When we look back over the past 10 years, Canada has made some bold steps to foster a strong economy while protecting our natural resources and the environment. Companies in many industries have made significant contributions to this, including by launching entirely new business models that align financial and environmental success. But over all, the perception still remains that industrialists can’t be environmentalists. Our key question as business leaders is: How can one become synonymous with the other?
Currently, there is the notion that if you are in big business, your pledge to protect people and the environment pales in comparison to your commitment to profitability, share price and market growth. To change this perception, a shift is needed – one that can only be earned through consistent and concerted leadership.
That leadership must start with something as fundamental as how we conceive our products. Design must have the end use and end-of-life in mind – integrating circular thinking into the forefront of decision-making. We also need a scorecard to assess the total impact of a product on society, accounting for financial and non-financial effects.
At BASF, we have termed this “value to society,” a system whereby we assess our results along our entire supply chain – in our own operations, but also in our customer industries, the consumer-use phase and end-of-life. This drives all parties involved to come up with interconnected and innovative solutions, maximizing impact and minimizing environmental footprint.
It has become clear that we will only achieve true value to society if sustainability and circular thinking are firmly positioned at the centre of everything we do.
Renewable energy is a clear demonstration of this concept. We have achieved tremendous growth and lifted billions of people out of poverty by providing affordable energy over the past century. But we can only continue this growth if we solve the climate crisis, which threatens to reverse the economic gains we’ve made. Renewables bring together growth and sustainability, adding tremendous societal value in the process. The end game for renewables must include full reusability and recyclability of all materials used in wind, solar and energy-storage technologies.
Bringing solutions such as this to life cannot be done alone. It takes thoughtful partnerships with like-minded players to make significant strides in environmental protection. From the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has more than 30 major corporations coming together, to partnerships with companies such as Bullfrog Power in support of renewable energy and carbon-neutral growth, organizations that have the power to make a difference can afford to make bold moves by working together. Rather than just calling out the problem, we all need to be actively involved in being a part of the solution.
Governments also need to play an active role in the conversation. Without support through smart policy design, businesses are limited in their ability to be more agile in a time where environmental challenges and constraints stand in the way of building a future that benefits everyone. As corporations look for opportunities to transition to low-carbon solutions and circular-design concepts, policies must be developed to give incentives, support and boldly reward early adopters who are leading the charge.
We must ensure that environmental protection does not become a political talking point during this fall’s federal election. Thoughtful policy design that influences a shift in business practices must be at the centre of all political agendas. Let’s work together to close the gap once and for all and show the world that environmental industrialists do exist.
Marcelo Lu is president of BASF Canada and Sean Drygas is president of Bullfrog Power, a Spark Power company