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Jeffrey B. Swartz Headshot

Copenhagen's Missing Piece

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The crowd gathered in Copenhagen this week is fairly elite ... the best and brightest experts, powerful leaders of nations ... a group selected, no doubt, with careful consideration for the task at hand and their unparalleled ability to address it. Yet here we are, halfway through a landmark opportunity to create meaningful climate solutions and still, the wheels are spinning. The exercise should be simple enough: put your collective weight and worth against one clearly stated challenge and come up with a reasonable, actionable plan for solving it. Why aren't we halfway to a positive outcome, instead of halfway to nowhere?

I'm not diminishing the magnitude of the issue. Every single one of the 192 countries represented in Copenhagen has their own agenda and expectations, their own form of government and regulation, their own beliefs about how much of the climate burden they should be responsible and accountable for. Trying to sort out an agreement that's fair and agreeable to all parties is way tougher than creating actual climate change solutions. Every nation with a presence in Copenhagen knows well how to build national legislation - problem is, this isn't a national crisis. Our world has precious little real experience creating the kind of global governance that's necessary to move us forward in solving the climate change problem.

Who does have experience with global governance? CEOs of multinational corporations. We know how to work across nation state boundaries and we confront the question of global practice every single day. As the CEO who competes to sell his goods in 85 different countries, I either figure it out, or be held accountable. Business leaders that can navigate the global business market elegantly and effectively are not just good CEOs, they're a valuable and as yet untapped resource for the climate discussions. While government leaders struggle with the complexity, where on earth is the voice of business that can help make sense of it?

And as if working together effectively wasn't challenging enough for Copenhagen attendees, there's the issue of economics to stop them in their tracks ... so that when they're not arguing about who pays for what, they're wringing their hands and lamenting the general, dismal state of the economy. How to address climate change when we're battling a fiscal crisis? Who has money to spare for saving the environment when we're throwing every resource we've got against saving jobs and industries? I must have missed the moment when government announced it was only capable of singular focus and addressing one major problem at a time.

While government stands transfixed by the economic crisis, business carries on - proving it is possible, even in this financial firestorm, to both earn a profit and reduce environmental impact. Wal-Mart, Starbucks, GE ... the list of companies making sustainability a critical component of their business strategy - and a compelling story for consumers - is long. And, it's not just the big boys -- Timberland has managed to reduce our direct carbon emissions by 27% since 2006 and have made great strides in the past 2 years to create beautiful, durable, functional products with the least environmental impact. Economic crisis be damned - we've got a business to run and consumers to keep happy and oh by the way, we're committed to doing what we can to help preserve the environment because as an outdoors company we consider the outdoors critically relevant to our success.

We've heard, again and again, that business can't survive the cost of carbon in the economy ... and yet examples exist powerful and plenty to prove that simply isn't so. Many of us are already doing it, and many more would, given social policy leadership and fair and binding legislation. We have the ability and largely the determination ... all we need is the framework. And if leaders gathered in Copenhagen need greater reassurance that business stands ready to execute powerfully and successfully against the standards they've been tasked to create ... I know CEOs with passion and tenacity like you've never seen who like nothing more than the challenge of selling to a skeptical crowd ...

Reaching a global accord on climate change is obviously more complex than making boots, and tougher than selling them. But I wholeheartedly believe that the skills and strengths that drive the engine of commerce are applicable and valuable and critical to creating impactful climate solutions. Based on what I've seen out of Copenhagen this week, the climate change conversation is far from over ... but the best opportunity for adding a critical voice may well be now or never.

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