A couple of weeks ago the UCD Smurfit School of Business hosted a panel discussion on “rural development, green business and climate change”, co-organised with the US Embassy in Ireland. Along with Chair Lisa Ryan, a Senior Power Systems Researcher at the UCD Energy Institute, there were three speakers: Rick Larson (US) of the Natural Capital Investment Fund, Ray O’Neill (Ireland), Head of Sustainable Business at AIB and Mark Manis (US), Senior Climate Change Policy Advisor in the US Department of Agriculture.
Rick Larson spoke first of his organisation’s work in conserving forest land and funding “natural resource-based” SMEs. He also discussed the difficulty of selling carbon credits, and, interestingly, mentioned that they have been able to do this in California, which has it’s own cap and trade scheme (here’s a useful article from the Wall Street Journal explaining how the scheme works – http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-cap-and-trade-is-working-in-california-1411937795).
Natural Capital Investment Fund:
Ray O’Neill then discussed sustainability initiatives at AIB. He acknowledged that the bank’s biggest environmental impact is through its customers, and stressed that its role is to “wield finance to get customers to do something good”. Later, in response to an excellent question on the trade-offs of sustainability, Mr O’Neill mentioned that AIB’s decision to put solar panels on its headquarters was a financial loss, but the bank wished to encourage its clients to follow suit, thereby benefiting the environment at the expense of AIB. Athough he did not mention that AIB no doubt hope that its customers might require a bank loan to install their new solar panels, so it could in fact be a long-term financial win for AIB, not the altruistic trade-off it may first appear!
Another interesting point made by Ray O’Neill, and one particularly relevant to practitioners, was how he “sold” sustainability “projects” within AIB. His advice was to “sell” the project to every department e.g. finance, operations etc, and to do the project in small chunks, building up to big projects gradually (so people don’t notice what’s happening until it’s too late to protest?!)
The remainder of the session focused primarily on policy, perhaps inspired by Mark Manis’ interesting talk on his work with the US Department of Agriculture. He spoke of the complex negotiations undertaken by global and national bodies on climate change and food security. For reference, here are the bodies he mentioned, all of which offer some good information and resources:
Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (http://www.fao.org/gacsa/en/)
Global Research Alliance for Agricultural GHGs (http://globalresearchalliance.org/)
Climate and Clean Air Coalition (http://www.ccacoalition.org/)
Mr Manis also stressed the importance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and it is particularly worth keeping an eye on their website in the run up to COP21 on 30th November (http://unfccc.int/2860.php).
The session closed with a Q&A from the audience, with many of the questions focusing on policy. Emerging most strongly from this was Rick Larson’s argument that a tax on carbon would have the biggest impact on climate change. Just think – a world where companies pay for the carbon they emit… we can dream!