By Elsa Monteiro, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Communications, Sonae Sierra, Lisbon, Portugal
At present, companies face many challenges on many different fronts, according to sector. However, one challenge, reversing climate change, is of paramount importance, affecting the entire world economy and certainly the corporate world as major players in it. In the face of this urgent countdown, organisations have to adapt to all the changes which are bringing increasingly stringent regulations, potential rises in business costs and risks, and shifts in consumer behaviour and of society in general.
In order to allow all segments of society to adapt to the new challenges of fighting climate change, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) at the end of 2015 proposed a new framework of action for governments and companies worldwide to implement programmes aimed at achieving specific energy savings and environmental protection goals. About 800 companies, including Sonae Sierra, signed the Paris Pledge For Action commitment to the objectives set by the Summit. This new agreement includes monitoring national actions to assess their effectiveness, and setting at the same time a timeframe for the goals to be achieved on a regular basis. Lastly, governments who signed the agreement undertook to facilitate financing to those companies who contribute in a decisive manner to reaching the objectives, and to foster exchange of technological advances aimed at achieving the goals.
From our point of view, the last agreement is one of the most important reached at the Paris Summit. Exchange of technological support between countries, dissemination of new research, support of researchers and promotion of training in this sector – plus the development of their activity in other countries – are all essential to promote development of cutting-edge technology aimed at meeting the objectives set. To achieve our goals without renouncing economic growth, it is obvious that we must identify new methods of production that are more respectful of environmental consequences. We have witnessed huge steps taken in this direction by numerous industries, such as the shopping centre industry. Thanks to technological progress, we have been able to incorporate new methods of energy efficiency and savings, such as LED lighting. Such measures have enabled Sonae Sierra to reduce our energy consumption 413 kwh/m2 from 737 to in a period of 13 years. As well, our carbon footprint has passed from 0.084 tonnes of CO2/m2 in 2005 to 0.015 in 2015.
In respect to measures to be adopted to comply with the main objectives of the Paris Summit, there is no doubt that they are within reach of all companies, irrespective of size or financial capacity. The achievement of these goals depends not only on the availability of economic resources but on the will to take action. In the case of Sonae Sierra, aside from the work to cut our environmental impact through energy efficiency, we have pursued a number of soft adaptation measures that do not require high capital investment: integrating climate change adaptation into the risk management process of our business activities; maintaining a register of relevant climate change adaptation policies in all countries of operation; updating our acquisition checklist to ensure key risks related to weather-related events are evaluated; updating building standards based on lessons learnt from weather-damaged assets and to anticipate potential requirements for hard adaptation measures in the future; monitoring the impact of climate change risks on insurance premiums and asset values.
We have to recognise that the goals established for the next few years are ambitious, and the need for technological evolution is still a decisive factor, namely regarding the European objective of having Zero Net Energy buildings by 2020. But the Paris Summit has provided our industry with a corporate framework of action, that we must take advantage of. Turning our back on the problems of environmental sustainability that the planet faces is not an option. The actions that Sonae Sierra has been carrying out have shown us that all enterprises can benefit a great deal by implementing a new environmental action plan. em