Last week internationally renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, was speaking at the United Nations climate change conference, COP24, being held in Katowice, Poland, not that far from where I am sitting today in Vienna.
His description of climate change as a “man-made disaster of global scale” and his prediction of a “collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world” was, unfortunately, not hyperbole. I was saddened to read a few days later, that a Global Carbon Project report (commissioned by the UN), shows CO2 output from fossil fuel use and industry in 2018 is at its highest levels for the past seven years. This means the global ambition to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being missed. It coincides with a World Meteorological Organisation report stating that the past four years are the warmest on record and temperatures could rise by a further 3-5°C.
As the leader of a business with operations and people around the world, I am determined that we play our part in tackling this problem.
Mondi has an ambition to contribute to a better world, not only because there is a moral imperative, but because there is a clear business imperative for sustainable development.
Climate change is a risk to business. For Mondi that risk takes the form of disruption to our operations and supply chain through water shortages, floods, rising sea levels and forest fires. Stakeholders rightly expect businesses to play their part – both in reducing emissions and providing solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
As a global community we need to make a step change in the action we take. COP exposes the complexities of reaching universal agreements, but where governments and multilateral organisations can sometimes be slow and bureaucratic, business can be quicker and more agile in response to challenges. As an energy-intensive industry there is a clear role for manufacturing in tackling climate change. In-fact there is a window of opportunity as manufacturing is going through a huge period of change moving towards manufacturing 4.0.
At Mondi, while we have been investing in data analytics and new equipment, we have also been investing in high efficiency recovery boilers linked with CHP (Combined Heat Power), increasing our use of renewable energy and improving our energy efficiency. In 2017 65% of our total fuel consumption across our mills came from biomass-based renewable energy. And we have reduced our specific CO2 emissions by 38% since 2004. The manufacturing industry can be an agent of change in tackling emissions and I believe we all need to become leaders of a low-carbon or carbon neutral economy.
This does not need to compromise profitability or growth. We know from our forestry work in South Africa that it is possible to reduce environmental impact at the same time as increasing economic growth. Over a decade ago we reduced our forest plantation, close to the iSimangaliso wetlands, by around 5%, helped to improve the freshwater ecosystem in the area and saw revenues increase. Whilst this was a unique situation, we are now applying our broad learnings from this to other operations.
As a packaging business, wood supply is critical to our commercial success but we also believe our approach to sustainable forestry is the only route for forestry of the future. Our sustainable working forest model is based on a ‘landscape approach’, a well-managed mosaic of conservation areas along with productive wood harvesting areas, ensuring the forests can serve their many purposes both for humans and the wider ecosystem. With continuous conversation about innovation and new technologies, it is easy to overlook sequestration through forests as the most reliable vehicle the world has at its disposal for slowing carbon levels. At Mondi, every year, we invest in scientific research to ensure the longevity of our forests, from ensuring the trees are more drought and pest resistant to planting 30 million trees in 2017. And this is not something new, we have been operating with sustainability at our core for over 25 years.
As we look to the future, we will continue to replace equipment, utilise our waste as recycled material and energy and reduce our emissions to water and air. We will continue to push our industry to understand the long term benefits of sustainable forestry and our commitment to putting sustainability at the core of our business.
That’s why we are a member of WWF’s Climate Savers programme and the WeMeanBusiness Coalition. Our decision in 2017 to set a long-term carbon emission reduction target for production related greenhouse gas emissions, in line with science based methodology, demonstrates our commitment to addressing climate change risks. All of this contributes to a better business and a better world, creating value for our customers, our employees and society whilst at the same time growing our bottom line. We will collaborate with our stakeholders, customers and suppliers to drive change. Only by working with transparency and collaboration can we realise the benefits of collective action. As Sir David said: “Together we can make real change happen”.