Yesterday I chaired the first day of our grandly-titled Fourth Annual Climate Change Summit in London. Here’s the agenda.
Andrew Smith from PepsiCo gave an impressive presentation. They are a company really going places on sustainability. I interviewed the UK CEO a couple of years ago and the firm’s UK executives that I have met really do understand the agenda and what it means for transforming how they do business.
The US CEO, Indra Nooyi has visibly supported their pioneering efforts and it seems to me the company is now well ahead of competitors such as Coca-Cola, who focus too narrowly on carbon and water for my liking. (Disclosure: PepsiCo have in the past sponsored roundtables and printed special reports by EC, but I’d hope you’d trust that my opinion is not based on that, but on the action I’ve observed)
What I found interesting about PepsiCo, and other companies talking, such as Skanska, (who appear to have a business model perfectly suited for the sustainability agenda) is how comfortable they are now talking about their role in lobbying for progressive public policy on climate change issues, such as carbon floor prices or taxes.
In the past I’ve always noticed a slight discomfort in big brands talking about lobbying, particularly when it’s regulation based. They have not seemed at ease with it. Now, in at least three cases I observed yesterday, that’s no longer the case.
Why is this? A few reasons I guess. Firstly, the agenda has moved forward so its abundantly clear to almost everyone in business (bar heavy industry) what’s needed: The aforementioned taxes/carbon floor. Secondly, I detected real frustration in the corporate executives at the conference yesterday at the politicians. Big steps are being made by larger companies, but these are not supported by regulation or incentives, and since they are now firmly on the lower carbon path, companies find it easier to speak out. Lastly, the gap is opening between the companies at the cutting edge (PepsiCo, M&S, Skanska, Innocent, etc) and the others that do little. While this means first mover advantage counts for a lot for the engaged companies, if the gap is closed much later by regulation, suppliers and business partners may be too far behind for the bigger brands to maintain the momemtum and hit their targets.
All this of course is pure speculation. But if you want to check out some companies who are at the forefront of tackling climate change holisticially across their businesses, you could do a lot worse than check out PepsiCo, M&S, Skanska, Innocent and Kellogg, who all spoke honestly about their successes and challenges at yesterday’s conference.