In early November, the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2011-2015 was the warmest five-year period on record and was accompanied by rising sea levels and declines in Arctic ice and snow cover in the northern hemisphere. According to NASA, the first six months of 2016 was the planets warmest half-year period on record, and the seasonal low point in the Arctic sea ice’s annual cycle is decreasing at a rate of 13.4 percent every decade.
Climate change is undeniable, and although the United Nations has tried to address the issue through different agreements, most recently The Paris Agreement, many argue that way more needs to be done to avoid the looming consequences of climate change headed our way. One of these experts is Auden Schendler, an activist and author who focuses on corporate sustainability and what it means for businesses to take meaningful action. He is also the Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, which not only values sustainability in it’s operations, but also working to create change and impact policy around the issue of climate change.
For most businesses, sustainability efforts and green business is defined by the operational changes make to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, like using fluorescent light bulbs and using recycled materials. Although these are steps in being more sustainable, Auden says that these small changes aren’t drastic enough to solve the problem and that most business view working on sustainability as an added bonus instead of necessity.
“Real corporate sustainability means using your business as a political lever, speaking out, pushing on elected officials and state and federal policy. It’s scary, dangerous, and it’s the only thing that meets the problem at scale,” he said. “I honestly don’t think people understand the problem well, and therefore they think the fix is easier than it is.”
He says that many businesses also don’t want to face criticism from shareholders for sacrificing the core mission of the company in pursuit of sustainability, and businesses don’t see their role in solving global problems. He points out that if businesses don’t start taking meaningful action on climate change, the effects in the future will be catastrophic for those same businesses that chose not to act.
So what can be done to increase meaningful action on climate change? One way is through a carbon tax, which he says could be done in a way that would reduce income tax correspondingly. Although few places in the U.S. have enacted climate taxes, Boulder, Colorado passed the Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax in 2007, and voted in 2015 to continue it though 2020. Unfortunately, just weeks ago, Washington State voted not to enact a carbon tax, leaving only two other areas in the country, in Maryland and California, with carbon taxes.
With the outcome of the recent presidential election, Auden says we all need to rethink our strategy on addressing the issue of climate change. His hope is that going forward, corporations will wake up and realize the trouble they face if they don’t act and they’ll see the need for radical change as businesses start to struggle more and more in a warming world.
Auden has been with Aspen Skiing Company for 18 years, and previously worked on corporate sustainability research and consulting at the Rocky Mountain Institute. If you are interested in learning more about his work and what corporate sustainability looks like in action, he will be speaking at Impact Hub Boulder on Monday, November 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company