News & Events

Monday 21 December, 2015


A moment in history – moving forward in tackling climate change

On 8th December, we hosted the third roundtable in our ‘Rethinking Business’ event series, in partnership with the Financial Times. Held in Paris during the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21), the event brought together business leaders, NGOs and think tanks to discuss the issue of climate change. Here, Michael Alexander, Head of Water, Environment and Agriculture Sustainability at Diageo, explains why the Paris Agreement is such an important moment in history.

 

A moment in history – that’s how many described the 21st UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) this month. COP21 was unique – an unprecedented meeting of 197 countries, with the biggest ever gathering of the world’s heads of state, to talk about how we tackle climate change.

The resulting Paris Agreement has been broadly welcomed as it provides a global framework for the transition to low carbon economies and crucially 186 individual countries have submitted their national plans for cutting emissions, which will hopefully be confirmed in individual national legislation. As part of this, governments around the world will expect and require businesses to reduce their emissions to contribute to the national targets.

Never before has business played such an important role in combatting climate change. The expectation on companies to cut emissions has never been greater and at Diageo, we have and will play our part.  We have been long term advocates for strong national and international policy incentives to encourage and support the action necessary to meet the challenges of climate change.

Beyond the regulation, it is clear that investors, consumers, customers and employees will look to companies such as Diageo to lead the way, influencing other businesses and demonstrating best practice that could help guide others in their own efforts.

Our vision at Diageo is to achieve and maintain environmental sustainability, where our business causes neither long-term critical depletion of natural resources nor lasting damage to species, habitats, biodiversity or the climate. As a key part of this, we aim to minimise our direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last seven years, like many companies we have implemented hundreds of projects across our operations aimed at delivering reduction in carbon emissions.  Since 2008, we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 33%while still growing our business and we’ve committed to reducing our emissions by 50% by 2020 – including 30% in our supply chain. We have reduced our dependence on fossil fuels by improving energy efficiency in our operations, generating renewable energy at our sites, sourcing renewable or low carbon energy and working in partnership to reduce carbon in our supply chain.

However it’s clear that to ensure our supply chains are efficient and resilient we will need to significantly build on our progress - and continue to invest in carbon reduction programmes and adapt our approach so we support broader national and international carbon reduction commitments. Our sustainability and responsibility targets for 2020 are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and are reflected in a sustainable development strategy that is embedded throughout our business, from our board and through all our operations.

More broadly, businesses have a responsibility to account for their most material social and environmental impacts in every aspect of their operations, from sourcing raw materials and developing the communities in which they operate, to running their manufacturing safely and efficiently. We all have a responsibility to create shared value – and ensure our shareholders, our employees, our suppliers and the communities around our operations, all thrive as a result of our business. 

Diageo has played its part in leading our industry in tackling climate change and we will continue to do this both at a national and international level. But the bar has been raised with the Paris Agreement. 

Changes in climate have and will continue to create unprecedented social, economic and environmental challenges and we all have a part to play in minimising the impact. At Diageo, we will continue to address our own impact on the climate through continued investment and collaboration in our supply chain and strong advocacy at many levels with many stakeholders. The Paris Agreement will have a big effect on business – it will impact business operations, supply chains, consumers, customers, investors and reputation – but it provides an extraordinary opportunity to support the world to move permanently to a low carbon economy. After 21 years of negotiations, the adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 was indeed a moment in history.

Michael Alexander

Head of Water, Environment and Agriculture Sustainability, Diageo

Michael Alexander is Global Head of Water, Environment, and Agriculture Sustainability for Diageo with a focus on strategy, policy and communications.

His principle responsibility is to drive the company’s strategy and associated communications, stakeholder engagement and reputational programme. This applies to the full value chain but with an emphasis on supply chain and operations. Key to success is understanding the evolving and complex sustainability agenda and industry best practice - and sharing and applying this across the business.

He joined Diageo in 2007 prior to which he was with Ericsson. A graduate of the universities of Edinburgh and London, Mr Alexander is a member of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Institute of Economic Development and the Chartered Institute for Public Relations.

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