U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 13:
Putting Climate Action in the Hands of Businesses
The U.N. SDGs are driving governments, individuals, universities, and businesses to adjust their practices to achieve benchmarks and secure a sustainable future by 2030. Incorporating SDG 13, Climate Action, into your business will empower you to tackle the unique challenges of a changing climate and show your customers you prioritize the needs of all.
What is SDG 13?
Climate change is directly caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity and heat production, buildings, transportation, land use and degradation, and most importantly, industry. This leads to widespread ecological changes, rising global temperatures and sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and depletion of natural resources.
In fact, 2019 was the warmest year on record at the end of the warmest decade in recorded history. The first 11 months of 2020 were the hottest on record in the Northern Hemisphere, Europe experienced its warmest autumn ever, and the Arctic sea ice coverage was 16% lower than the 1981-2010 average. In the same year, the world experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and realized how inextricably intertwined our collective actions are. There has been an estimated 6% drop in carbon emissions due to altered lifestyles in COVID-19. However, without the proper planning for when life goes back to normal, emissions are expected to rise again.
Record-breaking temperatures, devastating natural disasters, and threats to public health and safety are a reflection of the urgency in taking action and an excellent opportunity to rebuild from COVID-19 and implement policies and practices that promote better health and well-being for the people and the planet.
Basic tenets of SDG 13:
- Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
- Keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C (outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement)
- Reduce emissions and divest from fossil fuels
- Increase climate change mitigation practices
- Assist developing countries in leapfrogging harmful stages of development
Climate action is at the heart of all 17 SDGs and without proper and immediate action, it is virtually impossible to achieve success in any of the other goals, even those that appear as socio-economic issues – poverty, inequality, and good health and well-being.
SDG 13 Targets
The UN has identified 5 targets and 11 indicators for progress in SDG 13. Many of these goals are scaled for national government implementation. However, they can still be applied to business practice on a smaller scale to show a demonstrated commitment to securing a sustainable future.
Below are the most applicable targets and indicators for businesses:
- Integrate climate change measures into policy and planning.
- Adopt disaster risk reduction strategies.
- Promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management of climate change in marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
- Improve climate change education.
- Finance meaningful mitigation actions and provide transparency on implementation.
Why is Climate Action Important for Business?
Businesses are responsible for a significant portion of GHG emissions and resource consumption through their internal operations and supply chains. Additionally, due to a lack of end-of-use (EOU) planning, products are often improperly disposed of and rarely enter a new lifecycle for further use. This adds to global waste, emissions and an exhausting demand for new material. For these reasons, businesses play a vital role in working alongside governments to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5°C and build resilience for current and anticipated climate change impacts.
Top companies today are taking this role seriously and developing innovative solutions to reduce their emissions, minimize impact across all aspects of the value chain, increase climate resilience and promote better climate awareness. This can be incorporated in endless ways including releasing a sustainability action plan, sourcing low-carbon materials, investing in on-site renewable energy, purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs), building net-zero factories and taking back products at end of use.
Top Carbon Emission Contributors
The EPA has broken down the total U.S. GHG Emissions by economic sector with transportation being the largest contributor at 28%, electricity 27%, and industry at 22%. The direct emissions in industry are associated with the consumption of fossil fuels for energy and production, chemical reactions during the production of chemicals, iron, steel and cement, and leaks from natural gas and petroleum systems. Although these are the direct emissions related to industry, employees commute to work and businesses consume electricity in their operations which contribute to the overall emissions in the other two sectors.
Climate Action in Practice
There are countless ways to incorporate climate action into business practice. Some of the major focus areas include reducing fossil fuel use, sustainable sourcing, accountability and transparency, and public education. It is important to analyze which perceived sustainable solutions are actually best practices contributing to climate change mitigation as opposed to simply providing a short-term fix.
Two examples of this are carbon capture, trapping CO2 before it is emitted and storing it elsewhere, and carbon credits/cap and trade programs, permits that allow a company to emit a certain amount of GHGs. While both are more sustainable options than emitting GHGs without any attempted mitigation, research shows they are more short-term solutions than actually switching to renewable energy sources.
Below are the best practices for climate action for businesses:
- Establish climate resiliency policies and practices internally and across the supply chain.
- Empower host communities of business operations to preserve the surrounding environment.
- Substantially reduce emissions in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Create products that are sustainably sourced and environmentally sound at all stages of its lifecycle.
- Incorporate renewable energy sources either on-site, outsourced, or purchase Renewable Energy Credits.
- Transition to EV or biogas-fueled fleets.
- Incentivize customers to make environmentally conscious choices.
- Partner with credible suppliers committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing, deforestation and habitat destruction prevention, and emissions reduction across their own operations.
- Promote company-wide climate conscious behavior and accountability.
SDG 13 Implementation
NeighborWorks America is a nonprofit organization working to increase community resilience and housing affordability across the US. They have an integrated Green Committee that meets quarterly to organize community outreach plans and facilitate discussions on sustainability throughout the organization. This effort to build organization-wide collaboration is combined with implementing green initiatives. Such practices include installing sensor-controlled lights and faucets, battery recycling stations, organization-wide recycling programs, and reducing unnecessary waste whenever possible.
NeighborWorks America focuses on marginalized communities and a central tenet of their organization is supporting community development and resilience to take on today’s greatest threats such as climate change. NeighborWorks America is a model example of how the SDGs are interrelated. The organization’s mission has ties to SDG 11 “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, SDG 10 “Reduced Inequalities”, SDG 1 “No Poverty”, and SDG 3 “Good Health and Well-being”. However, SDG 13 “Climate Action” is a pivotal force driving progress in these other goals.
Learn more about NeighborWorks America in our member story: NeighborWorks America: Sustainability Improvements Help Build Larger Community Resilience
Green Business Bureau and Carbonfund have partnered to help companies become more sustainable through sensible energy reductions and cost-effective carbon offsets to eliminate overall carbon footprint. Businesses are able to neutralize the negative environmental impact of their carbon footprint with third-party validated and verified voluntary carbon offsets. This will help a business achieve a GBB certified green business seal and accelerate their climate action plan.
Learn more about Carbonfund in our blog post: Carbonfund.org and Green Business Bureau Join Forces to Fight CLimate Change
Business leaders, sustainability managers and green teams can find ways to incorporate SDG 13 into their business models and practices. Here’s a simple playbook for getting started:
- Educate yourself, fellow executives and employees on SDG 13 (U.N. SDG Overview).
- Identify your company’s initiatives that are aligned with SDG 13 already.
- Implement the most impactful initiatives. Green Business Bureau has over 400 to choose from including initiatives related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, green procurement, vehicle emissions, water conservation, and pollution reduction.
- Ensure all supplies are sustainably sourced and certified.
- Set measurable targets to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Report on progress routinely. Here’s a sample sustainability scorecard to keep track.
- Communicate your company’s commitment to sustainability. You can reference SDG 13 for the initiatives related to climate action.
- Lead by example. Be an ambassador in the business world for climate action.
You may find that your company has already adopted initiatives that drive SDG 13 action. Educating yourself and your colleagues about the UN’s goals will help you identify which climate action targets are most appropriately aligned with your company’s processes. It is up to you to help turn your business into a platform for good and an example of taking climate action seriously.
About the Author
GBB Green Ambassador
Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.