Drive Pursuit of the Climate Positive Business

It’s been a busy year. So much so that we’ve barely been able to attend to blog posts (and honestly, our social channels get more traffic than the website).

One crowning achievement was the publication of “Climate Positive Business: How You and Your Company Hit Bold Climate Goals and Go Net Zero” in October. As many reading this will understand, businesses can be change agents to drive real climate benefits, and many currently already are. The key is proper planning and execution.

Climate Positive Business offers a credible way to tackle net zero GHG emission goals. And provide a means by which to productively and positively move forward on climate action. The time for climate books as solely horror novels is over. We certainly need to honestly assess the facts and the dire trends that face us. But give people a pathway for action.

Below is an excerpt:

From measurement of climate impacts, we move onto reduction of those climate impacts, and the content of what you do to bring GHG emissions down, so your measurements start to show the results that you wish to see.

As you work through this section of climate solutions, keep asking yourself these questions:

1. Is this solution truly reducing GHGs in the air, whether eliminating emissions, reducing the rate of emissions, or removing the GHG that’s already in the air?

2. Are there multiple benefits from the climate solution? Does it improve biodiversity, contribute to social justice, or create other benefits? Or does it solely focus on reducing GHG in the air?

3. For solutions that involve carbon removal (to be defined later), how permanent is the solution’s GHG removal? Is there risk that captured carbon will be re-released back into the air?

Before getting into reduction details, however, let’s segue to the big picture.

Carbon is impressively maligned, considering it’s a simple element in the periodic table, and responsible for all life on the planet. We clearly do not have a problem with the element itself. We celebrate carbon as a key component of all beings. The problem is the sudden increase of its most oxidized form (CO2) in our atmosphere, when we and much of life have comfortably evolved with lower levels of CO2 around.

It turns out we have nine limits on a planetary level, as articulated by the Stockholm Resilience Center. As depicted in Figure 3.1, four of them have been exceeded as of 2015 (in zones of uncertainty), three were deemed in the safe zone (innermost safe circle), and two were unknown.

In the intervening years since 2015, we’ve seen enough climate impacts to deem climate change further into the zone of uncertainty, and a 2018 UN report is in agreement with the spirit of that assessment, calling for a 45% drop in emissions by 2030.1 Clearly, genetic diversity and nitrogen pollution in water are also critical. Planetary boundaries highlight the need to remain aware of other issues that demand attention, even with our focus on climate.

Figure 3.1 Planetary Boundaries.
Source: Planetary Boundaries, 2015, Science 347; Stockholm Resilience Centre.

These specific issues are as important as issues get! The safe limit we’ve transcended to move out of the safe zone on climate is the CO2 limit of 350 ppm in the atmosphere. Considering the history of life on the planet, given the variation of CO2 levels over a long timeframe, my concern as it relates to climate is less about the actual level at a given time and much more about the rate of change. Though steep spikes in CO2 did occur in the past, as shown in Figure 3.2, they’re not literally vertical like the spike of the last 100 years that has transported us into CO2 levels not seen in the last million years. The rate of change we’ve seen in the last 100 years, combined with what we project for the next 100, is unprecedented.

Unprecedented change calls for an unprecedented response. We have to reverse the dramatic climate snap at the end of that chart, like the Avengers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe who sought to reverse the actions of their foe, Thanos, who amassed enough power to wipe out half the life in the universe with a snap of his finger. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the Avengers (though if you find them, I definitely need to speak with Tony Stark!).

Figure 3.2 CO2 versus Temperature.
Source: Healthy Planet U.K., CC BY SA 4.0 license.

The unleashing of the climate crisis is our challenge of heroic proportions. If we respond strategically to that crisis, we just might at least partially address other planetary issues, like biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution, and unleash other co-benefits of climate action, like air pollution reduction and social justice.

The highest priority impacts for you to tackle depend on the results of your GHG accounting, but prominent classes of reduction actions throughout your value chain include:
• Efficiency—buildings
• Efficiency—transportation
• Renewable energy
• Refrigerant management

Efficiency and renewable energy actions represent a significant portion of your effort to reverse the snap.

Placing those actions into a GHG reduction sequence for businesses, where the most logical actions to implement first are actually implemented first, looks like:
• Invest in process redesign to avoid unnecessary energy demand
• Invest in efficiency in facilities and fleets
• LEDs, heat recovery, HVAC control upgrades, variable frequency drives on variable load motors, building shell insulation, sealing HVAC ducts, etc.
• Install renewables
• Options include solar PV, solar thermal, wind, hydropower, geothermal, anaerobic digestion, organic waste-to energy, and tidal
• Purchase clean energy through utility
• Explore Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). As one primary way that PPAs manifest, renewable developers build and own solar or wind on your site, and sell you the electricity.

A handful of these actions have established costs and payback, like solar and wind where the hours of sun and speed of wind are known (or can be measured) for a given location, and the costs of installation are relatively fixed. Returns on investment into other actions depend on the context. How often is equipment operating? How much energy waste are we preventing? In exploring the best investment opportunities among these actions, two questions come up:
• Where can we significantly reduce GHG emissions?
• Where do we get the best GHG reduction bang for our buck?

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