Mark Tercek in net zero economy

Memo to CEOs: It’s Time to Commit to Net-Zero.

Encouraging news about business leaders addressing climate change and other environmental challenges has really surged over the past few months. More CEOs and prominent investors are stepping up and leading on the environmental front. This makes sense and is great news.

Larry Fink’s recent letter to CEOs—this year telling them to prepare a plan to be net-zero or suffer market consequences—was an especially high-profile and welcome shot across the bow. We can expect others (see hedge fund leader Chris Hohn) to be more assertive. 

I’ve been trying to persuade CEOs to lead on the environmental front for more than 15 years. Maybe I was a bit ahead of my time. But I’m declaring now as plainly as I can: We’re at a tipping point. It’s time for business to move.

I have two main arguments for CEOs to consider: 

  1. From a self-interested point of view, if you step up and lead, you and your organizations will be well rewarded.  
  2. From an environmental point of view, if your organizations engage fully, it will make a big difference in society’s efforts to reach critical goals.  

Could The Glass Be Half Full?

Back when I ran TNC (2008-19), people always asked me the following question: “Are you optimistic?”

This is what they meant: Did I think humankind would successfully address the daunting environmental challenges we face?

My bold answer was always the same: “It depends.”

It depends on what we do. Humankind has the tools, know-how, and resources we need to address our challenges. Whether we will do so, however, is another matter. That’s where all of us come in. We need people across society and in all walks of life—but especially leaders of influential organizations—to step up and push for the change we need now. If we do that, yes, I’ll be optimistic.

But Do We Know What to Do?

The other question people liked to ask me: “What’s the plan?”  The people asking this question were often trying to assert that we environmentalists had never formulated an actionable plan to address the climate challenge. Therefore, they implied, it was our fault that more wasn’t being accomplished.  

Well, I have good news for them. We’ve now got the plan. Just two words: Net-Zero.

Our plan to address the climate challenge is to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050 and to get halfway there by 2030. (Looking beyond 2050, we’ll want to go further and remove enough carbon to get back down to pre-industrial levels. But one step at a time.)