Meeting the green promise: Sustainability Week US 2022

28th Jul 2022

Sustainability Week US 2022 saw 315 attendees gather in Washington and a further 2,868 online. This was many delegates’ first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on the question of “how will the green promise be met?”, the event united business leaders and policymakers to discuss how to become sustainable faster.

The Washington event was kicked off by David Livingstone, Senior Adviser to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry. Mr. Livingstone talked about the importance of energy security and sustainability, and how they are closely tied to the green ambitions of the Biden administration.

With net-zero being a major topic during the week, “Making, Measuring and Maintaining: How to Develop a Strong Net-Zero Company” proved to be a particularly engaging panel. This session covered practical ideas to achieve net-zero, including a focus on Netflix’s “OED framework”, which guides the firm’s efforts to optimize, electrify and decarbonize. “We have found energy-efficiency opportunities in our offices and electrification is key,” explained Netflix Sustainability Officer Emma Stewart, “and we have co-founded with a number of other companies the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance…to create a drop-in fuel which is 80% lower-carbon.”

Martha Stevenson, Senior Director of Forests Research and Strategy at WWF and a Strategic Adviser to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), talked about what it means to have a strong net-zero plan, including the importance of having near-term targets alongside long-term ones and focusing on emissions reductions first. She also highlighted the work being done by WWF to develop SBTi pathways for Forestry & Agriculture paired with the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) development of a greenhouse gas protocol standard for land emissions and removals, which will be published soon. Ms. Stevenson remarked that “this work will address 22% of global emissions from land-use change and land management that have not been accounted for in corporate inventories.”

The panel concluded with advice to the audience, including Ms. Stevenson saying that in this decisive decade, one should focus on implementation and worry about catching up on reporting and measurement later. Jim Andrew, the chief sustainability officer at PepsiCo, supported this observation, and advised listeners to set science-based targets and “move now.”

Many delegates throughout the in-person day in Washington talked about the importance of bringing businesses and policymakers together, particularly around technical and procurement issues, due to the far-reaching climate and sustainability regulations being brought in as part of federal procurement practices.

Economist Impact’s team attended meetings following the close of the event, both with the White House and with major organisations such as the World Bank. The biggest area of opportunity we saw coming from discussions at these meetings and at the event is the important role businesses have to play in helping the world become sustainable, faster. In the words of John Kerry, the private sector can win this battle.