Tuesday, 12 May 2015

US Greenhouse Gases – Where Next?

By Amy Bond
Sustainability Program Manager - US, at CBRE


At first glance the headline was appealing: US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Drop 9% since 2005. But the article goes on to reveal that 2013 levels were actually up from the previous year.  Additionally disturbing is the fact that a significant contributor to the rise was caused by an increase in coal use for power generation.  In a time when the deployment of renewable energy is thought to be growing rapidly, this comes as somewhat of a shock. Though commercial real estate is not listed as one of the top contributors to the GHG stats, industry professionals would do well to learn from the poor example set by its business peers.

Governmental policy may be imposed to correct the trend. But even the best of policies can fail if the path they set out isn’t leading somewhere more valuable than the status quo. Sustainability strategies and reduction goals are essentially environmental road maps for improving the future, whether drafted by governing agencies or private business. These maps must provide a framework to create, work, measure and report results.

Maps not only provide direction, they also offer context. Take, for example, the name of the fourth largest country (by total land area). It’s not called The United States of Columbus, after all. Named after Amerigo Vespucci, the United States of America moniker initially was meant to describe the New World discovery of South America, not just the Northern portion. The name was coined by German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller and appeared on the first map of the known world he drafted in 1507. 

Only 1,000 copies of this map were ever printed and of those, only one remains. Uncovered in 1901 it’s valued at $10 million. Sustainability professionals should be asking themselves whether 500 years from now, or even 10 years from now, if future generations will be guided by the course they’re drafting. And if so, is it leading somewhere worth going.

Some of the world’s leading businesses will be plotting a course for long term global health and business success at the Sustainable Development Goals summit in New York this September. But that doesn’t mean smaller companies can’t have influence as well. To paraphrase Unilever Director Feike Sijbesma as reported in The Guardian, a leader cannot be successful in a society that fails. The resulting map for environmental health and success could be the must have tool of this decade.

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