Ceres: Making the Business Case for Sustainability to Influential Business Leaders

by Sven Lynch

I had the privilege to virtually attend the three-day Ceres 2021 conference this spring.  Ceres is a non-profit organization focused on transforming the economy to build a just and sustainable future for people and the planet.  Distinguished speakers included leaders from government, corporations around the world, and climate activists.  Examples include the new head of the EPA (Michael Regan), the first ever White House Climate Advisor (Gina McCarthy), CEOs of BP, Nestle, and various investment firms in addition to Chief Sustainability Officers from Starbucks and General Mills.  Ted Danson, actor and co-founder of America’s Ocean Campaign also spoke about his decades of work in ocean conservation.

A common theme was stressing how critical it is for companies to voice and demonstrate true intent in their response to climate change and regarding equity and inclusion.  Speakers talked about the internal timelines for their Net Zero emissions goals, but perhaps more importantly the more challenging task of eliminating their firm’s Scope 3 emissions – the carbon output from organizations throughout their supply chain.  Discussions from institutional investors focused on ESG investing centered around working with and scrutinizing companies around their practices and progress toward reduced emissions.

Equity and inclusion was not a separate conversation from climate change at the conference; it was often part of the same sentence.  There was a plethora of examples given of how people who were least responsible for climate change are the ones most often affected.  The short and long-term health and safety effects of rising temperatures on workers, both domestically and for those around the world, who labor outside or in buildings without air conditioning were noted.  The physical and mental health toll on first responders who are having to provide aid because of more frequent and more intense fires and natural disasters was also discussed.