A year of climate action and collaboration: My highlights
On March 28, millions of the people worldwide will turn off their lights for Earth Hour. It’s a time to reflect on how our lifestyles impact the world’s ecosystems and how we want our future to look. Here, I reveal some of my climate highlights from 2019 and ask the question: how can we all make a difference in the world?
As we approach Earth Hour, it’s times like these that many of us will be questioning what we can do to make a difference. It´s easy to consider the small, everyday actions that can be taken to support a more sustainable world. As you read this blog post, I’d like you to know that small everyday actions are great, but the actions presented to us aren’t always the most impactful. In fact, each individual, company and government needs to think about scaling and exponential action.
When I began my journey in climate action, I started with dedicated recycling, yelling at my sister to turn off the lights, and lecturing my friends about how bad scampi farming was for the mangrove forest survival rate. My actions and interest for the environment and the climate started with these small everyday actions that grew into such an interest that I one day decided to dedicate my career to mitigating climate change and working with sustainability. Since then, I’ve acquired an MSc degree in climate change science at the University of Copenhagen. I remained in Denmark and got a job at an engineering firm called NIRAS.
At NIRAS I worked with climate and energy related projects within Scandinavia, but also internationally, focusing mainly on climate projects in developing countries. I worked with small scale farmers and local authorities to national governments trying to combat climate change. As with many international aid projects, we tried to implement solutions that provided better capabilities for authorities and governments to work with this issue. However, we often identified a need for projects and solutions that could be scaled and were feasible within our economic system. If we couldn’t scale these projects, how large would the impact actually be?
My Ericsson Journey
I started my new position as Climate Action Program Manager at Ericsson on August 1, 2019. I was hired to coordinate Ericsson’s climate action engagement within the Sustainability team. I’ve been working across two fronts: first, trying to improve the internal carbon reporting and fulfillment of Ericsson’s own activity targets, and working on Ericsson’s impact on society. Here, we collaborate with our business partners to enhance global climate action through the technology solutions Ericsson provides. And second, to scale the company’s climate action further, internally and externally. It’s important to note that this vital challenge will never cease to exist. Ericsson and other global companies need to continuously innovate their business and strategy implementation to continue to work on combatting climate change.
For a Swede, Ericsson is a company with a cult status. Most people don’t even know why; they know merely that, once upon a time, Ericsson made mobile phones. But when you ask them, they will probably tell you that Ericsson is a renowned Swedish technology company with a great work ethic. That’s why when you start working here, you´re not only nervous because it’s a new job, you´re nervous because its ERICSSON.
Tackling climate change through collaboration: UN Climate Week 2019
One of my first tasks at Ericsson was to plan our climate engagement during the UN General Assembly and Climate Action Summit in New York. We were there to help launch the second report on the Exponential Roadmap 1.5, which presents 36 economically viable solutions to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, together with the strategies to scale this transformation. The research undertaken was a huge collaborative effort. Ericsson worked together with academia, civil society and global business partners to develop this report.
This type of collaborative effort is quite extraordinary, but the most interesting aspect is the way the roadmap itself is presented. It truly reflects our quest in addressing the scalable actions needed amongst society, and revealing the technologies that can be scaled to achieve a halving in global emissions.
The most surprising part for me, as newly employed in the ICT industry, was how Ericsson Research and the Exponential Roadmap showed that the ICT sector can support as much as a 15 percent reduction in global emissions by 2030. If you’d asked me before starting here, I wouldn’t have thought digital technologies would have such huge potential for reduction. And if I didn’t know – having worked in this area for many years – how can others know? It’s here that a problem occurs – when society doesn’t look at the larger picture and think about systematic change through its actions.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your own personal contribution, or if it’s a government decision maker. We all need to think about systematic change if we want to achieve any large-scale impact.
Before starting my new job, I wouldn’t have thought that a company like Ericsson would engage so deeply in non-direct business-related activities. However, this is not just an opportunity for the company to be part of the conversation. It is in fact, part of a much bigger responsibility to make sure it helps create a transformation across businesses and sectors in order to tackle climate change.
Reducing our collective impact: The UN’s COP25
An event that meant a great deal to me personally was the UN Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP25, which took place in Madrid in December 2019. I’ve been to the last three COPs, so I perhaps understood the conference set up in a way that not many at Ericsson may have done. This led me to believe that maybe I could leave a different mark at this particular COP, and that maybe we could create something new for Ericsson and our engagements. This was also the first official event where I alone represented Ericsson, so the challenge was how best to take on the Ericsson ‘hat’ and speak from a new perspective.
