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What the Copenhagen Talks Mean for Your Business

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“Copenhagen is important because it represents a business opportunity said European commission president José Manuel Barroso.

“By moving towards a more sustainable economy, we will unleash a surge of innovation and investment in clean technologies and products. New sectors will provide ‘green collar’ jobs and become sources of sustainable growth for the future,” he continued.

While Barroso gives a rosy view of what the Copenhagen Accord means for business, many in the US are uncertain about business prospects following the talks.

Mike Richter, a partner at private equity firm Environmental Capital Partners, said that while “…it has done some things… It brought China into the fold,” the Accord was not as strong was hoped.

While the pact was a step in the right direction, it lacks concrete directives for businesses to reduce their carbon output. In fact, many US businesses are now calling for the government to clarify what will be expected of them going forward.

Businesses Calling for Climate Legislation

Based on an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that declared greenhouse gasses a public health risk, the EPA now has the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions; however, most agree that congressional legislation would be preferable to rules set by the agency.

According to “Business Implications of the Copenhagen Accord,” a report produced by Verdantix, “A non-binding agreement that codifies national commitments and includes voluntary emission reductions of countries like China significantly increases the probability that the Kerry-BoxerAmerican Businesses for Clean Energy legislation will be passed.”

In fact, in the past few months, over a thousand businesses have joined American Businesses for Clean Energy, “a diverse coalition of businesses that support Congressional action to pass clean energy and climate legislation that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

ABCE spokesman Christopher Van Atten said, “…we have been overwhelmed by the interest in the American Businesses for Clean Energy.”

He continued, “The rapid increase in business flocking to ABCE sends a strong signal to Congress of the strong support for meaningful and effective legislation that will drive clean technology innovation, create jobs, and address the threat of global climate change.” The group includes a diverse membership, including companies like National Grid, New York Power Authority, Gap, Inc., Avista, and Ben & Jerry’s Delmar Loop.

But what will the new rules mean for businesses, particularly your business’ sustainability initiatives?

Your Sustainability Targets

While legislation will help businesses set emissions targets for the future, there are steps your company’s sustainability team can take right now to prepare.

First of all, according to the Verdantix report, it’s import you stay informed on what the Accord really means:

“Many CEOs will read the negative commentary from environmental NGOs and politicians on the results of Copenhagen and believe its time to scale back carbon reduction plans. Smart sustainability leaders will be ready to explain that the Copenhagen Accord opens the door to US climate legislation as well as carbon regulations in developing countries. What’s more, carbon management is primarily about reducing energy costs and building environmental brand value — UN policies rarely figure in the business case.”

As Denny Ellerman, an energy economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained, “The apocalyptic views and soaring ambitions have made way for modest, more realistic goals.” A compromise often leaves interested parties feeling unfulfilled – which has meant a lot of complaining in the Press about the Accord. As the Verdantix report advises, don’t let these negative reports put a stop to your company’s sustainability efforts – focus on the proven money-saving outcome of energy efficiency measures.

But the most important thing your company can do is to involve employees in sustainability and energy efficiency measures. Engaging your staff will help create boardroom buy-in, as well as build brand value.

For example, Guardian News & Media found success in their efforts by staging a sustainability “road show.”

Jo Confino, Guardian Editor and Head of Sustainable Development for Guardian News and Media, explains, “This has involved working with each of our departmental sustainability advocates to arrange briefings that not only inform staff on our vision and strategy but also highlight what that particular part of the business can do to get involved and make a difference.”

Confino says that the reason for this success is because it allows employees can actually see how their efforts will pay off – keeping them more involved in the process. It also keeps them connected on a human level, rather than a purely numbers-based one.

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