Cashing in on climate change projects offers a huge financial opportunity for companies.
Addressing the annual global environmental damage estimate, projected to reach $28 trillion by 2050, can be a profitable endeavor, Mark Ward, general manager of UL EHS Sustainability, said at the UL EHS Sustainability-hosted user forum last week.
“Our current sustainability challenges — from climate change and water scarcity, to human rights abuse and food waste — are not going away any time soon,” said Ward, during the event.
And as the Paris climate agreement goes into effect next week, the potential for companies to work with cities and states as countries look to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is going to get even bigger.
In an interview with Environmental Leader, Lisa Grice, global director of sustainability services at environmental consulting firm Ramboll Environ, said the “climate economy” presents private sector opportunities in consulting, engineering, developing products and technology, construction, operation and financing.
“Cities and governments around the world are starting to focus on the concept of how do we tackle issues around climate change so that we are not just reactive but actually benefiting in a new climate economy? How do we grow the economy and maintain economic resilience?”
Grice says this concept of a climate economy centers around four key areas where the private sector can work with the public sector. The four areas are:
- Low-carbon infrastructure to maintain energy cost resiliency. Cities need new and upgraded water systems and transportation infrastructure. Corporations can benefit from designing and constructing low- and no-carbon infrastructure.
- Low-carbon jobs to leverage economic opportunity. “Cities care about jobs in their community,” Grice said. Tax breaks, business incubators and low-carbon economic hubs help the public and private sectors. “The more cities enable private sector jobs that will be robust in the low-carbon economy, the more the city will be robust.”
- Climate-resilient infrastructure to reduce physical and financial risk. Cities need robust infrastructure to withstand storms, drought and other extreme weather events.
- Climate-resilient jobs to reduce economic risk. “For example, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, hired someone to hold the title of climate economy advisor,” Grice said, adding that this new hire is a part of the city’s economic health office.
As cities pursue their climate change goals, clean technology developers and low-carbon energy and water system manufacturers are in high demands.
“We need to invest approximately $9 billion per year by 2030 in renewable energy specifically. That alone creates a huge opportunity for manufacturers of renewable energy systems of every sort,” Grice said. “Wind and solar are absolutely critical, but you can look at district energy systems as well.”
Grice points to recent Ramboll contracts with New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts, as examples. Cambridge recently hired Ramboll to conduct a district energy and sustainability master plan for the whole city, which supports Cambridge’s net zero goal. Ramboll is also working with New York City to improve its climate resiliency planning related to flood risk stormwater management.
Another company finding business opportunities in the carbon economy is Veolia. Last week the resource management firm announced it had completed the $112 million Boston-Cambridge “Green Stream” district energy project. This involved infrastructure upgrades and pipeline extensions at Kendall Station (pictured), a combined heat and power plant, to double its thermal energy transport, thus reducing air pollution and emissions. The plant also now uses ambient air instead of Charles River water for cooling in its thermal cycle, eliminating heated water discharge into the river.
Veolia North America president and CEO William J. DiCroce said, in a statement, that the project “supports Veolia’s mission to deliver clean energy while reducing the carbon footprint of Boston and Cambridge.”
“The success of Kendall Station is proof that energy production, environmental protection and economic prosperity need not be competing forces,” said Veronica Eady, director of Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts, in a statement. “This project offers a model that can be replicated around the nation — a blueprint for how to use, and even profit from, heated water from a plant rather than dumping it back into already-imperiled fish habitats.”
It’s also a model for “carbon economy” opportunities, in which private corporations can work with public entities to make a profit while mitigating climate change.