Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Photo via Getty Images

Amid remarkable fund allocation towards tackling environmental, social, and corporate governance issues, investors deeply concerned about climate change exert substantial leverage on firms and regulators to make reforms.

Furthermore, the Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed new rules requiring all publicly listed corporations to disclose climate change risks in their regular filings with clear reporting obligations, such as information on direct greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2), as well as GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain (Scope 3).

Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Many companies are still dealing with questions like:

  • What problems and possibilities should they prioritize?
  • Where should they devote time, effort, and money to have the most long term effect via business processes?
  • What principles, policies, and internal standards should be implemented to initiate the process and get good ESG ratings?
  • When do corporate sustainability challenges necessitate collaborations with other businesses to meet commitments and achieve goals?
  • What organizational behavior and change management measures should be incorporated to induce sustainability into the corporate culture?

One-fifth of businesses still need a sustainability plan in place, and fewer than 30 percent feel the effect of that strategy is evident to all employees.

Introducing climate-related practices across businesses and corporations takes time and effort. Since sustainability transformation initiatives span multiple business functions and units, whether they are helping or hurting the bottom line is often a fuzzy picture. It is not easy to quantify near-term profitable impacts directly emanating from sustainable strategies, disincentivizing many businesses from setting ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Businesses often struggle with what they intend to assess and what "good enough" performance looks like for the firm. Furthermore, sustainability performance reporting is infested with the inherent stakes of the legitimacy of data collection, defining the metrics and materiality, accountability to the stakeholders, the dynamism of the business environment, the complexity of reporting standards, and the risk of obsolescence of the tool.

For context, there are approximately 600 sustainability reporting standards, industry efforts, frameworks, and recommendations worldwide. Additionally, the one-directional data collection method used by the carbon market trading systems for scoring analyses often leads to intentional or unintentional greenwashing.

So then, what is the path forward?

An effective strategy would involve adopting a synergistic approach, just like the yin and the yang elements that embody balance and harmony on two distinct yet interconnected levels. The yin aspect, prevailing at the government level, would require a robust standardization of reporting frameworks via policymaking and regulations that can effectively implement suitable transformation engines for businesses. It will entail developing adaptable market mechanisms to successfully guide businesses and consumers to identify, plan, navigate, strategize, and execute greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. It will require answers to foundational questions like:

  • What tools and resources can help businesses improve their financial performance by reducing energy waste and energy costs?
  • How do manufacturers engage their suppliers in low-cost technical reviews to improve process lines, use materials more efficiently, and reduce waste?
  • How can waste management and recycling help a business by saving money, energy, and natural resources?

There is a dire need to standardize and consolidate the industry benchmarks and reporting frameworks against which businesses can assess their performance for climate action and potentially improve their bottom line by investing in appropriate carbon mitigation activities. This will create a fundamental shift in the mindset of corporates and raise the level of conversation from "Should we implement sustainable business frameworks?" to "How we could best implement sustainable frameworks for better ROI and an impactful bottom line?"

On the other hand, the yang element operates at the business or corporation level. Successful execution of sustainability strategies entails interweaving the sustainability thread into the business core across strategies and processes, operations and personnel, and products and services.

What is the business case for sustainability efforts? From operational cost savings to expansion in new markets, from enhanced brand equity to investor interest and share expansion, companies that incorporate robust and scalable sustainable practices have opportunities to unlock new sources of value capture and new markets that can deliver immediate financial rewards. Such measures will demonstrate the overall sustainability transformation's power and potentially provide money or cost savings to fund other components.

One way to do it is by introducing circular business models to reshape the whole product usage cycle: re-engineering product designs with more sustainable materials, redesigning the manufacturing lifecycle, recycling products, packaging, and waste, and reducing emissions in transportation, water, and energy consumption activities. By leveraging technology and AI in the extended system of interactions within and outside the business, companies can monitor, predict, and reduce the carbon emissions in their supply chains and yield immediate financial results.

Designing, implementing, and managing the foundational governance of sustainable business practices, strategies, structure, and tactics will require robust governance of sustainability efforts in all key business areas, including marketing, sales, product development, and finance. Additionally, organizational values, leadership initiative from the CEO and board level to the employees, and stakeholder interest are necessary to drive value for business policy. Involving employees in decision-making will help induce better commitment and accountability to implementing economic, social, environmental, and technologically sustainable interventions and initiatives.

Finally, businesses need to understand that they could truly develop long-term business success and shareholder value when they stop viewing sustainability from a compliance or ESG reporting lens. Long-term business success cannot be achieved solely by maximizing short-term profits but through market-oriented yet responsible behavior that automatically drives enhanced business bottom lines. This demands a collaborative partnership between policymakers, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, academia, and civic society to usher in economic growth, competitiveness, and consumer interest. This partnership is essential for environmental protection and social responsibility to ensure a sustainable future.

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Ruchi Gupta is a certified mentor and vice chair at SCORE Houston.

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

money moves

A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”