Chris: Hello, and welcome to Activating Sustainability, the Anthesis Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Peterson. Today we’re having a discussion on experiences of the GreenBiz Conference in Arizona.GreenBiz is always a great touch point on the key trends and directions of our sustainability industry. So, to help me kind of unpack their experiences and share their insights are my Anthesis colleagues, Chantelle Ludski, CEO of North America, Nellie Cohen, Director of Circular Business Models and René Toet, Managing Director of the Anthesis’ Climate Neutral Group. Thank you all so much for joining.
Nellie: Thanks for having us Chris
Chantelle: Good to be with you Chris
Chris: Well, great, maybe to start us off ’cause I know you were all at GreenBiz, would love to hear kind of what was that experience like? you know I know that’s always an interesting touch point in the year and a chance to connect with peers in the space. Would love to hear what your own personal experience was.
Chantelle: I’m happy to kick things off and say first and foremost wonderful to be with colleagues and clients in person again. And of course, meet new people. It felt incredibly busy this year, even busier than last year, which was the first in-person event in the COVID era. So very crowded everywhere, a lot of excitement about all of the agenda topics, but always leave with a great sense of lots to do and fired up and ready to go.
Nellie: I think there are over 2000 people, around 2000 people who attended this year’s sold out, packed almost every session I was attending had people sitting on the floor. It literally was standing room only. And I think that feeling of excitement and sort of crowdedness was also exacerbated by the horrible weather that we had, which was unplanned and unfortunate. We were you know, not just hanging out by the pool in the desert by any means. We had rain and wind. Freezing temperatures, but everybody I think was still so excited to be together overcame those weather challenges. So definitely an atmosphere of fullness and excitement for this work.
René: Right. For me it was the first time to attend this Greenbiz event and it was a fantastic experience and different from the ones that I attended in Europe. First of all, you feel the excitement like you just described and the rooms were packed. There was a lot of interest in the different topics that were presented, but you also feel the need to act. Clients want to talk with you, they actually want to speed up the process. Whereas in Europe you sometimes feel a bit of, yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re sharing information with one another and we do follow up calls later on, whereas in this event you feel that everyone is there to do business, and that’s absolutely different to the ones I attended in Europe and that’s a fantastic feeling and I like the directness of the Americans.
Chris: Oh, great to have the different perspectives. And maybe just, out of curiosity, I know historically that was very targeted towards the sustainability professional and just curious if that’s what you continue to see. Nellie, you mentioned in 2000 plus participants, were those primarily sustainability professionals still or is that drawing in a wider audience?
Nellie: I think it was still primarily all sustainability professionals, which really speaks to this growing field.You know, going from teams of one and two to five, six, seven, eight, nine, and upwards from there you know brands sending multiple people and that still wasn’t inclusive of their entire team. So I yeah, I think it, I think it speaks to the trends that we’re seeing.
Chantelle: I think the one thing I would add to that, Chris, is that there were really a remarkable number of vendors, various software platforms for sustainability for tech. Sus Tech is a massive space and growing rapidly, and for me the difference from last year to this year was the number of software vendors there.
Chris: Yeah, fascinating. Interesting to see how it’s evolving as we go. So I know in some of our previous conversations, you all identified some key themes that really stood out for you from kind of climate reporting being so kind of predominant within the discussion, the hallways that the agenda nature, which I know Chantelle we’ve connected on recently around COP15 and bring that in and then you know, circularity, social, et cetera. I would love to kind of go through those just at a high level. What really stood out for you around those? Starting with climate reporting as kind of the elephant in the room.
Chantelle: Yeah. I think it took center stage and everybody is bordering on anxious in terms of the SEC regulations landing. And so a lot of attention was given to that topic across the program for the 2 1/2 days at GreenBiz, to the extent that some items that had more prominence at last year’s GreenBiz were somewhat marginalized one might say, like social impact. Everybody is definitely trying to understand what is the impact of the SEC regulations and a increasing area of interest is you know how should organizations be thinking about voluntary reporting in light of the SEC regulations coming into play. Organizations like CDP are making a good case for saying well, one should still continue to do voluntary reporting as part of getting ready for SEC disclosures. So just to see how well you might do when the mandatory framework comes into play. So it’s yeah, there was definitely a session and there were several SEC related sessions with them. They were the ones where people were pressed against the back wall, the side walls, and sitting on the floor for three hours at a time to make sure they were getting all the insights they could. And there’s almost a sense of desperation.You know.What does this mean for us? How should we be thinking about it? What are you doing, what am I doing, you know, et cetera.
