The extreme weather events that we have seen lately are caused by climate change, climate change is caused by us and it will get worse – but we can still avoid disaster. The new IPCC report, which compiles well over thousand scientific studies, is both a strong warning and an urgent call to action. At the center of what needs to be done are the construction sector and large consultancy firms such as Sweco. Sweco’s former Chief Sustainability Officer Mattias Goldmann points out key messages for the sector – and for Sweco itself
- Be part of the solution. With the worldwide attention for the IPCC report, and the COP26 in Glasgow coming up in November, every company will be asked what they do to help combat climate change. Expect increased demands to show that you are in line with the Paris Agreement, as evidenced by signing up to the Science Based Targets Initiative, as Sweco did as one of the first Swedish companies. Expect to pay higher interest rates or simply not get you loan application approved, and attract less or no investment if you do not score high in EU’s Taxonomy and other tools for assessing to what extent your company is in line with the climate targets set out by the EU climate law, the Paris Agreement and national climate legislation. Also expect your offices, your company cars, your traveling solutions, how your coffee is served and much else to be part of how you are evaluated and whether or not you are seen as a relevant partner for future work – both by potential clients and by potential future colleagues. If the best and the brightest from Generation Z, millennials and Generation Greta won’t apply for positions at your company, your future is not secured.
- Adapt to a changing climate. The IPCC report includes breakdowns on the regional effects of a changing climate, which helps us to better understand what must be done to adapt. This has mainly been the responsibility of cities and municipalities, but now companies should also urgently take a look at how well prepared they – and their suppliers – are to cope with flooding, heat waves, droughts and other effects of a changing climate.
- Say no more often. The IPCC report shows that business as usual is not good enough, and every one of their scenarios on how to meet the 1.5 degree target includes phasing out coal. At Sweco we have decided to not work with coal, and encourage others to do at least the same – a decision such as this will only be efficient for the climate if all or most key actors agree (while at the same time remaining fierce competitors for other, climate aligned projects). Beyond that, we should more often be prepared to offer alternative solutions – for instance, instead of a new office complex, refurbish the current one.
- Go well beyond your formal obligations. As a large consultancy company, what Sweco proposes for its clients will have an important impact on the climate. However, even with the full CDP climate accounting methodology, what is done in projects for clients falls well outside of the scope of our formal responsibility. With the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Sweco has started a working group to define and calculate the climate impact in project. In the meantime, many more companies may find it useful to better present the impact their consultancy work, their products and their services have when used by their clients – whilst not formally their responsibility, it is something we are all increasingly expected to deal with.
- Ensure sustainability co-benefits. The IPCC report puts a much needed emphasis on the urgency of solving the climate crisis. Many of the solutions discussed in the aftermath of the report would help reduce the climate impact but do little to alleviate other sustainability targets that we have decided upon as a society such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – or even make it more difficult to reach them. In fact, even within the climate target, adaptation is often done at the behest of mitigation; when we prepare for a changing climate, we worsen climate change. Sweco has developed the Sustainability Sun to help visualize co-benefit and avoid tradeoffs, and all companies are encouraged to do so – using this tool or by other means.
The IPCC report shows that the situation is urgent, but also that we can make a meaningful contribution to improve it. How well we do that will be central to how we are judged by the market, by our customers and by our colleagues. Let’s get to it.