From left: NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez, Interface CEO Jay D. Gould, CDP North America Head of Global Initiatives Sara Law, CDP North America President Bruno Sarda
This year’s Climate Week NYC was marked by a strong undertone of urgency. From Greta Thunberg’s sobering message to the United Nations, to the signs held up by the thousands of protestors who took over south Manhattan during Friday’s Climate Strike, it is clear that our grim environmental reality has sunken into the public conscience.
But there is also plenty to make us feel hopeful. At CDP, we like to point to the leaders that inspire our fight for the low-carbon economy. During Climate Week, CDP hosted over 150 leaders in the business and financial community at an evening reception to explore the theme of innovation and urgency. “Urgency” is perhaps self-explanatory – but why focus on innovation? Last year, top global companies disclosed US$2.1 trillion in possible growth if they lean in to the sustainable economic transition. To realize these opportunities, companies will need to leverage innovative solutions – whether they are tried-and-true nature-based solutions or cutting-edge technology.
At our Climate Week event, we heard from two company CEOs who are placing innovation at the center of their sustainability commitments.
Jay D. Gould, CEO of global commercial flooring company Interface Inc., said at CDP’s Climate Week event, “We certainly have to make money, but we have a bigger purpose than that. Our purpose is to lead industry to love the world.” He advises other companies to “drive for transparency and set higher aspirations. It’s amazing what technology can deliver when those aspects are in place.”
And Interface walks the walk – sustainability is deeply embedded into its business. Its very mission statement is to “invite other companies to join us as we commit to running our business in a way that is restorative to the planet and creates a climate fit for life.”
The company is a prime example of moving from product innovation to innovative thinking. All of its carpet and floor tile products are carbon neutral across their lifecycles. However, in 2017 Interface took this a step further, introducing a carbon negative carpet tile that captures carbon from the air and stores it within its fibers – an innovative climate solution with the potential to transform the industry-wide impact. Its ReEntry recycling program is another example of its innovative approach to climate action – annually, the company collects millions of pounds of used carpet from landfills and feeds compatible materials through a custom recycling process to create new carpets.
Power company NRG sees innovation slightly differently. To them, innovative thinking means putting customers at the heart of business decisions.
During CDP’s Climate Week event, NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez stated, “Our customers want custom and clean power, with options, smart devices, more control. But this is an industry that traditionally does not place customers at the heart of business decisions. If you think about electricity, it’s a faceless product you buy from your local monopoly. It’s vanilla, and if you don’t like vanilla, tough luck.”
“By putting customers at the center of our business, we’re giving them control over what kind of energy they want and who to buy it from. Technology has completely made this possible.”
Certainly, rapid decarbonization is a focus of NRG’s sustainability work, and part of why NRG earned an A- from CDP in 2018. During Climate Week, along with 86 other companies, NRG aligned its science-based carbon emissions reduction target to the 1.5 degrees Celsius trajectory, which will have the effect of taking 10 million cars off the road.
For companies, innovation can come in many different forms. There’s no one-size-fits-all. From transforming how products are manufactured, to creating an innovative approach within a stagnant industry, companies are finding new and previously unexplored ways to innovate.
We have no time to waste to meet the decarbonization recommendations of the IPCC. The new goals announced during Climate Week are a reminder to the rest of the private sector that no matter where you stand in the economy, you must take a stand for climate leadership, push your supply chain to do the same, and bring your customers along by thinking outside the box.