Better together on sustainability, better together in the EU?

I was there to visit the world’s first major carbon-neutral brewery; to see exactly how a traditional beer manufacturing plant – which is more than 150 years old – has been completely transformed, in the name of sustainable business.

Sat with me there in the bar was Michael Dickstein, global director of sustainable director at Heineken – owner of the Göss Brewery.

“What one thing would you like to see happen that would make the transition to the green economy easier for businesses like Heineken?” I asked Michael over a pint of freshly-brewed Gösser beer. 

More collaboration,” he replied. “Collaboration is crucial. If we are able to see our rivals as partners on the journey to a sustainable future, then we will be able to accelerate further.

“We can only achieve a truly sustainable business in the long-term when we are working together with communities and other businesses across the world.”

‘Only one way’

While we’re having that conversation, Barack Obama was addressing international business leaders at the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco, California.

“There’s only one way to solve a problem threatens all of us, and that’s by working together,” said the US President on a giant TV screen at the front of the summit.

“Above all, we have to trust each other and push one another. There’s nothing more important to all of us than the world that we leave to our children.”

During that same clean energy event in San Francisco, the Danish and German governments announced a fantastic new campaign to encourage 1,000 world-leading businesses to unilaterally commit to sourcing 100% renewable power through the Climate Group’s RE100 programme.  

“Bold action by businesses, cities and governments sends a strong market signal and means we can hold global warming below two degrees far more quickly,” proclaimed the Climate Group’s chief executive Mark Kenber.  

Net Positive

Meanwhile, on Monday, energy ministers from nine European countries gathered in Luxembourg to sign an agreement on enhanced co-operation within the offshore wind sector – a deal that aims to reduce costs and accelerate the deployment of wind power at sea through joint development and purchasing.

“Together, we can make offshore wind a central piece of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system in Europe,” said WindEurope chief executive Giles Dickson.

Yesterday, back in the state of California, Forum for the Future attended a conference in San Diego to unveil another great initiative – the Net Positive Project – a cross-sector coalition that aims to encourage businesses to contribute in a ‘net positive’ way to society, the environment, and the global economy.

“By combining their efforts to create the Net Positive Project, these organizations are creating a collaborative that will promote restorative efforts,” said John Pflueger, principal environmental strategist for Dell – one of the founding companies of the Project.

Earlier today, edie reporter Matt Mace spoke to Jill Dugan, the new director of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, about the importance of collaboration on sustainability.

“Innovation doesn’t happen in your own sector, it happens in other sectors and through new entrances into a sector,” Duggan said. “Companies need to think about how to collaborate with others to do something completely differently and really change their mindset about what it is that they’re delivering and who we are delivering it to.”

The big question…

In the space of seven days, the edie editorial team have reported on numerous collaborative sustainability and renewable energy projects. We have been told about the myriad advantages of working together for the greater good by numerous industry experts. And in Austria, we saw first-hand the benefits of a major business like Heineken creating collaborating with other organisations large and small; creating its own value networks to drive resource efficiency (stay tuned for a full behind-the-scenes video next week).  

Which begs the question: if we’re better together on sustainable business, better together on international renewable energy deployment, and better together on tackling climate change and the environment – are we better together in the European Union?

Should we pull up the drawbridge and begin taking on the enormous challenge of global warming alone? Is the Conservative Government, with all of its recent green policy changes, really providing us with the reassurance that Britain would be just as ambitious as the rest of the world on climate action, if we were outside of the EU?

An ongoing edie readers’ poll on the EU Referendum reveals that the vast majority of understandably risk-averse sustainability professionals will be voting ‘IN’. Based on all of the above examples of the power of collaboration, and the great political strength that the EU has on the global issue of climate change (see: the Paris Agreement), it is hard to see it any other way.

Let’s just hope that these stories of collaborative climate action are told on a bigger stage, and are at least given a mention in some of the political debates and discussions in the build-up to the EU Referendum on 23 June.

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