Chris: Maybe just to peel that back a little bit further where there are some key things you took out of that or you know, as you think about how Anthesis is preparing to support our clients and partners around SEC, that stood out for you as these are the practices we should be putting in place today. Getting ready for what we’re anticipating coming in April.
Chantelle: Yeah, good question. I think the fact that we have actively been supporting clients for some considerable time around TCFD reporting means that we have a really good framework for helping clients lean into the SEC regulations once they finally land, you know they’ve been in a commentary phase for some time now and so we don’t have absolute clarity on what that final set of SEC regulations will look like, but we’ve got a good sense given their modeled on TCFD. So, as they learned, we will continue to support clients leaning on that TCFD expertise that we have. And I was in a session this week with a forum of lawyers who have ESG practices and just sharing knowledge around how they’re thinking about SEC, how they’re thinking about ESG more broadly. And one of the tensions that we see at the moment is as companies start sticking their heads above the parapet and reporting and the voluntary framework, they are quite scared of being accused of greenwashing, quite scared of being accused of doing something that is not in line with reality, even although they have the best intentions. There are of course lots of companies that are doing greenwashing, so let’s put those to one side just for a minute. And so the legal profession or the risk professional broadly is taking a view well, probably safer to do less. Be very careful about what you disclose. And you know at Anthesis we don’t like that compliance driven approach. We much prefer people to do the right thing in the broadest sense and to disclose more and learn from that and improve rather than do the bare minimum through the compliance lens. And so there’s a lot of discussion going around that at GreenBiz as well. More acute to me by being in the other session this week. So I think that’s something that everybody is looking at saying. Well, what does the SEC mean? What should we do? Just what the SEC asks for? Should we do more? What are the risks associated with it? Instead of thinking about reporting as an opportunity, people are tending to think about it as a risk, which is the danger of something becoming regulated is that everybody does the bare minimum. The flip side of that argument is that a rising tide of small boats, so it needs to be more companies are doing something and they’re doing it to a minimum standard and to be well placed to help clients through all of our TCFD work and the work we do through the voluntary frameworks.
Nellie: I think that’s a really interesting perspective.Thinking about the innovation versus laggards.How do you bring everybody along but not just to a lower common denominator. And one of the best sessions I attended was on the relationship between government affairs and sustainability. And it was very practical. Like Rene you were saying was very action oriented, people seeing what do we need to do? And the panel had Salesforce, Diageo, and Climate Voice on it. And what they were discussing is the role for CEOs to lobby for enhanced regulation that if you’re just reporting, it’s actually almost performative. You actually need to be going to Washington and saying, you know, we need better legislation and the role of business to work with government affairs to raise that bar even higher because regulation does have the rising tide effect and it’s a keynote. We know this. We’ve seen it from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act. We have historical data points that show things get cleaned up when the government gets involved. It was a fantastic session for explaining the magnitude of this problem and getting really practical tips for helping close that gap.
René: To build on that, I also saw that there are many companies out there who are bit afraid that we just would like to focus on getting the data exactly ready and correct. whereas of course, we need to determine what our scope 3 emissions and what’s the footprint of our organization. And that’s what I felt during this event as well. It’s far more important to start doing something about it. And get started and bring down the carbon emissions yourself and also within the carbon market space, there’s a lot going on and especially around the whole voluntary carbon emissions and taking responsibility of the remaining emissions by purchasing carbon credits from project. There’s a lot going on there. I got the feeling that there was a sense of we need to have a flight to more quality, but let’s not have it as an excuse not to do or not to act on it where the market is not yet perfect, we’re on a journey and we have to accept that in this journey there is room for improvement. But, we need to act on it and if I compare the sentiment that is in Europe at the moment regarding carbon offsetting and you do see what’s happening in the US, there’s far more appetite for acting on it and step into carbon projects because we do know that there’s a lot of emissions we’re still having. And we can’t do anything about it at this moment in time. We’re on a trajectory to bring down emissions, but we’re not yet there. So in the meantime, let’s invest in carbon projects. And that’s what I felt. And also when I spoke to different clients, they’re open to it and are exploring that space at the moment.
