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Every year since 2005, Corporate Knights has unveiled its annual list of the world’s most sustainable companies – the Global 100 – in the snowy mountains of Davos during the World Economic Forum. This year’s list debuted Monday, January 25, in a virtual Zoom gathering. Joining CEOs from four of the world’s most sustainable firms was one of the world’s longest-running advocates for sustainable capitalism, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

While congratulating this year’s 100 most sustainable firms in the “noble pursuit of the idea that business can be a force for good,” Prince Charles urgently called for the sort of leadership represented by the Global 100. He warned that the sum of all countries’ carbon reduction commitments won’t come close to limiting rising global temperatures to an average of 2°C – let alone the essential target of 1.5°. “Rather – and this is the problem – they deliver a 3.2°C increase, which means mass extinction and large parts of the planet being uninhabitable by the end of this century.

“As I’ve been trying to say, for more years than I can remember, what on earth is the point of testing this world, and nature, to destruction?”

The prince noted that with “more businesses, investors, shareholders and consumers recognizing the opportunity that a sustainable future affords,” we can shift the momentum of the private sector and capital markets in line with net-zero.

Echoing his message was Sanda Ojiambo, CEO of the United Nations Global Compact, which leads and supports international businesses on their path to sustainability. She noted that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record, with droughts, floods and rising sea levels having catastrophic effects. One bright spot: “Net-zero commitments by the business sector have doubled in the past 12 months.”

Roundtable moderator Diana Fox Carney led the four CEOs in discussing key steps being taken by the leading firms to align with 1.5°C. Asked whether he believed companies would achieve net-zero by 2050, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of this year’s top firm, France’s Schneider Electric, noted that, globally, “we are not at the right speed at all … The technologies are here, but what we need is to accelerate the way we design things – the way we design factories,buildings, cities – incorporating those existing technologies, because every decision we make counts.”

Tricoire added, “The buildings we build today … will be burning carbon for the next 50 years. Everything we build/do clean today will have implications for the next 50 years.”

Founded in 1836, during the First Industrial Revolution, Schneider develops electrical distribution products (including off-grid solar storage) and smart automation solutions to make the world more energy-efficient and renewable. Tricoire pointed out that when Schneider began to embrace sustainability 15 years ago, “it was a very lone crusade.” But in those 15 years, the company has tripled in size. Action is its own reward, he said: “We reset the bar every three years to a higher level.”

Like Schneider, Danish wind energy giant Ørsted (number two on this year’s Global 100) has also thrived by enabling the world’s broader journey to net-zero. CEO Mads Nipper noted that his firm is proof that change can happen in a blink, even in the dirtiest sectors. “Just 10 years back, we were one of the most coal- and oil-intensive utilities in Europe. We alone accounted for more than one-third of total emissions in Denmark. Since then, we’ve actually reduced our own emissions by 86%, by making a fundamental green transition.”

Founded in 1972 to develop oil and gas deposits in the North Sea, Ørsted is now the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power, producing 88% of its energy from renewable sources. By 2025, says Nipper, the company intends to be the world’s first carbon-neutral utility: “Our vision is a world that runs entirely on green energy.”

Lawrence Kurzius, CEO of McCormick & Co., a global leader in spices, seasoning and “flavour solutions,” agreed that companies can use existing technologies to future-proof their businesses for carbon. As a first step, he said that every new facility McCormick builds is either silver or gold LEED-certified, pointing out that McCormick co-invested in building a solar farm to power its new headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. “Even though we’re not an energy company, we can certainly source from renewable sources.” Tackling plastic packaging is another key initiative, Kurzius said, adding that McCormick has made a commitment to go 100% circular. Today, 84% of McCormick’s plastic can be recycled, reused or repurposed.

As the top-ranked food company on the Global 100, McCormick has put sustainable farming at the heart of its net-zero plans. The company is leveraging new technology to work with hundreds of thousands of small farmers in 80 countries to help them develop sustainable farming practices – in some cases organizing the farmers into agricultural co-ops and committing to take the co-ops’ full outputs. “I think that that really multiplies the efforts that we undertake ourselves,” Kurzius said.

Roberto Marques, CEO of Brazil-headquartered conglomerate Natura & Co., spoke of sourcing ingredients while preserving the Amazon rainforest by working with the local communities as “guardians of the forest.” Last year, the personal-care company, whose brands include Avon and The Body Shop, committed to being net-zero by 2030 throughout its supply chain, including Scope 3 emissions (those created through use of its products) – “a daunting ambition for us,” Marques said. Natura is also targeting “full circularity” for its packaging by 2030 and intends that by then 95% of its products will be natural, renewable and biodegradable. “We don’t have all the answers today,” he said. “It’s a call to action – for society, for our partners, for the entire community.”

Challenging targets produce results, Marques said: they capture people’s imaginations and spur innovation and collaboration. “We truly believe that by setting the bar high you end up driving innovation. At the end of the day, I don’t think there is room for even competition or political agenda when humanity is at risk.”

Collaboration was at the heart of Prince Charles’s message as well. “For the sake of a safer and more sustainable future, let us join forces and waste no more time. As each of you continues your heroic efforts as members of the Corporate Knights Global 100, I can only offer you my sincere congratulations and ask that you keep going, demonstrating the leadership the world so desperately needs.”

In the spirit of enshrining the rights and value of nature in capitalism, Corporate Knights is inviting the leaders of Global 100 companies to support the Terra Carta, a bold new climate action charter from the Prince’s Sustainable Markets Initiative.

“We are moving more quickly than we were before, but we really need to speed up,” Corporate Knights publisher Toby Heaps said in conclusion. “The good news is the solutions are on the shelf; they’re waiting for all of us to make the bold, smart choices to invest in them.”

Rick Spence is a business writer, speaker and consultant in Toronto specializing in entrepreneurship, innovation and growth. He is also a senior editor at Corporate Knights.

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