Big Money Predictions and Prescriptions

For those not familiar with it, the most recent Global Climate Action Summit was held in September in San Francisco, CA. If you have not heard of this organization or its summit, you are not alone. While publicity has certainly improved in recent months, the summit still received minimal news coverage when it was held.

That is unfortunate because it is one of the most important gatherings of those advocating and promoting sustainability in the country. The event includes climate action panels, workshops, exhibits, tours (in this case, of northern California facilities that have successfully adopted sustainability initiatives), and other activities.

It is also an opportunity to bring business and government leaders, scientists, investors, students, and others together to find out what is happening in the world of sustainability, and most important, build enthusiasm and confidence in the entire sustainability movement.

One of the ways they accomplished this was to offer, what one business journalist in the green and sustainability movement called, “predictions and prescriptions that will frame [sustainability] discussions and strategies in the months [and years] ahead.” One of these “predictions and prescriptions” that caught my attention was that if we take climate action steps now, it can pay off big in dollars and cents. They predict that climate action can pour as much as $26 billion into the world’s economy by 2030.

Further, it is believed this $26 billion can create as many as 65 million new “low-carbon” jobs and generate as much as $2.8 billion in new government revenues. These figures and predictions—if they prove true—certainly take the wind out of efforts to bring back coal mining jobs and any push for the further development and use of fossil fuels.

These predictions are all part of studies created by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (GCEC) and its flagship project the New Climate Economy. It was set up in 2013 by seven countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The organization is chaired by such distinguished people as economist Lord Nicholas Stern; Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who has been outspoken about his interest in green and sustainability initiatives; and Ngozi Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an economist, an international development expert, and the former finance minister of Nigeria.

Their goal, according to the organization’s website, “is to help governments, businesses, and society make better-informed decisions on how to achieve economic prosperity and development, while also addressing climate change.”

Among the ways they say this can happen are the following:

  • Set a price on carbon of up to $80 per ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere by 2020.
  • End subsidies that support fossil fuels or encourage harmful agricultural practices.
  • Require companies to disclose what GCEC calls “climate-related risks.” According to the United Nations, climate-related risks are hazards that can slowly result in changes in temperatures; precipitation leading to droughts or, just the opposite, floods; agricultural loss; and tropical storms.
  • Double the amount of money currently being invested in sustainable infrastructure by banks and other financial institutions to as much as $100 billion annually.
  • Encourage all Fortune 500 companies to adopt what are called “science-based targets” by 2020 that align with their business operations. Science-based targets are goals created by organizations, large and small, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they generate.

Among the takeaways of this prediction and prescription is that it is going to cost money to make it happen and for those financial returns to materialize. That $26 billion generated into the world economy will not just happen on its own. Additionally, more companies and organizations will need to make changes in their business operations to promote sustainability and commit to those changes.

However, the big concern of the GCEC is not money or changes, it is time. We need to start taking steps now to turn these predictions into reality. As Unilever CEO Polman states:

The momentum from businesses, states, cities, investors, and citizens is now unstoppable, not least because those taking bold climate action [now] are already seeing tangible benefits. Nevertheless, if we are to unlock the full benefits of this new low-carbon growth opportunity and avoid runaway climate change, economic and financial leaders in both government and the private sector need to do even more and faster.

So, what can we do individually to promote sustainability and by doing so, the world’s economy?

Let’s start by getting involved with the two organizations discussed here, the Global Climate Action Summit and The New Climate Economy.  Both of these organizations are directly involved with ways we can achieve economic growth by addressing the need for sustainability and the risks posed by climate change.

Another option is to get involved with what is called “sustainability investing.”  Many major banks and brokerage houses now offer investment opportunities in organization developing promising technologies that  address climate change and other environmental issues. Your investment in these organizations can make a difference.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC, a company that measures and monitors sustainability with the goal of protecting natural resources and reducing facility operating costs. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning,” is on the board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF). He can be reached at