Climate Crossroads: Business, Innovation, and the Path to Net Zero

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Climate change is real and it’s worsening. Goizueta Business School’s Wes Longhofer and Cameron Bard join to discuss the business imperative for carbon neutrality – and how human creativity, technological progress, and a strong commitment to a sustainable future can drive us toward net zero. 

There’s no escaping it – climate change is real and it’s worsening. 2023 was by far the warmest year on record, and 2024 is predicted to be even hotter, marking 10 years of consecutive increases. Last year, ocean warming broke records, Arctic sea ice dropped to a record low, and climate-related disasters caused damages exceeding $92 billion dollars.  

Wes Longhofer and Cameron Bard of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School join to discuss the role that business can and should play in helping our society transition to carbon-free sources of energy. We unpack the need for truly innovative large-scale ideas and investments, opportunities within developed and developing countries, global threats, and the challenge of pursuing clean energy initiatives while also respecting other environmental and social justice concerns.   
Wes Longhofer is an associate professor of organization and management and the executive academic director of the Business & Society Institute at Goizueta. His research on climate change and energy systems has been featured in the Washington Post and Nature. He also serves on Emory's Climate Research Initiative Task Force, as well as Emory's Sustainability Visioning Committee. 
Cameron Bard is a student in Goizueta’s Full-time MBA program. He serves as the President of the Goizueta Energy and CleanTech Association and is a Social Enterprise Fellow focusing on climate and sustainability. Post-graduation, he will work for Boston Consulting Group. Outside of class, he volunteers for the Georgia CleanTech Innovation Hub. 
Understanding Climate Change 
Climate change is defined as the long-term alteration of temperature and weather patterns on Earth. Highlighting the pivotal role of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, in these environmental shifts, the conversation points to the direct consequences we're facing: increasingly frequent and severe climate shocks that disrupt the natural balance of our planet.  

The Energy Trilemma 
This trilemma refers to the complex challenge of balancing three critical aspects of energy policy: environmental sustainability, energy equity (affordability), and energy security. It underscores the difficulty of ensuring that future energy sources are not only carbon-free and sustainable to combat climate change but also affordable for communities worldwide and secure from the threats posed by geopolitical tensions and bad actors. In addition, it highlights the interplay between these dimensions in transitioning to a sustainable energy future, emphasizing the need for innovative solutions that address all three aspects simultaneously. 

Historical Context and Infrastructure 
Let’s look back at monumental projects like the massive hydroelectric dams constructed during the New Deal era, the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s, and the achievement of putting a man on the moon. These examples serve to illustrate the ambition and scale of past infrastructural endeavors, providing a benchmark for current efforts to transition to clean energy. However, there were several challenges these projects faced, such as the protests against the interstate highway system due to its impact on neighborhoods and local ecosystems, and the failure of certain dams and nuclear plants because of resistance from affected communities. The discussion suggests a path forward that respects local interests, protects the environment, and shares benefits equitably, aiming for a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to developing modern sustainable infrastructure. 

Innovation and FOAK Projects 
The focus shifts to the importance of innovative ideas and first-of-a-kind (FOAK) projects in spearheading the energy transition. The deployment of advanced nuclear reactors and large-scale battery storage systems showcase how these FOAK projects are pivotal in overcoming the inherent challenges of reliability and storage faced by renewable energy sources, thereby accelerating the path towards a sustainable energy landscape.  

The Pursuit of Clean Energy, While Respecting Other Environmental and Social Justice Concerns 
Specific instances, such as the opposition to the Lithium Americas mine at Thacker Pass in Nevada, illustrate how NIMBYism ("Not In My Backyard") and BANANA ("Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything") mentalities create significant roadblocks to essential renewable energy projects. Additional protests against the construction of wind farms and solar panels are discussed, where local communities' concerns over environmental and aesthetic impacts lead to delays or cancellations. These examples underscore the complex task of balancing the need for clean energy development with respecting local community values and environmental conservation. The conversation highlights the importance of engaging stakeholders early with transparent, inclusive decision-making processes to ensure energy equity and foster broader acceptance of renewable energy initiatives. 

Role of Businesses Towards Net Zero by 2050 
The role of businesses in reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is crucial. By embracing sustainable practices, innovative finance, and investments in clean energy, companies contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and set standards for ethical business conduct. Despite the challenges lying ahead on the path to net zero, a quiet optimism persists, supported by our belief in human creativity, technological progress, and a strong commitment to a sustainable future. It’s a significant challenge, yet achievable with the business sector leading the way towards the goal of a net-zero world by 2050, demonstrating the essential balance between economic development and environmental care.  

For those inspired to learn more, visit Goizueta’s Business & Society Institute for additional resources and information on the intersection of business with climate change, racial justice and inclusive economies. 

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This episode of the Goizueta Effect was co-created in partnership with MBA students and ClimateCAP delegates Sam Haber, Marco Zgliczynski, and Shweta Agrawal. 
Climate Crossroads: Business, Innovation, and the Path to Net Zero
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