past decade saw sustainably directed assets under management triple to more than $40 trillion globally so that they now represent $1 of every $4 invested.
In the last few months, we’ve seen the number of net-zero commitments rise to more than 1,500 worldwide
Little did I know at the dawn of 2020 that the months to come would eclipse every experience of the past 10 years, testing us as individuals, communities, colleagues, businesses leaders, investors, nations and as a human race in ways we could not even imagine.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left millions without work, only to rely upon failing social safety nets. The climate crisis has worsened. Wildfires from the western US to Australia have burned at unprecedented rates. And the killings of black Americans further ignited a nationwide movement here in the US calling for an end to systemic racism.
The idea of building a more equitable, just and sustainable economy shifted from an ideal to an imperative. And it has also inspired more action.
Whereas at the end of 2019, only a handful of the largest companies in the US had in place targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with keeping warming to no more than 1.5C, in the last few months, we’ve seen the number of net-zero commitments rise to more than 1,500 worldwide.
While this momentum and level of ambition is encouraging, the simple truth of it is that it is not going to be enough.
Corporate sustainability commitments are necessary. They draw a proverbial line in the sand, creating accountability and if taken seriously, they can unleash innovation. But without appropriate resources, without changes to the way companies govern themselves, design future strategy and determine business priorities they will fall far short of what is needed. And without the right policies and capital market systems in place to enable wholesale action, we will not be able to avoid the worst impacts of these global sustainability threats.
The Ceres Roadmap 2030 recognises that no company or investor alone can create a more equitable, just and sustainable economy
So what will it take for us to build a more equitable, just and sustainable future? What will it take to move corporate commitments from words to results to industry-wide action?
The Ceres Roadmap 2030 is a bold vision for sustainable business leadership and a 10-year action plan to help companies strategically navigate this new and rapidly changing business reality ‒ to not just survive, but thrive. It calls on companies to not only embed sustainability into how they do business, but to redefine the role of the corporation as advocates for changing the institutions that shape corporate decision-making. And it outlines the specific actions needed this decade to stabilise the climate, protect water and natural resources and build a just and inclusive economy, laying out what those milestones look like from today to 2025 and on to 2030.
It recommends business integration actions that guide companies on how to embed sustainability into how they do business from strategic planning, to governance and disclosure. And it lays out systems change actions that challenge companies to drive the systems-level transformation needed to support and enable sustainable business practice.
The Ceres Roadmap 2030 recognises that no one company or investor alone can create a more equitable, just and sustainable economy. It calls for all stakeholders to proactively communicate, advocate and collaborate, within and across industries to positively influence customers, suppliers, trade groups and policymakers.
The decade ahead, more than any other, represents a turning point in our history. While there is no time to waste, there is still time to change course. We must choose our future. And we must choose it today.
Kristen Lang is senior director of the Ceres Company Network and lead author of the Ceres Roadmap 2030. The Ceres' Company Network comprises 50+ companies, most of them Fortune 500 firms. Through direct stakeholder engagement, standard-setting, regular benchmarking, and strong collaborations with coalitions like We Mean Business, Ceres moves companies to raise their ambition on robust sustainability goals and improve resiliency in their operations and supply chains.
climate change modern slavery social equality Climate Action 100 We Are Still In Paris Agreement Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic sistainable economy Ceres roadmap 2030