A delegation of WBCSD representatives joined members, sustainability practitioners, educators, and thought leaders in conversations at GreenBiz23 in Scottsdale, Arizona on February 13-16, 2023. GreenBiz is a premier annual event for sustainable business leaders.
Participants held conversations focused on achieving net-zero, advancing the circular economy, elevating social justice, and putting biodiversity front and center. The event convened over 1,700 changemakers and set the tone for what businesses can expect for the rest of the year. It also served as a positive reminder that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) will not go away. Solving systemic problems remains the top priority for business, and there is hope in the means created to tackle these problems.
As part of WBCSD’s engagement at GreenBiz23, WBCSD North America hosted a networking reception that brought together over 100 attendees. Diane Holdorf (WBCSD EVP, Pathways) engaged Joel Makower (Executive Editor and Co-Founder of Greenbiz Group) in a discussion on what both are seeing as global and regional influences impacting businesses. Ezgi Barcenas (Chief of Sustainability at AB InBev) also joined us to speak about the company’s sustainability priorities in addressing equity, nature, and climate. Our keynote speaker, Derrick Johnson (President & CEO of the NAACP – the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S.) closed the event by highlighting the NAACP's role over the years not just in voting and civil rights, but also in environmental justice. He summed it up best when he said at the intersection of civil rights, democracy, and climate: "There's no need for us to advocate for voting rights if there's no planet.” This was a powerful and meaningful message in the context of Black History Month. This provided attendees with insight and inspiration on how to accelerate change and achieve success to address these complex challenges.
Our engagement included a session on Wednesday, February 15 on Demystifying Climate Transition Scenarios. This breakout session discussed WBCSD’s Climate Scenario Tool for Food, Agriculture and Forest Products. Diane Holdorf moderated the panel discussion that featured Ryan Whisnant (Director, Land Use Finance, WBCSD), Gordon Darling (Senior Manager, PWC), and Sophie Beckham (VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, International Paper). The panelists explained what climate transitions are, how they work, and how companies can leverage them to align with the recommendations of the FSB Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) climate disclosure. The discussion highlighted how WBCSD members and partners are using scenario analysis and explored the Climate Scenario Analysis tool through an interactive video demonstration. The key takeaway from this discussion was summed up by Diane reminding us that, “This type of transparency and disclosure is critical to business, and relevant to business performance to help to mitigate risks and create additional opportunities.”
WBCSD’s new research on Transition Planning and Climate Scenario Analysis for Food, Agriculture and Forest Products was introduced during this session and included discussions on the lessons from the development of the Climate Scenario Tool and its application to transition planning. Additionally, this session formally launched the Climate Scenario Analysis Tool Impact Hub. For those interested and in need of practical information about TCDF Climate Scenarios, the Impact Hub is an all-in-one source to view and download the tool and its supporting resources. Signing up to receive additional information related to the Tool is a must.
Later that same day, I moderated the panel Taking Corporate Real Estate to Zero and framed the urgency of taking real estate to net-zero in my opening remarks reminding attendees that, “Every five days the equivalent of Paris is built somewhere around the world.” Joining me in this discussion was Susan Uthayakumar (Chief Energy and Sustainability Officer, Prologis), Renae Kezar (VP Global Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs, Johnson Controls), Melissa Darr, PE (Global Sustainability Education and Engagement Partner, Arcadis), and Brenden McEneaney (Senior V.P., Sustainability, JLL).
Throughout this panel, we highlighted how real estate companies can lead and are leading the way with innovative initiatives to decarbonize the sector through green leases and financing improvements to buildings themselves, rather than burdening the tenant. Central to this conversation was the recently released WBCSD report titled “Net Zero Buildings: halving construction emissions today.” The report highlights the degree of decarbonization that can be achieved through collaboration by all stakeholders involved in the built environment. A consistent theme echoed by all panelists was the need for collaboration to get to net-zero emissions in the built environment. As Renae Kezar stated at the end of the session: “There’s no path to net-zero without decarbonizing buildings.”
WBCSD engagement at GreenBiz closed on 16 February at the Regenerative Agriculture: Reducing Emissions, Supporting Biodiversity, Feeding the World session sponsored by WBCSD member ADM. Tony Siantonas (Director of Scaling Positive Agriculture at WBCSD) moderated this panel. Joining Tony was Michelle French (Director, Global Sustainability Programs, ADM), Paul Butler (a farmer), and David Bennell (Limited Partner, CPG Capital).
During this session, panelists reinforced how regenerative agriculture is critical to the future of life on our planet and emphasized how urgent it is to maintain soil health. Done right, the collection of nature-based solutions can sequester carbon in soils, promote biodiversity, and keep our ability to produce food for a growing global population. The panel also highlighted successes that are beginning to show the value of regenerative agriculture, including the different ways in which risk is being managed so that the burden does not all fall on the grower. It also highlighted the need for partnerships and called out field-to-market as an example of a successful collaboration. From a farmer’s perspective, Paul Butler pointed to both the challenge and opportunity of regenerative agriculture: cover crops help him to protect against soil erosion, but he currently cannot afford to have cover crops applied throughout his farm.
By the end of GreenBiz23, both from an overall perspective and from WBCSD’s and our member contributions, we left feeling invigorated and optimistic. As Joel Makower said at the opening plenary: “There has never been a more exciting time, or a more terrifying time, to be in sustainability. The urgency is real, the opportunity is real, and the majority of the business world is finally getting on board.”