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On April 27, 2021, the FiscalNote Executive Institute and Weber Shandwick co-hosted a virtual roundtable discussion, “Transatlantic Insights on Using Technology and Innovation to Support Sustainability and ESG Objectives” with Valentina Vecchio, Global Sustainability Policy and Partnerships Regional Lead, Europe at Boeing; Peter Kerstens, Advisor with the European Commission; Jay Zoellner, CEO of Kiwi Power; and Aaron Tartakovsky, co-founder and CEO of Epic Cleantec. The discussion was facilitated by Oliver Drewes, Weber Shandwick’s Senior Executive Director of Public Affairs. Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Valentina Vecchio, Global Sustainability Policy and Partnerships Regional Lead, Europe at Boeing

Peter Kerstens, Advisor with the European Commission

Jay Zoellner, CEO of Kiwi Power

Aaron Tartakovsky, co-founder and CEO of Epic Cleantec

Oliver Drewes, Weber Shandwick’s Senior Executive Director of Public Affairs

Europe has always been a leader in the fight against climate change, but the United States is stepping up its game, making global progress a real possibility.

  • President Joe Biden has rejoined the Paris Agreement, a strong message that the United States is committed to tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.
  • Biden recently set a new 2030 target for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52 percent from 2005 levels.
  • Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan calls on Congress to invest $35 billion in research and development for projects on technologies to mitigate climate change, including carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric vehicles. 

When it comes to addressing the climate crisis, the main lever we need to pull is global collaboration.

  • The United States and Europe will likely be leaders, but collaboration will have to cross all borders.
  • Partnerships will need to be built across industries and their value chains, as well as among governments.
  • Global efforts should not replace local, state, and regional efforts. Innovation and change need to continue at all levels in order to maintain momentum.
  • Although global efforts are needed, cultural perspectives need to be considered. Sustainability resonates in different ways with different communities. Policymakers need to pay attention to local stakeholders in order to find the best solutions across all the pillars.

Federal incentives will be a critical strategy for getting corporations to care about sustainability and focus more on ESG objectives.

  • Sustainability is no longer about a nice communication policy. It’s about making tough business decisions and changing the way corporations operate and do business.
  • Regulation is helpful and leads to compliance, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage innovation or promise real change. Strict policies also don’t account for the trial and error that will have to occur in order to make real progress.
  • The key will be to create programs that set targets, provide incentives or “carrots,” and also include some thoughtfully constructed regulatory “sticks.”
  • In the end, we’re not going to green the economy with public resources. Private finance and private corporations will have to lead the effort.

 Job creation will help increase public interest and support around sustainability.

  • The Biden administration has positioned job creation as a major outcome of its clean energy plans and objectives, claiming that infrastructure improvements and technology upgrades will create millions of good-paying, middle class, union jobs.
  • Focusing on the economic implications of sustainability will likely resonate more with the public than altruistic messages or long-term wins.
  • Training will be vital as workers transition out of jobs in the fossil fuel industry into the unfamiliar territory of clean technologies.

Corporations need a global standard for reporting non-financial data to inform investors and consumers about ESG metrics.

  • Ten years ago, green efforts by corporations were a good idea and a low-hanging marketing tool. Now, ESG efforts are being driven not just by policy and regulation, but by investors and customer demand.
  • A science-based standard that is consistent across industries is needed in order to force companies to be transparent about non-financial areas such as energy consumption and water usage, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • This type of reporting will not only hold corporations accountable, but help them remain competitive as a growing number of customers and investors seek out socially responsible companies.

Becoming carbon-neutral in less 30 years is a lofty yet attainable goal.

  • With bold strategies and collaborative efforts in place, meeting the 2050 goal of becoming carbon-neutral is within reach.
  • Companies like Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and Stripe demonstrate the level and pace at which innovation can happen and how industries can be totally transformed in a short period of time, even when they are heavily regulated.
  • Sustainability will have to go hand in hand with growth in order for it to be successful. This includes looking at some of the challenges of sustainability and turning them into opportunities that promote viable change (i.e., job creation).

There is no technology “silver bullet” when it comes to achieving carbon neutrality. It is more likely that innovation in major application areas will make a collective impact.

  • In aviation, sustainable fuels and hybrid-electric technologies will help drive the move away from reliance on fossil fuels.
  • In construction, bringing down the carbon emissions in both concrete and steel production could make a huge difference.
  • In transportation, the transition to electric vehicles holds tremendous promise, although more work has to be done on the supply side.
  • In energy, finding ways to achieve as much grid flexibility as possible (i.e., balancing load supply and demand) would be a good start. Developments in fusion energy and nuclear power could also be transformative. 

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