Chris: Yeah, I think really interesting and René I’d like to circle back to the carbon project piece, but maybe just before we do, I think interesting to see this tension. And I think Chantelle you articulated really well, and I think something that a lot of people I’m speaking to are coming up against where It’s like legal saying like wait, we don’t wanna be disclosing different pieces and that reality that we’ve experienced that we know that it takes time to actually get those practices in place to the extent that you would want them to be. And this is kind of the leveling up of our industry, our commitments, etc from voluntary disclosures that you know the C-Suite was like. That’s fine nobody really cares about that, even though lots of people did to oh, we really care about this now. And so we’re taking a different approach to it that can’t be a passive, We’ll wait around that, right. I think, Rene, to your point, taking action today is so fundamental as we go. And curious when we think about SEC, I know a lot of people are reacting like, well we’re gonna see what comes out in April. and I know a lot of conversations we’ve had within Anthesis within this group, etcetera, have been about just that mandatory disclosure piece just driving forward and wondering if that was part of the discussion where it’s like SEC is one step on that and that’s a really big step within that. But it’s one of many steps that we’re seeing along that whether that’s ISSB or European regulations or whatever else it may be around that. Curious, was that part of the dialogue as well?
Chantelle: The attendance at GreenBiz was largely US and my strong sense is that there’s increasing recognition about how progressive the EU is with regulation across many fronts. The CSRD for example is recently been regulation passed around plastics and versus the US and given the fact that the US is the largest economy in the world, that juxtaposition is quite interesting. so that the EU is really flexing muscle that the US I think is, is learning to think about, perhaps learning to use in terms of regulation to be a force for good to make sure that we achieve all of the targets set in the Paris Agreement. So yeah, there is discussion, but it’s it’s the contrast between where is the US versus EU and in the complex to the observation for COP15. Then the US is not a secondary like come on, US, you know, there’s a lot you can do here. You’ve got such a critical role to play in terms of being the economic superpower that you are. Let’s get that muscle built up and massively flexed. And the flipside of that of course is the IRA is one of the, I think the most, not one of the most progressive pieces of legislation from a climate perspective in U.S. history. And so the EU has now responded with a similar piece of legislation. So it’s a little bit of a tit-for-tat and healthy competition. It’s possible the planet might benefit from all of this.
Chris: Yeah. Fascinating to see how it evolves and what those drivers are. So René I definitely want to circle back to kind of that carbon market element, right, I think that picking up on pieces of this conversation, clearly ambitions have been set, commitments have been made and really trying to think about how to close that gap and recognizing that there are kind of limitations to what we can do just by wanting it right that there’s some real intrinsic challenges. And so would be interested to hear kind of how you’re seeing the carbon markets, how that was carried forward in the conversation at GreenBiz as well.
René: First of all, most of the companies and organizations are setting high targets and that’s going on in the EU as well as in North America. And these targets are about 50% reduction by 2030 and that’s a major, major task. Well, first of all, it’s fantastic setting these targets right now because it starts with ambition and then during that process they found out that reducing your own emissions is hard. Right. And it takes time. And in the meantime companies realize what am I gonna do with the remaining emissions in the meantime, so in the transition phase? We have had discussions with our clients like, yeah, we thought with reduction. Before we do anything on offsetting. But there’s more and more of a feeling, globally, we’re not gonna get there, so we need this offsetting to fill in the gaps we’re having at the moment in time. And then of course it’s the question, how do you do it? Is it with reduction projects or is it removal projects and you can choose whatever you like. I think there are some organizations that highly sponsoring the removal space. But let’s be honest, we’re not in a luxury position at this moment in time that we can choose. Like, well, we only go for the removals. But we need them all. There’s no debate about it. We have to invest in all these projects and during GreenBiz, there were a lot of sessions around carbon market and do we need to buy carbon offsets? And the take out I got from it, there is a sense like we have to do it, we have to move in that space and go for both options. They’re not select because there’s not enough just to cover the remaining emissions for all these companies if we just would go for removals.We have to choose all methodologies that are available at this moment in time.
