COP21, the United Nations climate meeting held last December, was historic for several reasons. Delegates from 195 countries pledged support for emissions reductions and climate adaptation measures. U.S. participation — something noticeably absent from previous COP meetings — sent an important signal to the global community. Businesses from many different sectors, including real estate, finance, manufacturing, and healthcare, traveled to Paris to show support. Furthermore, the Compact of Mayors included representatives from over 400 cities around the world, sending the message that government involvement could be a strong component of any large-scale carbon reduction effort.
Last week, the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS) held a forum in Seattle to discuss COP21 strategies businesses can take to help meet emissions-reduction goals. Attendees represented a broad spectrum of industries, nonprofit organizations, and local governments.
What does COP21 mean for the Eastside business community? Although Seattle was the only area city represented in Paris, mayors of 13 King County cities — including Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton, and Snoqualmie — are together developing strategies that will help the entire region reduce carbon emissions and create a sustainable economy despite explosive growth. The King County-Cities Climate Collaboration hinges on green building practices, harnessing renewable energy, and establishing more efficient transportation solutions.
Measures taken by Eastside cities would significantly reduce the entire region’s carbon footprint. Transportation, much of which involves Eastside commuters, accounts for 65 percent of the county’s carbon footprint. Transit agencies are chipping in — Metro Transit, for its part, is replacing aging vehicles with electric buses — but personal measures like carpooling, telecommuting, or riding the bus are necessary to removing cars from Eastside roads.
Eastside businesses are invested as well. Microsoft, which was hailed at COP21for its internal carbon-pricing system, and Unico Properties, which is headquartered in Seattle but has a property management office in Bellevue, both had representatives at the UN conference.
“Opposition from the business community will quickly be drowned out” as major players make advances in reducing emissions, said Brett Phillips, director of sustainability at Unico. Google, for example, has pledged to make its facilities completely solar powered by 2025. Unico has partnered with Cedar Grove Composting, which has facilities in Seattle and Woodinville, to compost restroom paper towels in some commercial buildings. In turn, Unico will buy Cedar Grove compost for landscaping at these same properties.
Local governments and businesses are making progress toward addressing climate change, but they need to share their success stories to spread the circle of influence. Sarah Severn, an industry consultant and advisor to Washington Business for Climate Action, said COP21 experienced “a complete shift and a sea change” in the global approach to climate change because of the significant business presence. “Legislators need business voices to step up and tell them to get their act together.”