Fresh off GreenBiz 23, the premier annual event for sustainable business leaders, I’m here with some high-level takeaways from the event.
Overall, I’d describe the conference in a couple of words:
- Crowded: Almost every session our team attended was standing-room only (partially because a cold snap forced any exterior events or gatherings indoors). It’s evidence of the conference’s outsized impact and importance and signals that the event could be even more significant in 2024.
- Conversational: Unlike many conferences where speakers monologue from a podium, GreenBiz keeps an open dialogue between presenters and the audience. Sessions included thoughtful engagement and lively discussion, with practitioners bringing real problems to the table.
Here are a few highlights from some of my favorite sessions and themes:
– Kristen Sullivan, Deloitte
– Kristina Wyatt, Persefoni
– Dave Stangis, Apollo Global Management Inc
I kicked off the event with this three-hour intensive session that focused on the practical requirements of the SEC’s impending climate disclosure rule. Attended mostly by publicly traded companies and the network of private consulting firms that support them, the session anchored on the practical requirements of the proposed rule and its foundation on the four pillars of the TCFD: governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets.
Most audience questions focused on evolving negotiations of the law, including:
- Disclosure of scope emissions – This is one of the more controversial clauses currently required only by large companies if deemed material to their business. While there is no word yet on whether this will pass through to the final rule, a safe harbor clause protects businesses from legal liability for scope 3 data, given their lack of control over the data quality.
- The 1% threshold requirement for financial materiality – Almost universally opposed, the requirement that would require business to report any climate impact exceeding 1% of the associated line item, is likely on the chopping block.
- Requiring a climate expert on governance boards – Widely considered an overstep, this requirement is unlikely to hold. However, disclosing any climate expertise on governance boards encourages companies to find appropriate representation, lest they appear uninformed about the impact of climate risks and opportunities.
- Climate goals – While the proposed rule does not require companies to set emission reduction goals, it does require companies with set goals to disclose them. It’s a clause that has disincentivized new emissions reduction goals— now companies would have to back them up with reported progress in the form 10-K.
WBCSD’s climate scenario tool for transition planning
Although technically released in November 2022, GreenBiz hosted a session around WBCSD’s new—and free—climate scenario tool for transitional risk.
Described as “demystifying climate analysis for those just starting out,” the tool’s methodology provides transparency around the assumptions and data model that underpins its transitional analysis. While thousands of companies have reported against TCFD, only 0.5% include transitional scenario planning in their reports. The tool addresses the gap by providing sector-specific data that’s useful for decision-making. Currently, the scenario tool is limited to food agriculture, forestry, and energy sectors, but there are plans to expand to additional industries pending feedback.
Scope 3 and supply chain engagement
By my own design, I spent much of my time in sessions focused on supply chain engagement and scope 3 emissions. The biggest takeaway here is that the vast majority of businesses are just starting to untangle the mess.
While service providers start with spend-based estimates (Sustain.Life also helps organizations use spend data to understand their scope 3 emissions), supply chains with physical goods have started with product- and material-based estimates. Resoundingly, value chain companies struggle to provide information, and when they do, it’s not just numbers customers are looking for—they want to see the methodology that produced the figures.
It’s a slow boat to turn, but the focus on methodology demonstrates that enterprise companies are thoughtfully approaching their scope 3 emissions rather than a “tick-the-box” exercise.
Overall, I’m looking forward to next year’s GreenBiz conference and optimistic to see just how much progress and climate action the business community has taken in just 12 short months.