Chris: That’s great. And I know that that’s been kind of a raging debate, right? And so curious and I know we’ve touched on this previously in the podcast, but just a little perspective on what does success look like in that space? Was that part of the conversation that differentiation between quality offsets and offsets for offset sake around that? or was that coming up at all?
René: Well, it’s a combination I got from it that of course companies are looking for what can I do within my own value chain. So the whole in setting proposition is of interest for many companies and they’re looking for can you help me with bringing down the emissions in my own value chain by setting up power projects. And that’s a logical question and we have to explore that part. It’s a difficult one as well because the whole in setting and the words already explaining it, it’s in the value chain. There’s not yet a format for it. So how do you measure these reductions then in your value chain? There is absolute appetite for it. The second part to it is companies are asking us, “can we as a company invest in our own carbon project?” That is a possibility that could be in your chain, but probably more likely will be out of your chain. And to connect a corporate or organization to a project, that is also possible and there’s a lot of appetite for that specific option.
Chris: That’s great. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. That’s where the focus of the interest is and I know from talking to you and the kind of carbon markets team, there’s a lot of complexity that goes into that that you know definitely wanna get right as we go and I’m sure lots of conversations to carry on with that. But maybe to move us to the next theme that was called out was around nature. I know, Chantelle, you’ve just come back from Cop15 going into GreenBiz and engaging on that. I know, Nellie, you’ve got a background in the regenerative agriculture space within that. And you know, I know Rene this is showing up as we think about those offsetting and markets and implications as we go. So maybe to start. Nellie, I know this is something you worked on in Patagonia all the number of years ago and be interested to hear how do you see that transition as you kind of check back in on the progress with them.
Nellie: Yeah, I mean I wasn’t highly involved in Patagonia in any way, but you know, we were beginning Patagonia Provisions, which is Patagonia’s food company, and starting to figure out, you know, what’s the role of agriculture in addressing the climate crisis and talking about this concept of regenerative agriculture was, you know, very niche-y. Nobody could really define the term. And then here we are at GreenBiz 5, 7, something like that, years later and there’s a whole track of agriculture and regenerative agriculture and, you know, I think.The definition is starting to become much more clear. There’s a much, much greater awareness of regenerative agriculture as a concept and the importance of helping to address climate change through improved soil health. I was just really excited to see it on the agenda, you know, to see it go from this obscure corner of sustainability and it’s front and center at Greenbiz. Which, you know as we said this huge room packed with people and and their standing room only at those too wasn’t you know, just recording. So people are very, you know, very interested in this as well.
Chris: I’m excited to see that develop. And maybe Chantelle as you’re reflecting on COP15 experience in Montreal and then carrying forward just a little over a month later into Greenbiz, you know, how did you see that compare and contrast around Nature in the space?
Chantelle: yeah. Well, there’s no question that, you know, COp15 was entirely focused on nature whereas it was a topic on an agenda at GreenBiz. And the phrase the next frontier is no longer at all appropriate. It’s like your nature’s the next frontier in arrived yesterday. That’s very much the theme that we’re all seeing. Regen-ag, just to echo Nelly was saying, is that massive topic, a lot of interest in that, you know, having spent a substantial part of an earlier career in the organic food industry, and it’s fascinating. I feel like organic is being somewhat rebadged as Regen-ag and the organic and biodynamic farmers say we’ve been doing this for decades. What are you talking about? What’s this new thing, regen- ag? I think that’s the one thing that was also noticeable from COP15 to Greenbiz was there was some reference to the importance of indigenous people in the journey that we’re all on and getting us to the destination that we all want to be at. But it was much, much more amplified at COP15. Very, very, very notable ways, a real recognition of the important role that indigenous nations have to play in getting us to good outcomes from a national perspective, less so at GreenBiz, I thought.
Chris: The next piece was I know, Nellie, you helped participate in a circularity breakout and wondering kind of circulating being such a kind of critical topic, etcetera. Curious how that was showing up at GreenBiz is maybe a little bit of feedback from your session?
