Building Climate Action Step by Step

How do we increase the volume of action and the scale of ambition on climate change? Rather than waiting for a technological or political silver bullet, the evidence suggests that great strides can be made by building climate action step by step – by building a comprehensive menu of interventions that individually are pragmatic but collectively add to significant ambition. This philosophy is at the heart of BSR’s “Business in a Climate Constrained World” strategy and is increasingly the approach adopted by business. This 90-minute session will bring these wedges to life with an in-depth discussion about how they can be applied in different industries.


  • John Church, Executive Vice President, Supply Chain, General Mills, Inc.
  • Helen Mountford, Director of Economics, World Resources Institute
  • Edward Cameron, Director, Partnership Development and Research, BSR (Moderator)


  • We cannot expect government to solve the issue of climate change; instead it must be tackled collectively on a number of fronts. There is no silver bullet—no policy innovation, new technology, or innovative financial instrument—that will solve climate change on a societal level.

  • Companies are simultaneously feeling the risk of climate change in areas (such as the supply chain, natural hazards, increasing insurance premiums, and risks coming from regulators) and recognizing the opportunities it presents. Some companies are successfully reconciling climate action with profitability, prosperity, and competitiveness.

  • We do not have to choose between tackling climate change and fostering economic growth. Countries at all income levels have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth while also reducing the immense risks of climate change.

Memorable Quotes

“Climate change is a collective action problem that requires collective action solutions.” —Edward Cameron, BSR

“We can have strong economic growth, strong prosperity, and also tackle climate change together.” —Helen Mountford, World Resources Institute

“It’s an aggregation of making improvements that will lead to the changes we want to see [when taking climate action].” —John Church, General Mills


Cameron kicked off the session by explaining how climate change will transform our perspectives. We can no longer view climate change as an ecological issue. It must be understood as a social development issue that affects all members of society and businesses at large.

Climate change urges us to shift our perspective on how we will tackle it. It has become evident that we cannot expect governments to solve this issue. Instead, it must be tackled collectively on a number of fronts. There is no silver bullet—no policy innovation, new technology, or innovative financial instrument—that will solve climate change on a societal level.

Cameron continued by presenting BSR’s approach to climate action. An emission gap exists between the measures we need to undertake in order to tackle climate change and have stability in our climate and socioecological system in the future and the measures we are currently implementing or planning to implement. There is an urgent need to close this gap. With this idea in mind, BSR has launched an anchor report, Business in a Climate-Constrained World, outlining a strategy to mobilize business action on climate change. The strategy translates climate risks into actionable steps for the 10 industries BSR is working with through a so-called “stabilization wedges” approach and provides concrete examples of how companies can build resilience within their business and the communities they operate in.

The session continued with Mountford presenting the New Climate Economy Report that WRI launched in September 2014. The report is a result of a multi-stakeholder process involving several high-level panelists from many countries. Its key message is that we do not have to choose between tackling climate change and fostering economic growth. Countries at all levels of income can build lasting economic growth while they reduce the immense risks of climate change. Structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy and opportunities for greater economic efficiency will enable countries to achieve these goals simultaneously.

The WRI report maps the major drivers of economic growth in the coming years and points out three key systems of the economy with huge potential to invest in greater efficiency, structural transformation, and technological change: cities, land use, and energy systems. Mountford explained how the report specifies actionable steps in each of the three areas, including measures such as smart public transportation, sustainable farming practices, and integrated energy planning.

The proposed actions require investments, but Mountford pointed out that capital for the necessary investments is available. What is now essential is political leadership and consistent policies from regulators.

The session continued with a “fireside chat” between Cameron and Church about how General Mills understands climate risk and the steps the firm is taking to build climate resilience. Church explained how General Mills started its climate work in 2005 by setting up internal operational goals on waste, energy, and water consumption. In 2009, General Mills established additional goals in areas, such as transportation and fuel consumption, for each of the company’s 86 plants. Church concluded that it was easy to start taking climate-related action that will have clear economic benefits, such as energy efficiency measures or water-saving programs, and that a step-by-step approach to climate action has proven successful for the company.

When General Mills conducted a life-cycle analysis of its operations, it turned out that its largest climate footprints were not within its direct operations but instead occurred upstream. As a response, the company has focused on advancing sustainable agriculture through sharing best practices among suppliers. This strategy includes a commitment to sustainably source 100 percent of their 10 priority ingredients by 2020.

Church finished by emphasizing that inaction on climate change is not an option. Successful climate action requires intentionality, where the company has a clear agenda identifying pragmatic steps that can be scaled if successful.

During the final Q&A session, an audience member pointed out that a general willingness to share best practices in the sustainability field exists in the food and agriculture sector. Church also explained that including people with different views and perspectives has been a key success factor to General Mills’ understanding of the risks and consequences related to taking action on climate change.


November 4, 2014