As world leaders debate and deflect at COP26, the UN climate summit in Glasgow, business is stepping up. The Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), a U.K. climate group headed by Prince Charles, announced Wednesday morning that it was awarding what it calls the Terra Carta Seal to 45 global companies – including three Canadian firms – that are leading the way on the energy transition.
The list of companies that qualified for this royal “seal of approval” includes Amazon, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, HP, IBM, PepsiCo and Unilever. All of the recipient companies hold leadership positions within their industries and have credible transition roadmaps underpinned by globally recognized, scientific metrics for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.
The Terra Carta Seal, launching in Glasgow November 3, comes out of the Prince of Wales’s recent Terra Carta initiative, a recovery plan for the private sector that prioritizes nature.
The name Terra Carta (“Earth Charter”) derives from the Magna Carta, a charter of rights developed by King John and his barons 800 years ago that marked the first step in limiting monarchical power in England. The Prince of Wales believes we’ve reached a similar turning point in the battle against climate catastrophe, praising these organizations “who have made a serious and action-orientated commitment to prioritise the transition to a sustainable future while putting Nature, People and Planet at the heart of the way they operate.”
The Canadian firms on the list are Cogeco, Stantec and Telus. Adding to that Canadian content, Corporate Knights played a role in vetting and offering counsel on the companies under consideration. SMI used the Corporate Knights Global 100 ranking as the starting point for its list in combination with SMI’s active task force members. Corporate Knights researchers helped evaluate individual companies’ qualifications.
Prince Charles, a long-time environmental crusader, provided opening remarks at the Global 100’s virtual launch last January. “We talked in the back room on Zoom,” says Corporate Knights co-founder and chief executive Toby Heaps. That’s where His Royal Highness asked Heaps if Corporate Knights could use its experience in ranking – and reading between the lines on companies’ sustainability commitments – to help establish an authoritative list of companies to receive the Terra Carta Seal. “There are no perfect companies” when it comes to sustainability, says Heaps. “But we have a pretty good red-flag detector.”
Heaps hopes the program will help other business leaders push harder for more sustainable futures. “We need to see businesses flow money into climate solutions,” he says. “The solutions are ready. This is the kind of thing that can get a CEO’s attention.”
The Terra Carta Seal is awarded to companies that have documented plans to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 or achieve net-zero by 2050. They have also committed to adopting standardized reporting metrics.
"The real opportunity is to see what this group of companies can do together."
–Steve Fleck, executive vice-president, Stantec
Stantec, an Edmonton-based engineering and construction firm, was the highest-ranked North American company on this year’s Global 100. Vancouver-based telecom Telus has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 31% since 2010 and has purchase agreements that power all its activities in Alberta with renewable electricity. Cogeco, a Montreal-based cable and internet supplier, has committed to reducing its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 65% by 2030. All three companies have had their emissions-reduction plans approved by the Science Based Targets initiative as meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Two days before the announcement of the Terra Carta Seal, the executive team at Stantec learned they had made the cut. “It’s quite an honour but not a surprise,” says executive vice-president Steve Fleck. “Sustainability is part of Stantec – it’s in the water.”
Fleck believes the honour will be good for business. He says Stantec got into sustainability early through its clients in public–private partnerships, such as the 2007 Kelowna-Vernon hospital project in British Columbia. “There were specific energy criteria we had to meet,” he says. The company knew it would be held responsible if those standards weren’t met – but it also discovered opportunities to win when contractors exceed expectations.
Today Stantec is regularly involved in building net-zero buildings, retrofitting older structures, enhancing coastal resilience for shoreline communities, and helping mining and oil firms shrink their carbon footprints. “It’s a big change from a few years ago,” says Fleck, “when some of these companies would have been leading the climate denial issue.”
Stantec looks forward to participating in the activist executive network Prince Charles hopes to build through the Terra Carta Seal. “The real opportunity is to see what this group of companies can do together,” Fleck says. “In many ways, private-sector entities are moving forward more efficiently and quickly than governments can do. So I have a lot of time for this institution.”