Nellie: Yeah, it was a fantastic session, maybe most fun I’ve ever had on a panel. We shared the stage with Levis and Shelton Communications Consulting. Really great attendance, over 100 people, so that was really nice to see because circularity wasn’t a huge topic on the agenda. This was probably the main breakout on it, which I anticipated, as GreenBiz is putting on circularity in June. It makes sense they’ll be a whole venue dedicated to this topic. But it was great. We really covered some of the challenges of implementing circular business models and also why you do it, you know this is a way to resell, rent, remonetized products that already exist. So when you talk about the carbon footprint, this is much, much smaller carbon footprint than compared to making something new. And so, you know it’s absolutely a tool and every sustainability practitioners toolbox to be pulling out to address their scope three. And so maybe that was kind of nice. How that all, I don’t know if it was the last session on the last day but you know walk away with like another tool, another way to actually generate impact.
Chantelle: Yeah, I’m gonna add to that. I think the great thing about GreenBiz is your semi practitioners there and amazing that we have you know nearly another people in our business who have come from industry and have real world experience of coming up with solutions that work you know and can share lessons of failure as well. And I think that gives us a a real advantage when we do work wiith our clients is we talk from a position of the world of hard luck where we’ve learned how to do something through trial and error and finally figure it out, you know. So it was a great session I set with Rene in the back and Chris I’m going to be a little bit cheeky just for a moment if you allow me to. We have International Woman’s Day coming up on the 8th of March and one thing Rene said was, “Wow! There’s so many amazing women and all these panels.” And he was referring to the panel Nelly was on, but across the peace at GreenBiz, and I think Nellie that was something new and different for you. So yeah, shout out to all the amazing woman.
René: Yeah, i was attending your last session. And what I liked about it, I saw it when the session was ended. There were so many people coming to you. Because they want to know, OK, you’ve got the tooling in hand, how I can act on it. That was absolutely very strong in your present during the panel that you come up with the new creative ideas, but you did it in practice and that resonates fantastically with the audience.
Chris: With that set up, Nellie, I can’t let it drop. What were you answering when people were saying? How do I get started? What do I do now that you’ve kind of provided that inspiration, that model?
Nellie: Yeah, I’m trying to think back now. Feels like, felt like a minute ago that we were there. There’s a really good discussion around understanding your customer. And what they’re interested in, how they’re already participating in secondary markets, understanding the maturity of your secondary market, are your products like already being transacted across you know, third party platforms like are are you sort of late to the game as a brand name involved in this space or are you in an innovation position where you know, people might like to access your products as opposed to having to purchase them outright and own them. And that was really interesting to talking about the importance of product and the frequency of use, the length of ownership, time, all these sort of factors that influence the design of the business model so that it is user centric, so that it is embraced. And the reason that’s so important is that that really ladders up to the financial success of the program and then the financial success is actually what delivers the sustainability success. And so kind of explaining why this is not a project that you do in a sustainability silo. This is like you know across organization effort often led outside of people in sustainability. So that’s, you know, maybe a little bit different than some of the other topics there.
Chris: Yeah, great. Well, nice job responding to putting you on the hot seat there. So appreciate that. Move on to kind of what were some of the key actions you’d recommend people are taking out of that or focus or changing direction coming out of GreenBiz reflections. I’ve heard some commentary that there was a decline in social and supply chain as a kind of focus of GreenBiz trying to tell, you mentioned that was maybe at the expense of SEC really dominating the discussion, but we’re interested to hear if that was your all’s experience around that or if there were other pieces that you were kind of surprised maybe you had declined in focus?
Chantelle: Yeah, maybe my experience is a little bit different because I actually sort out those sessions and I did find a few. So I went to the session on HIGG and the SAC – Sustainable Apparel Coalition – and there was a lot of discussion around supply chain and within that social impact. So I really was very interested in that long felt that all the work that organizations are.Being around scope one, scope two is very important, but frankly they don’t focus on scope three, they’re gonna really struggle to achieve their targets. And so I’ve been very conscious and intentional about us having a supply chain practice at Anthesis. I think this is where most of the help is going to be needed for organizations. So that’s why I was so interested in those.So there was a lot of discussion around supplier engagement working through the supply chain. What is the role of in setting, what are the, you know, really key topics within supply chain. There’s a lot of focus on human rights in the supply chain at the moment. So that came up in a number of sessions I went to. And then just from a broader social impact perspective, I also went to a session on social impact and from the perspective of financial institutions.And I also think that in the same way that I think supply chain is so critical and perhaps doesn’t give quite the attention it deserves right now, I think it’s moment is still coming. I think when finance as a sector really gets sustainability, then we will see everything move at the speed of light. So we have a few very progressive financial institutions who have been doing a lot and setting the pace.But they are really a very small component of the overall sector. And so winter session where we had Black Rock, which I think is one of those more progressive organizations, Sally Mae was there and they were talking about how they are bringing social impact into the ESG strategy and I found that fascinating, particularly enjoyed the session from the point of view what Sallie Mae was doing – they’ve created a fund to help the BIPOC community have access to funding for or to purchase housing and I thought that was just a really interesting session. So I got a lot out of social impact and supply chain, but I’d say I actually went for those sessions.