The outcomes of the COP conference negotiations can often be debated. However, what I´ve been seeing more of since the Paris Agreement of 2015, is that companies have started demanding more action and are becoming more engaged with the COP premise. As a result, the COP has started to become a meeting place to create new business contacts and a forum to showcase achievements within businesses, civil society as well as academia.
One particular event that was very transparent about global action was a panel session hosted by WWF, which focused on what it means for companies to be net-zero and how to get there. Alongside me on the panel was Andreas Follér, Head of Sustainability at Scania Group, Anirban Ghosh, Chief Sustainability Officer at Mahindra Group and Ulf Johansson, Global Forestry Lead at IKEA Group. To be sitting alongside these leading industry names and companies was a real pleasure.
The session was a live broadcast – luckily my anxiety was lying low after the discussions at the previous events. As the event focused on net-zero trajectories, each of the companies got to explain their version of what that means.
For Ericsson, net-zero has not been a direct focus until recently, mainly due to our action-oriented work based on short, sharp targets that aim to evoke action now rather than later. Many companies with a 2050 net-zero target will likely not have the reduction capability that’s needed right now. As the Exponential Roadmap outlines, we firstly need to halve emissions globally by 50 percent by 2030. Ericsson has already achieved a halving of our emissions within our own activities (i.e. fleet vehicles, facility energy usage, product transport and business travels) between 2011 and 2017. And currently, we have since 2016 a new science-based targets for our own activities that are set for a 35 percent reduction by 2022. In addition, we also have a new long term target to be carbon neutral in 2030 in our own operation, meaning all emissions from our fleet vehicles and purchase of energy shall be net-zero.
It was also important for me to get the audience to understand the life-cycle Impact of our business as some may not understand this. Why is it important? Because when we know where our biggest impact lies, it’s there we can try to make the most impactful actions. For technology-producing companies, the largest emissions will most probably come from the energy use of products in operation, and this is the case for Ericsson. It corresponds to roughly 80 percent of our total carbon footprint. This figure was even higher for my fellow panelist Andreas from Scania, where the largest emissions come from the vehicles in use, as with Anirban from Mahindra Group, where the impact was higher still. For IKEA, its emissions are greater in the production phases. This is hugely important for companies to decipher, because it allows them to clarify what actions can be taken to make the biggest difference.
Taking action, one step at a time
When rounding off the event, WWFs moderator, Mark Griffiths, wanted to know our recommendations for how companies should start their climate journey. We all agreed that companies should start their journeys now. If necessary, start small with short term targets so the company and its leadership team can ease into the process and develop from there.
In relation to the Exponential Roadmap and my previous thoughts, the main goal is to execute actions that provide a ripple effect, which enables society to reduce its emissions. For different stakeholders this means different things of course, and covers everyone from a citizen to a CEO. For companies, however, it means that they should not only aim to reduce emissions internally, but clarify through its strategy how its actions can benefit society and the environment. This can entail many things, but it means exploring and implementing new innovative solutions or business models that can enact societal change or use natural resources more efficiently. At Ericsson, it’s our technology that does the talking. We’re committed to being part of an industry that can help reduce global emissions significantly, and having a positive impact on society as a result.
So what action will you be taking after Earth Hour?
When it comes to taking climate action, what should we do, and think about, as we prepare to turn our lights off this coming Earth Hour? You could start to reflect on what you can do in your everyday life that enables further impact in the society. Turning of your lights for an hour once a year is a good start, but doesn’t evoke the larger reductions needed. Maybe you can think about the ways you can you minimize your energy utilization during the year. Can you invest in smart lighting systems? What about larger commitments that spur bigger economic change? Switching electricity provider for example, so that your electricity bill supports investments in renewable energy precision. Making changes to your investments could be another option to supporting sustainability and positive change within the financial system – pension funds or stocks, for example. This can spur a huge economic transitions within the financial market.
If you do something smart, can you try to spread this action to friends, family or work colleagues so we create a larger ripple effect across society? Let’s help by making the right decisions to create a more sustainable world. This is what I’ll be thinking of when I turn out my lights during this year’s Earth Hour. What about you?
Read the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap
Read my colleague’s earlier post from COP25 Chile about how we can create a smarter society
Find out more about Earth Hour 2020