The Supreme Court of the United States has been in the news, often for less-than-ideal reasons, quite a bit in recent months. The court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has (rightfully) dominated headlines, so perhaps it is not surprising that other SCOTUS decisions have flown somewhat under the radar. But one of those decisions in particular was very notable for the sustainability world.
At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled to limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Without getting overly political, I feel confident saying that any time we take a step away from efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it is cause for concern. Governments (and government agencies) can and will still play an important role in the battle against climate change, even if the courts limit their power. (Personally, I would love to see a “Department of Net Zero” established, making emissions reduction a top priority for every administration from now until 2050, but that is a topic for another newsletter. (If interested in that edition, please let it be known in the comment section!))
But even though the public sector will continue to play a role, this ruling makes it quite clear: we can no longer solely rely on the Federal government, or any government, to do the hard work of combating emissions. The pressure is on the private sector to step up in a bigger way.
What specifically can the private sector do?
I think there are a few key things. The first is to take a holistic view of emissions. I have written before about Scope 3 emissions, but that is a crucial place to start for companies looking to achieve net zero. As a quick refresher, Scope 3 emissions are emissions not directly produced through a source you own (such as an on-site generator, or a company vehicle), but rather produced by the supply chain partners that you utilize to operate your business.
Because these emissions are indirect, companies have traditionally rarely included Scope 3 in their carbon reduction efforts. However, given that Scope 3 emissions make up the vast majority of emissions (65-95%) for most companies, there is a huge opportunity for impact if we focus on our supply chains. At the very least, including Scope 3 emissions provides companies with a more accurate accounting of their carbon emissions, which is the necessary first step.
Once a company accurately establishes a baseline for emissions accounting, it can then create a plan for reducing those emissions. There’s a quote from our great President Dwight D. Eisenhower that says, “No battle was ever won according to plan, but no battle was ever won without one.” Even in an ever-changing world that lays waste to the best-laid plans, having a defined strategy is a vital step toward climate action.
For that reason, I encourage all companies, no matter how large or small, to create an action plan — ideally encompassing various sustainability efforts, but at the very least focused on emission reductions. If you need some good examples to follow, I invite you to check out the plans I spotlighted last month.
Finally, while it may sound simple, companies must use their voices to promote climate action. Private companies, especially when aligned, absolutely have the ability to influence action, both from the public sector and from the population as a whole. It was heartening to see statements like this one from Logitech in the aftermath of last month’s decision.
Many companies have a policy to not post anything political from the corporate voice — no matter what some people might try to tell you, carbon emissions are not political. They are science, and they affect all of us. I will also point out that this recommendation does not necessarily have to be in sequence with the prior recommendations. While it always helps to promote the efforts as part of a plan that is already in place — showing that you are already “walking the walk” —it is time to stand up for what is right, regardless of whether or not you have a plan in place yet.
I hope these recommendations prove helpful, and that they showcase a few ways in which the private sector can step up to the plate for carbon reduction. It’s important to remember that the EPA will still exist, and our government will still play a part in climate action. But if it wasn’t clear before, we now know that the private sector will have to lead the charge.
What else can we do as motivated professionals to improve carbon reduction efforts, both within our own companies and throughout the larger society? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.