How UPS, Bayer, and Rubicon Carbon are driving impact through sustainable technology
When UPS was founded in 1907, it started with two entrepreneurial teenagers and a bike. Over 100 years later, UPS innovation involved—well, bikes again.
“Throughout our history, we’ve said, ‘Let’s find new ways to deliver that are cost effective, efficient, increase our productivity, and use the resources we have widely,” said Laura Lane, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer at UPS.
At Fortune’s Impact Initiative summit on Wednesday, Lane shared that the 115-year-old UPS finds lots of innovative ways to close the gap and help the company achieve its commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. And that innovation includes an e-bike delivery system that started in 2012 on the streets of Hamburg, a solution that has since been expanded to dozens more cities.
While there is no easy solution to developing sustainable strategies and solutions to drastically curb climate change, experts agree that substantial capital investment is required. Jennifer Jenkins, chief sustainability officer at Rubicon Carbon, said research shows that $3.5 trillion must be spent each year between now and 2050 to develop the right sustainable technologies to save the planet.
“We need all the solutions we can get,” said Jenkins. Rubicon Carbon launched just this week—with an initial capital commitment of $300 million from private-equity firm TPG’s climate investment fund.
Rubicon Carbon is aiming to address concerns about carbon credits, which saw a steady increase in corporate interest as companies made net-zero pledges and other climate commitments. But the credits market hasn’t always been built on reliable methodologies that ensure corporate commitments result in actual improvements.
“We are aware that we will draw criticism because there are people out there who do not believe in offsets,” said Jenkins. A solution, she said, is better methodologies, enhanced monitoring, and ultimately empowering companies that are coming to Rubicon Carbon, because those firms are authentically working to decarbonize their supply chains.
“I have a lot of faith in technology and improvement in methodologies, and standards, and data so we can really monitor projects, and they can continue to have the kind of impact we need them to have to reach the net-zero goal by 2050,” said Jenkins.
At German-based pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, the last big reinvention as it pertains to sustainability occurred in 2018, when Bayer bought Monsanto, the world’s largest seeds firm. With the new company evenly split between health care and agriculture, Bayer needed to develop a sustainability strategy for the agriculture portion of the business.
“Even an old company like Bayer needs to reinvent itself from time to time, otherwise it is not going to survive,” said Klaus Kunz, head of ESG external engagement and performance reporting at Bayer.
But there are some cases in which the sky is quite literally the limit. As UPS aims to move toward carbon neutrality, it is faced with the harsh reality that 60% of its emissions come from the air. Electric planes are an innovation that’s being explored in markets like the Middle East and Australia, but this isn’t yet a widely adopted solution. “There is a huge tech gap to close and address how we take emissions out of the air,” said Lane.
Kunz said that sustainability solutions should be shared not only by large organizations like Bayer, but also the millions of farmers they work with.
“You can embed carbon, climate, and even ecosystems when you can measure, but you need to do it in a way that is credible,” said Kunz.
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