Decarbonization requires radical collaboration

Contributed by James Viray, Gregory Carli, Michele Villa — GHD

How can we radically collaborate to make the right choices – and the right investment decisions – to mobilize global markets and accelerate the establishment of a sustainable, low-carbon economy?

In many ways, the climate change challenge we face in the next 10 years is analogous to the pandemic we’re emerging from. The rapid rollout of vaccines showed us that decision-makers and key stakeholders can collaborate quickly when we face a collective crisis. Governments, multilateral institutions, private firms, and NGOs coordinated resources to develop and distribute vaccines at a record pace. COVID-19 proved the basic tenant of behavioral economics: that immediate consequences drive action. We will need to apply this same sense of urgency to mobilize global efforts to rapidly reduce emissions while helping our communities adapt to the economic realities of climate change if we are to be successful in the short and longer-term.

Fortunately, we are already seeing a promising response to the imminent threat posed by climate change; the pivot towards more ESG-driven investment in global markets, for example, is real and happening now. But no one slice of the economy is going to drive the wholesale change we need this decade. Government, industry, academia, community – all will need to come together to form new, perhaps unorthodox partnerships to drive change.

From competitive edge to ‘collaborative advantage’

Complex problems require us to think differently, particularly in relation to emissions reduction goals. While Scope 1 and 2 emissions are well understood, Scope 3 emissions represent the next big hurdle. Individual organizations are trying to understand what to do in this space. Instead of working in isolation, businesses that would normally compete will need to come together to tackle emissions across the value chain – working collectively as a sector, to deliver lower-carbon solutions to the world. We hope to see collaborative advantage take precedence over competition as we approach 2030.

Tackling Scope 3 emissions through collaboration will be a gamechanger. Big emitters are struggling to define and deliver ambitious decarbonization agendas. All are under intense public pressure to clean up their operations and portfolios. Businesses in these hard-to-abate sectors have both the motivation and resources to solve the Scope 3 puzzle; the missing piece is a partnership. By partnering with suppliers, new solutions spearheaded by heavy industry will benefit the many small- and medium-sized businesses downstream that don’t have the R&D budgets to drive innovation. Collaboration also helps manufacturers develop differentiated end products that support their customers’ emissions reduction efforts.  

This type of cross-industry collaboration is happening. For example, the Charge On Innovation Challenge has brought together some of the world’s largest miners to find solutions to electrify their heavy transport fleets – to move away from diesel, while maintaining productivity. The 1.5°C Supply Chain Leaders initiative is another demonstration of leading brands banding together and partnering with suppliers to make positive change. Meanwhile, companies in some of the world’s highest-emitting industries are joining together with their suppliers and customers to decarbonize industry and transport through the Mission Possible Partnership. We will see more initiatives like these, delivering broad societal benefit by tackling the big problems, together. We also expect to see progressive businesses working more closely with the public sector and impacted communities to help accelerate solutions.

The knowledge-sharing opportunity

While not losing sight of the importance to progress mitigation measures, in the next five to 10 years, world leaders will zone in on adaptation strategies, to help build resiliency in the face of increasingly severe and frequent weather events. This is where opportunities to pool data and intelligence in all its forms – from the ancient to high-tech – become all the more important.

Our ability to mine massive data sets to enable real-time digital intelligence continues to transform our society. Better data means better carbon accounting, and that means a clearer picture of the impact of our actions. Heightened awareness, in turn, drives more climate-conscious behaviors among corporates and consumers. To really ‘lift the veil’ on our carbon footprint, we must freely share data and be equally generous with the IP we generate from it. The human mind alone is not able to connect all the myriad dots between the environment, people and behavior quickly enough to speed up the transition – only working as true partners to share data-driven insights will get us there.

Increasingly sophisticated technology will help us better measure and manage the phenomenon of climate change. But there are many more ancient sources of wisdom that we need to leverage, too. We need to prioritize deepening our relationships with Indigenous peoples to gain valuable knowledge about traditional land management and other practices that have set the highest benchmark for environmental stewardship for centuries. Unconventional approaches to collaboration across cultures – blending time-honored approaches with new technology – offer exciting potential for adaptive solutions.

A shared responsibility – a shared opportunity

We find ourselves at a critical turning point ‘just before midnight’; only in relatively recent history has mankind managed to disrupt our planet’s natural balance to such a dangerous degree. In addressing this current state of emergency, there is much to be said about learning from the natural order of things; like the majestic redwood forest that has thrived for centuries sharing nutrients and support structures as a connected network of trees, the human race must also find ways to partner, connect and collaborate to support and strengthen each other in the face of this shared existential crisis.

Climate change impacts us all, particularly our future generations – and it will take a united front to face the challenges ahead. Industries will need to work together as communities, competitors as peers, and global governments as global partners. No one expects the next decade to be easy, but with radical collaboration, we can make the leaps necessary to secure a cleaner, more resilient future, together.

About the authors:

James Viray, Global Leader – Sustainability

James has been working on sustainable development for 20 years. Over his career, he has driven collaboration among multinational corporations in sectors from technology to energy & mining to agribusiness to apparel and their stakeholders in addressing social & environmental impacts at both local and global levels. As the Global Enterprise Sustainability Leader for GHD, a global professional services company, he leads the integration of sustainability across the firm’s operations and client services.

Gregory Carli, Executive Advisor – Sustainability Resilience and ESG   

Gregory oversees the strategic integration of Sustainability & Resilience principles into a broad range of client solutions across GHD’s market segments of Water, Transportation, Environment, Property & Buildings, and Energy. He is passionate about ESG integration, climate risk management and sustainable infrastructure. He has over 25 years’ experience in providing innovative solutions to clients throughout North America, globally in his role as Executive Advisor and former as a leader in the EHS+S practice.  

Michele Villa, D-Lab Innovation Lead WA – Environment Leader Digital  

Michele has 30 years’ experience providing environmental, health & safety and social impact consulting services to the oil & gas, mining, manufacturing and public service sectors across Europe and Australia. He is an expert at integrating environmental issues into the long-term financial success of organizations, and his areas of specialisation include identifying risk, improving business performance through digital solutions and implementing best practice for climate change strategies, emissions trading systems, environmental and health and safety management systems, sustainability strategies and waste management. As an entrepreneur he founded ADAM AI Solution, a startup providing digital solution to safety and sustainability.