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Corporate sustainability evolves from measurement to added focus on impact

November 14, 2022, 8:00 PM UTC
There has been a seismic shift in corporate sustainability efforts to emphasize carbon reduction, but the path to net zero is still easier said than done.
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As the world’s attention turns to Egypt and COP27, corporate sustainability is poised to take center stage. The most important trend to pay attention to is the evolution from an age of measurement to an added focus on impact—one that will see companies actively delivering on climate commitments as part of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies. Capital markets will play a critical role in these efforts.

From our position at the intersection of markets, technology, and finance—and as a business navigating our own climate journey—Nasdaq has had a front-row seat for this evolution. Companies are digging more deeply into their climate plans, with a focus on defining metrics and improving data collection. Accountability has also taken center stage, with the SEC recently proposing to enhance and standardize climate-related disclosures for investors.

But measurement and reporting are only the first steps in a company’s sustainability journey. They must be matched by concrete actions toward reversing damage already caused by climate change and driving positive sustainability outcomes. That can’t happen without addressing carbon emissions.

At current emission levels, the world is on track to experience temperature increases as high as 4.4 degrees Celsius (39.92 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century—far exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Closing this gap requires urgent effort across government, business, and broader society.

Companies have gotten the message. With impact investments growing each year, there has been a seismic shift in corporate sustainability efforts to emphasize carbon reduction. The number of companies making net-zero pledges doubled in 2020, while signatories of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative—representing more than $61 trillion in assets—have committed to supporting companies’ net-zero strategies.

Traveling the path to net zero, however, is easier said than done. While emissions reductions will play an important part in climate mitigation strategies, they will be far from sufficient. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently acknowledged that carbon dioxide removal is “unavoidable” if net-zero targets are to be achieved.

There have been many advancements in carbon-removal technologies in recent years, putting any doubts about the feasibility of carbon capture to rest. But a more critical issue remains: Can carbon removal be done at scale?

Capital markets will play a critical role in answering this question. Using market infrastructure to establish carbon markets will allow for transparent carbon pricing and make buying and selling carbon credits more efficient. This is especially important as demand for carbon credits grows, with an expected increase of 15 times between now and 2030 and up to 100-fold by 2050.

Nasdaq is spearheading efforts to meet this demand by offering market-based solutions that provide tangible ways for businesses to offset or remove carbon emissions from their operations. Puro.earth, for instance, is the world’s first marketplace focused solely on carbon removal. Companies that use Puro.earth as part of their decarbonization strategy can demonstrate actionable commitments, transparent reporting standards, and measurable results to an increasingly interested investor base.

Puro.earth is just one part of a full suite of growing ESG solutions—including our ESG Advisory Program, Nasdaq OneReport, and recently acquired Metrio—that we are offering to our more than 6,000 corporate customers. Our aim is to meet companies’ measurement and reporting needs as they mature their climate transition plans toward the ultimate goal of decarbonization.

Through our purpose-built technology capabilities and insights, we are helping companies in our community develop a strong understanding of their overall carbon footprint that they can then act upon by first aligning with key climate-related guidance frameworks—such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures—to meet the demands of stakeholders.

Corporate sustainability efforts have the potential to become the gold standard for measuring progress on climate goals. With its finger on the pulse of evolving markets and economic needs, Nasdaq intends to use its expertise to empower businesses as they advance their own sustainability journeys. By leading in this space, we will meet investor demand for climate solutions, ensure ESG best practices at scale, and help create a healthier future for our planet.

Patrick Elie is cofounder of Metrio and head of corporate platforms for ESG product innovation at Nasdaq. Nasdaq is a partner of the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum.

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