The title of the event left little room for ambiguity. And, after two hours of discussion, debate, and insightful addresses from some of the leading figures in sustainable procurement, the result was a deafening rally cry that should impact everyone involved in industry to sit up and take notice.
The Decade of our Lives: Climate, Carbon and the Scope 3 Challenge highlighted not only the scale of the task set before businesses and the world at large, but also the ticking clock that’s becoming ever present in our lives. In his keynote, “Action beats inaction, every time” Jim Massey, Chief Sustainability Officer of Zai Lab, and former VP ESG of AstraZeneca, outlined just how urgent the challenge has become:
“As a former High School athlete, it has always been exciting to watch the countdown of the clock, the end of the game,” he says. “This, however, is a very different feeling for me. This is literally life and death. This isn’t walking off the court a winner or a loser.”
It’s a stark warning but a valid one, with Massey putting forward a compelling case for not only action, but the importance of immediacy. He reminds our global audience that for every five weeks that pass, another 1% of the decade slips away too.
The key, of course, is to keep global warming to 1.5˚C, a task, which despite the best efforts of global leaders at COP26, already looks a herculean one. An unsettling takeaway of the conference was that the planet has already warmed to 1.1˚C, and continues to march on at an unforgiving pace, further emphasising the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead. Given the power in procurement’s hands to contribute significantly to the daunting climate change fight set before us, Massey is intent on ensuring this isn’t just seen as a mountainous challenge, but an opportunity to drive change.
However, not every decision will be easy.
“It’s a challenge to be an early adopter,” he says, recounting the story of his family’s holiday to the Florida Everglades in an electric car during a period when chargers were few and far between – in stark contrast to the huge number of mosquitoes intent on lunching on the vehicle’s occupants.
“One charger was broken and we had to wait 30 minutes while another vehicle was charging. It’s tough to be an early adopter when the infrastructure isn’t fully there. It’s about how you bring others along and how you maintain your patience. The actions you’re going to take in the next five weeks might feel uncomfortable – but if you don’t do that action, then who will?”
There were those who said that the pandemic would derail the sustainability drive and that the desire to fight climate change would instead be replaced by something more fundamental – a scramble for businesses to survive. But, if anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has merely served to emphasise just how critical tackling global warming is, a point made clear by our founder and CEO, Mark Perera:
“When Covid kicked in a lot of people were saying that sustainability was going to drop down the agenda – but I think that only lasted about a month.In fact, I think it gained pace through Covid.”
Cesare Guarini, the Director Sustainability Procurement of Philip Morris International, switched gears in the panel discussion to emphasise the importance of collaboration by employing a powerful quote from British explorer Robert Swann - the first person to walk to both the North and South Poles - stating that “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” This statement did, he argued, illustrate that this wasn’t a crisis that could be solved by individuals working alone: that we are all accountable, and this, at its basis, is a collective issue.
A fact that Emir Sassi, Global Head of Procurement Sustainability at Novartis, knows only too well.
Novartis is a company that has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030, and Sassi admits, to some extent, that this very public commitment represents a giant step into the unknown. “We didn’t necessarily know what needed to be done – we just knew that we needed to get there,” he says.
It’s that kind of bold, can-do attitude which now typifies the approach companies are taking to the environment, and it’s refreshing and impressive in equal measure. Novartis has spent 2021 segmenting its supply base and identifying which suppliers are necessary to work with in order to achieve its sustainability ambitions, an intelligible demonstration that collaboration within supply chains is at the core of this fight.
For her part, Deborah Dull, an expert and thought leader on circular supply chains, spoke about the exciting developments taking place in the sustainability space, highlighting the fact that technology is moving rapidly in areas like carbon capture, avenues of regeneration that would have seemed impossible just a short time ago and are now within reach.
“We only have .4 (degrees Celsius) left (until the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is exceeded), so I would argue that we don’t have ten years, we have more like eight months,” she says. “So, we really have to get our act together at this point. The regeneration piece becomes critical for us. We need to start imagining a different type of supply chain, a different type of operating model and business model and certainly different materials.”
Regeneration, collective responsibility, collaboration and cautious positivity – four key takeaways from an event which not only illustrated the collective desire for action in procurement, supply chain, and sustainability industries, but also reminded everyone collectively that the future starts now. The next five weeks signify the one percent of the most important decade of our lives. The battle is on.