Expo 2020: Business Leaders Roundtable Discusses Corporate Responses to the Climate Crisis

Published: February 9, 2022

In an event that strongly aligns with one of the pillars of INTA’s 2022‒2025 Strategic Plan, the Association participated in a roundtable last month that focused on the role private companies play in the development of a more sustainable future.

INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo participated in the Business Leaders Roundtable during Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on January 21, alongside executives from Aluminum Bahrain, The Futurist Company, Guardian Insurance Brokers, SAAB, and UPS.

The event was preceded earlier in the day by the Expo 2020 Walk for Climate Action, during which Michael Haddad, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change and who is paralyzed from the waist down, walked 1.5 kilometers across the Expo compound to the Swedish Pavilion. The walk served to raise awareness about the urgency of the climate crisis and the vital need for governments to commit to more ambitious climate goals than those agreed on at the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland.

In announcing the event, Mr. Haddad explained, “I can walk, defying my paralysis. We can all walk together away from the climate abyss and preserve our planet.”

Mr. Haddad opened the roundtable with introductory remarks highlighting the need for the private sector to share the commitment and step up alongside governments in the fight for climate action.

Ambassador Jan Thesleff, Commissioner General at the Swedish Committee for the Participation at Expo 2020; UNDP Regional Hub Director Khaled Abdel Shafi; and UNDP Director of the Bureau of External Relations & Advocacy Ulrika Modeer also provided introductory remarks.

In his remarks, Mr. Sanz de Acedo affirmed INTA’s focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR), as exemplified most recently by the Association’s inclusion of “Building a Better Society Through Brands” as one of three pillars of its new Strategic Plan.

He also presented statistics showing the positive impact of a brand’s CSR policies, including on consumer trust, consumer recognition, and the bottom line. For example, Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer survey concludes that 65 percent of respondents believe CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public, in addition to their boards and shareholders; and 86 percent expect CEOs to lead on societal issues, which reinforces the need for private sector engagement.

Dina Storey, director of Sustainability at Expo 2020, moderated the discussion, and participants consisted of business leaders with a specific interest in the Arab region. The region is one of the hardest hit by the consequences of climate change, which include water scarcity, among others.

All panelists agreed that the collaboration between the public and private sectors and the search for “win-wins” in those collaborations is key to tackling climate change challenges. Business leaders presented their company’s existing initiatives to advance CSR and climate neutral policies. They agreed that global goals will depend heavily on participation from the private sector.

Peter Harris, vice president, International Sustainability of UPS, related how his company is engaged in raising awareness about the need to increase efficiency, even if this is often seen as the “ugly stepchild” of sustainability. He noted the company is constantly auditing its fleet for efficiency by eliminating heavy diesel trucks, applying AI-supported technology, and investing in electric vehicles—even the so-called e-assist cycle, a bicycle developed together with a startup. Further, Mr. Harris emphasized that innovation is what the private sector can bring to the table to advance global climate goals.

According to Anna-Karin Rosen, UAE CEO of SAAB, the aerospace and defense company has appointed a head of sustainability and has instituted a “Climate Fund” to offset any carbon intensive activities, with the funds applied toward the development of green technologies.

Among the other companies on the panel, Aluminum Bahrain has committed to a goal of carbon neutrality and is promoting the fact that aluminum is a “forever recycle” material that can replace most plastic products, said CEO Ali Al Bagali. Al Anoud Al Hashmi, CEO of The Futurist Company, pointed out that small and medium-sized enterprises have a role to play in climate action since they are often more agile than multinational corporations.

As Ms. Storey, the moderator, aptly summarized, “Climate change is the hottest topic on the agenda today, and it fuses economy, development, and innovation.”

INTA will continue to promote and support brand cooperation with public initiatives through the work of its Brands for a Better Society Committee.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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