Reducing carbon emissions will be one of the largest challenges that humanity faces over the next handful of decades. Transitioning to renewable energy will require additional investments and shifts in planning. Many renewable energy sources, like wind, solar, and hydropower, are intermittent sources of electricity. Baseload generation sources that are also carbon-free will be necessary to ensure a safe, affordable, and reliable energy system nationally and globally. Geothermal energy and nuclear energy technologies will need to be utilized to ensure there is clean baseload energy to support those intermittent renewable resources. Nuclear energy can not only provide clean energy with lower death rates than fossil fuels, but it also takes up a smaller footprint than many other energy resources (Ritchie 2020). For nuclear energy to be more effective in the United States like it is globally, the United States will need to change regulations around allowing the development of breeder reactors that can reuse nuclear waste, greatly reducing the total waste produced from the nuclear industry. While not entirely considered renewable energy, with breeder reactor technologies that recycle the radioactive materials for maximum use, it is estimated that breeder reactors could power the globe for 4 billion years, nearly as long as the Sun is expected to exist (Touran 2020). To achieve net zero emissions by 2050 globally, nuclear generation will be a key component to combine with large-scale implementation of renewable energy as fossil fuel used is phased out and replaced with renewable biofuels for hard to electrify industries (IEA 2021).
Figure 1. Safest and Cleanest Sources of Energy
Source: (Ritchie 2020).
Figure 2. Global Average Annual Energy Investment Needs by Sector and Technology to Achieve Net Zero Emissions
Source: (IEA 2021).
While the energy industry transforms to a more sustainable system, businesses also need to look at the natural resource depletion and pollution of other elements like waste and water in addition to social issues. A singular focus on profits has led the globe to the environmental and social issues that currently exist. This short-sighted focus can no longer ensure long-term gains for a business as more risk develops regarding regulations, supply-risks, and public sentiment. Businesses that look beyond profits can begin to mitigate those risks with more holistic sustainable behaviors that generate mutual value for the environment and communities (Hart 2010, 230). Many certified benefit corporations have shifted to missions and actions that move past profit. In addition to the company I am reporting on, Patagonia, an example of a company that has done this well is the apparel company Tentree. With an Earth-first focus where the planet and people come first, they plant 10 trees for every item purchased which has led to over 66 million trees planted to date. In addition to the trees they plant that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, they focus on creating circular supply chains and reducing each items footprint (Tentree 2021). This type of action has led them receiving top innovator awards and explosive brand growth over the past decade (CentricSoftware 2019). By focusing on more than just profits, businesses can reduce costs and risks, while creating greater brand recognition with greater social and environmental benefits as well.
While many companies are beginning to understand the market demand for sustainable products focused on better environmental and social goals, often businesses are making claims to capitalize on those consumers without implementing real sustainable measures. The negative effects of greenwashing can obscure the actions of companies that are making a difference. Limiting greenwashing through stringent certification systems, like benefit corporation reporting requirements, or strengthening reporting requirements for a public company’s 10-k filings, can help ensure the claims made are verifiable, backed by metrics, and allow for comparisons between different companies. More transparent and third-party verified information requirements can help reduce greenwashing’s negative impacts.
Moving past a profit-only focus and making greenwashing claims, businesses can create a competitive advantage for themselves in this market by focusing on developing trust and social capital as opposed to the historic protection of technology and intellectual property rights. By focusing on authentic and transparent business models that increase trust, companies can generate more value that cannot easily be copied (Hart 2010, 248-249). Businesses that utilize various low-cost initiatives that increase trust, transparency, and provide mutual benefits to the environment and community can experiment with actions that have the potential to provide that competitive advantage while improving the large issues being felt globally (Hart 2010, 237). The more companies that move into this way of thinking the more likely it is that the global community will make progress in achieving sustainable goals.
Author: Logan Callen
CentricSoftware. 2019. “Tentree Receives Apparel Magazine’s Top Innovator Award.” CentricSoftware. June 26. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.centricsoftware.com/in-the-press/tentree-receives-apparel-magazines-top-innovator-award/.
Hart, Stuart L. 2010. Capitalism at the Crossroads. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
IEA. 2021. “Net Zero by 2050.” International Energy Agency. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050.
Ritchie, Hannah. 2020. “What are the Safest and Cleanest Sources of Energy?” Our World In Data. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy.
Tentree. 2021. “About Us.” Tentree. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.tentree.com/pages/about.
Touran, Nick. 2020. “Nuclear Fuel Will Last Us for 4 Billion Years.” What Is Nuclear. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://whatisnuclear.com/blog/2020-10-28-nuclear-energy-is-longterm-sustainable.html.