This year’s Economist Impact 8th Sustainability week was held March 29-31 in London, with the goal to empower businesses to accelerate their action on sustainability. As Agnieszka Pietrzak, ESG Bay’s CEO, says: “If I were to boil down the substance of the 8th Sustainability Week in one sentence, that would be “the time is now”. This year, like never before, business representatives and sustainability experts agree that it’s time for an immediate action, which can no longer be delayed. It seems we have come to a tipping point where business as usual is not an option. Collaboration and action are vital and they should be put into motion, not press releases”.
Economist Impact 8th Sustainability week has been an eventful three days, with companies sharing best practices, talks on how competition and collaboration accelerates on the path to net zero and inspirational sessions delivered by Sustainability Leaders.
Kicked off by the keynote address by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the event focused on a number of core topics: Green finance and investment; Decarbonising business models; Biodiversity; Innovative technology; Social sustainability; Policy, regulation and reporting; Resilience and adaptation.
Discussions took place virtually and in person. Panels sharing ideas on how companies can maintain a competitive advantage while collaborating towards net-zero goals, suggesting public-private and cross-industry partnerships are the way forward to accelerate climate action. Important points addressed were the needs for businesses to stay profitable while they invest to achieve their net-zero targets and proactively respond to increased stakeholder demand and the obstacles everyone faces trying to tackle the scope 3 disclosure challenge and obtain consistent, high-quality data from their suppliers. Many agree that managing the process and agreeing on common performance metrics is difficult.
In person attendees will long remember an early morning panel of day 2, with Paul Polman (Business leader, campaigner, co-author of “Net Positive”) and Clover Hogan (Climate activist and executive director, Force of Nature) – on how employees’ expectations translate into corporate action. While discussing how new generations of employees are reevaluating where and how they show up at work, powerful and impactful statements were made by Clover: “companies need to focus on doing more good rather than less bad” and “congratulating ourselves on the job done so far is just not enough”
The panel was followed by a conversation with Ana Paula Assis, IBM’s Chair for Europe, Middle East and Africa, speaking on correlation between emissions and technology, and how AI can help with emissions calculation, mitigation and reduction. Currently, 75% of data is captured manually, while 70% emissions sit with small and medium companies. As Ana pointed out, “AI is the future in carbon reporting, as no human would be able to make sense of such amounts of data”.
There was also a discussion of how the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our planet’s KPIs. A global effort is underway for countries to meet the goal, reaffirmed in 2015 under the 2030 Agenda. Yet as society reaches the midway point, it is clear that the world is far from reaching the SDGs—such as reducing poverty, inequality and injustice, while improving the environment, health and education—at the pace and scale that is needed. Achieving the SDGs can only be possible as an urgent, scalable, multi-stakeholder action.
Economist Impact 8th Sustainability Week did not disappoint. It is a great platform to share ideas, network, and realign the goals on sustainability, leaving its attendees with re-charged batteries and new found motivation for further action. That being said, such events can only be deemed successful if they are followed by real actions and the ideas discussed are put into life. Now.