“The main obstacle to sustainability? Ourselves”
“I want to congratulate the Global Fleet Conference on choosing sustainability as its main topic,” said Sofia Santos, Associate Professor at the University of Lisbon, in the conference’s opening session on 3 May. “It’s not the easiest topic: it takes us out of our comfort zone.” But it’s a necessary and urgent issue, she went on to explain; for everyone – including global fleets.
By inclination, fleet and mobility professional are problem solvers. So we’re focused on the operational how of sustainability. It is, however, useful to recall the fundamental why of sustainability – the risk of catastrophic climate change. Not only does that remind us of the urgency of our response, it also informs the solutions taking shape, from ever stricter government regulations to fundamental changes in financing.
Since 1950, global GDP has exploded. We humans have never had it so good. But that growth has been accompanied by phenomenal increases – equally explosive, and much more alarming – in a number of earth system indicators, from atmospheric pollutants such as CO2 and NOX, over levels of ocean acidification and deforestation, to global temperatures.
“As a result, the top risks, not just to society but specifically to business, are all related to climate,” said prof. Santos. According to the World Economic Forum, these include natural resource crises, environmental damage, and extreme weather. The European Commission calculated that half of total greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress come from resource extraction and processing.
Clearly, ‘business as usual’ is a negative loop: degrading the environment, which makes life for everybody more difficult – and that includes doing business. We need to move from this vicious cycle to a more virtuous one. The name for that virtuous cycle: “The circular economy, a regenerative economic model, designed to preserve resources as long as possible, thereby increasing their productivity, and preserving the natural and financial capital of companies and society.”
In a word, that means we have to cut our dependency on fossil fuels, and move towards more sustainable means of energy generation. This change is unavoidable. If the war in Ukraine has proved one thing, it’s that we must move even faster – for geopolitical as well as ecological reasons.
+1.5°C is here
It can be easy to forget how urgent the problem is. So prof. Santos reminded us: “We here are part of the privileged few. For billions of people, the world is becoming a difficult place to live. Scientists say climate change will be unpredictable and chaotic if we exceed average pre-industrial temperatures by 1.5°C to 2°C. Right now, we’re at +1.3°C globally. In the Mediterranean, we’re already at +1.5°C.”
And that is why we will see a flurry of activity from regulators in the next few years, she predicted. The ultimate goal of those measures must not simply be to penalise pollution, but to move us all towards the circular economy – lowering emissions, protecting biodiversity, improving the quality of our environment and safeguarding jobs and growth. That means we must transform how we do business. One of the main instruments will be sustainable financing.
Long value chains
“Increasingly, banks will evaluate loan applications on whether the activities that they finance will have negative effect on the environment. Simply put, you will no longer be able to finance an ICE car.”
Sustainable financing – and sustainable reporting – may seem like a thing for mature markets, less so for developing ones, but “companies have long value chains, which stretch across regions. And don’t underestimate the speed with which so-called less developed markets can adopt measures like sustainable financing.”
So, what can businesses do? Well, what we’re already doing: adopting smart technologies, developing sustainable business models, using resources responsibly. In practical terms, these are the solutions we’re already discussing today: car-sharing, EVs, micro-mobility, smart mobility, etcetera.
Except: more. Faster. Now. “Up to 30% of the CO2 emitted globally comes from transport, and about 70% of that volume is due to road transport. We have the technology and the money to solve the problem. So why aren’t we moving faster?”
“The main obstacle to achieving sustainability is not money or technology, but ourselves,” concluded prof. Santos. “We are rational animals, but we need to use both our brain hemispheres. Not just the analytical left half, but also the creative right half. If we do, we will find the solutions. If we don’t, then we’re not rational animals, just stupid ones.”
Image: Benjamin Brolet