Let’s be honest, it’s hard to be optimistic about the environment right now. The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is alarming and has been called a “Code Red for Humanity.” The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850. The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971. But scientists say a global catastrophe can be avoided if the world acts quickly. Fortunately, we are starting to act.
So, for this Earth Day, let’s reflect on the positive things occurring between this year and last. Back on Earth Day 2021, we were in a vastly different position than we are today. There has been more real climate action in this last 12 months than in the 5 years that preceded it.
Companies are committing to climate reporting and transparency:
- A whopping fifth of the world’s largest companies all committed to Net Zero.
- This past year, 92% of the S&P 500 and 70% of the Russell 1000 published sustainability reports, indicating a push for corporate transparency and accountability; unexpectedly, more companies are meeting their announced targets.
Old school fossil fuel companies are slowly making the transition to a clean energy future:
- Just this past February, coal giant Duke Energy delightfully surprised everyone by announcing plans to exit all coal and double their renewables; Peabody Energy later announced a similar withdrawal from coal.
- A court ruled that oil giant Shell must cut their carbon emissions by 45% by 2030.
The banking and insurance industries are seeing the oil economy as a major risk:
- The major US banks have banded together to measure and manage their climate risks.
- JPMorgan pledged $2.5 trillion over the next decade toward climate change.
- Moody’s, the world’s largest credit ratings agency, stated they would trigger a credit squeeze for carbon intensive companies.
- The insurance industry has expanded its stance to see climate risk as an insurance risk and is taking that into consideration.
- Banking giant HSBC recently announced a “phase down” of funding for its fossil-fuel clients.
Investments in clean tech (and out of fossil fuels) continue to break records:
- Ikea & the Rockefeller Foundation gave a combined $1 billion for Clean Energy.
- Harvard University divested its massive endowment from fossil fuels after years of public pressure, signaling a huge shift.
- According to the IEA, solar and renewable energy had another record year.
- This year, City of Seattle opened the world’s first net zero carbon sports arena.
- By October 2021, Tesla surpassed ExxonMobil as the world’s most valuable company. The fact that an electric car company beat a fossil fuel company is quite the market signal.
The regulatory landscape has changed rapidly too:
- We’ve seen a fivefold jump in fossil fuel bans worldwide.
- More cities and states are enacting a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure in a massive push toward electrification in our buildings and infrastructure.
- The State of California passed a Solar Mandate for all new commercial buildings.
- The cities of Boston and New York enacted their most ambitious policies yet to curb carbon emissions in buildings.
The Federal Government has made some incredible moves:
- The Federal Government changed its procurement process to start taking carbon emissions into its procurement decision-making process.
- The Biden Administration made a series of bold moves toward climate, including making the climate fight the largest part of their spending bill, with a record $11 billion in aid.
- The Biden Administration also reversed a previous Trump-era ruling that limited the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, a move seen as critical to moving forward.
- In addition, the Biden Administration also mandated all Federal vehicles & buildings will be powered by renewable energy by 2050.
- The SEC continued its push to require all publicly traded companies to disclose their climate risks, including a recent approval of its draft requirements.
And design firms are making strides in meeting our carbon reduction targets, including CannonDesign:
- We’re halfway toward our 2030 Commitment for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
- We signed onto the SE2050 Commitment to design net zero embodied carbon structural systems by 2050.
- We signed onto the AIA Materials Pledge to support climate health by preferring products that reduce carbon emissions and ultimately sequester more carbon than emitted.
- We’re signatories to many other important commitments, including the MEP 2040, the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero Commitment, and the AIA Large Firm Roundtable’s Sustainability Commitment.
- We endorsed the COP26 Communique to make it clear to the countries attending the conference that those of us responsible for planning, designing, constructing and developing the built environment are actively working to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degC carbon target.
- We support the mindfulMaterials (mM) initiative to bring transparency to the materials we specify.
- We support the Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator (EC3) to calculate ways to reduce the embodied carbon in our projects.
- We signed the letter to President Biden to Build Back Better.
- And most importantly, we’re acting on these commitments by designing beautiful and efficient buildings and spaces that are slashing carbon emissions.
This list doesn’t even include the countless pledges by nations and companies to make big changes. So, you can see there’s a great deal to celebrate this Earth Day!
It only took the automobile 15 years to replace horses as the preferred mode of transportation. The internet went from an army experiment to our primary form of communication in just a few decades. It seems humanity can change rapidly if the value proposition is enticing enough. The world is starting to see the immense value of climate smart buildings.
Our outlook for the future of climate action is bright.