Chris: So maybe pivoting now to kind of where, where should listeners go from here, right, as you reflect?On the GreenBiz experience, you know, are there pieces you’re bringing into the work you all are doing? Are there kind of tidbits that you’re sharing with colleagues and partners in the space of, yeah, this is kind of coming out of that what?I’m really focusing on kind of as next steps.Either on SEC or nature or other pieces.
Nellie: I think for me, continuing to help our clients in the broader sustainability community make the connection between driving down scope three through circularity, helping connect these sustainability concepts so that it isn’t like these siloed approaches that are happening, blinders on. that, we’re understanding that all these, from offsets, circularity to regenerative agriculture, these are all going to play varying degrees of the strategy to meet our climate targets. That is what we’re here to do, is addressing the climate crisis,
René: To build on that. I do think that we’re in a space and there are so many elements to the journey. And we need to act on all these elements. What I like about Anthesis, you bring all these elements together because you need them all to make these major steps with your organization. And what I got from it is that clients are looking for one stop shop where they can find these solutions, where they can partner with who can guide them on their route.
Chris: Maybe final words, you, Chantelle, or there’s some key takeaways from you or insights that you’d like to share.
Chantelle: Two things that really resonate with me.That the first of which is around, this anxiety, the impending SEC regulations, is a bit of a fear factor. And that’s because organizations are not sure what to do. They’re not sure what’s gonna happen. They’re not sure what’s gonna happen when they start publishing. Will they be penalized? And I would really encourage clients and potential future clients, or any organization for that matter, to think about this not so much for the lens of fear, but more as just part of good business management. Because fundamentally managing your risks. You’re identifying your risks and coming up with good ways to manage them if you want to boil sustainability strategy down to its essentials.That’s the bucket that you should put it in. This is good business management. You identifying all your risks and saying how do we feel about them, what’s the likelihood of them arising, how we’re going to manage them and climate risk, nature, biodiversity risk, et cetera all fall into that category so. How can we help clients to understand this is part of your business management and how can we help them determine risks into opportunities, good. Frankly that’s all an opportunity as the flip side of risk or vice versa. So that’s to me is a really positive message to take. Let’s not be afraid of this. It’s recognized that we are working together with you to manage your business better and to activate sustainable performance. That’s what we’re all about at Anthesis. I think the second thing is, and somewhat related is about data. Everybody’s terrified, you know, what data should we be tracking and where does it come from? Do we have the right data? And so don’t let data hold you back. So start just understanding your day. So put a good data architecture structure in place, understanding the data data owners are give somebody in the organization oversight for that data to make sure that you’re what you’re getting is can be relied on as you’re starting to report out and report out on any number of frameworks we can help clients with. We have amazing teams who do this all the time. And so we can really help walk you through what feels like a terrifying landscape and it shouldn’t be. There’s a lot of opportunity in the there’s opportunity to do planet friendly stuff and there’s an opportunity to drive cost efficiencies through the business. You know, there’s an opportunity to be better corporate citizens. So there’s so much opportunity and just flipping the view, so that we seeing opportunities not the risks, I think is the take away I’d like to share with people.
Chris: Thank you all so much for joining. Really appreciate it.
Chantelle: Thanks Chris, Rene, Nellie, great chat with you. Bye, bye.
Chris: And thank you all for listening. As always, you can find links to the pages mentioned in the call, including a comprehensive guidance on the SEC regulations and response in the call notes and at anthesisgroup.com.You can also reach myself, Chantel, Nellie, or Rene through first dot last name at anthesisgroup.com. Thanks again and take care.