Interview with EcoAct Director William Theisen
Climate Action spoke with William Theisen, Director of EcoAct – one of the world’s leading experts in carbon strategies and climate resilience.
What are EcoAct’s origins and key aims?
Originating in France, EcoAct’s founders decided to raise awareness on environmental issues by cleaning up riverbanks with rehabilitation workers. Following growing interest in environmental challenges, they shifted to advising companies on climate change and carbon neutrality strategies. Today, EcoAct aims to engage with the private and public sector in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
We are now a leading company in carbon strategy, acting on three major axes: measuring, reducing, and achieving carbon neutrality. In short, EcoAct empowers companies to decarbonise their activities and make their climate strategy a driving force.
EcoAct experts also aim to adapt approaches for companies to ensure that strategies, whether to reduce carbon emissions or integrate a carbon price, are tailored to the context in which the company works. In order to achieve success and ensure uptake of strategies, we need to have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges, stakeholders, and key success factors for every organization we work with.
Can you explain why it is so important for businesses to act environmentally responsibly?
As the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has proven, it is now clear that climate change is happening at an even faster pace than expected with an estimated rise in temperature of close to 4°C by 2100. Scientists are unequivocal: climate change will have (and already has) global impacts that will threaten our current development. It is now urgent for businesses to take climate actions because their own development is at stake.
Nowadays the private sector represents such a large share in the market, and such a considerable impact on climate, that their commitment to building a sustainable future is absolutely crucial. On the bright side, the private sector seems to have answered the call: last December in Paris, COP21 was the first UNFCCC to feature such a large business forum. But most importantly, businesses must understand that acting environmentally responsibly means turning climate risks into climate opportunities.
Having a robust climate strategy and acting environmentally responsible are not just “corporate social responsibility”, but rather the only means to maintain competitiveness.
In what ways can enhanced CSR strategies improve companies’ performance and competitiveness?
Firstly, we are moving past the notion of “CSR strategies”, focusing instead on the environment and sustainability at the core of business strategies. Whereas sustainability teams and companies used to be independent departments, these roles are actually being shifted to core business strategies affecting the company as a whole. Over the last few years, we have seen Sustainability roles at the executive management or even the board level more and more frequently. Investors and stockholders want to be assured that climate change is being addressed to ensure their competitiveness and viability in the medium and long term. That said, the medium term is being shortened. Effects of climate change are felt increasingly more and companies need to make sure they are adapting appropriately.
The Paris Agreement has thrown down the gauntlet on the corporate world. It has made clear that business-as-usual is not an option. Companies must acknowledge that risks exist for those companies that are tempted to free ride on the efforts of others. They should also understand that the decarbonisation agenda provides an opportunity to make businesses stronger, more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.
EcoAct has recently been awarded a number of prestigious awards for Environmental Finance. What do you think sets EcoAct apart from its competitors?
In 2016, we were thrilled to be awarded Worldwide Best Advisory Service and Worldwide Best Project Developer Overall by Environmental Finance. First and foremost, our experts are key to our success. We have a team of specialists that can advise our clients on energy and climate change, but also on developing tailored IT tools and communications. EcoAct can advise on strategies on multiple levels and perspectives.
We also have a network of key partners that we work with around the globe that we know and trust in terms of carbon neutrality. Whether it is exploring emission reduction projects to develop for companies, identifying and implementing strategies to ensure a resilient supply chain, or securing high quality carbon offset programmes, we have a comprehensive understanding of how to develop projects on the ground in both the developed and the developing world.
What our clients appreciate is our holistic approach in consulting, to guarantee added value. At EcoAct, we also focus on maximizing potential, competitive advantage, and return on investment. We are convinced that reducing environmental impacts and achieving carbon neutrality should not just be a cost, but rather an opportunity to become resilient and more robust in a quickly changing environment.
EcoAct has recently become a founding partner of the Gold Standard 3.0 Initiative. Can you tell us more?
Every carbon offsetting project of our portfolio is certified by the most rigorous standards. One of the most internationally renowned is the Gold Standard which has always had a particular focus on economic, social, and environmental co-benefits for carbon reduction projects.
Going one step further, the Gold Standard 3.0 initiative aims to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals in carbon reduction and offset strategies. Essentially, it allows the measurement of outcomes and impacts of low carbon projects in line with the SDG Framework (e.g. Health, Biodiversity, Education etc.). It is a very promising and holistic approach to carbon offsetting, which will open the door to new companies that otherwise may not have been particularly focused on offsetting.
For example, if a company’s focus is on “health and wellbeing”, they can look at supporting projects that are in line with that objective, whilst also contributing to the reduction of carbon. Carbon can actually be a key co-benefit of “health and wellbeing” or vice versa. This has the potential to be game changing as it makes carbon neutrality more inclusive rather than limiting the focus just to carbon reductions.
Other Founding Partners included The World Bank and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
Can you tell us more about the Hifadhi Project based in Kenya?
EcoAct’s founders hold this project really close to their heart since it perfectly combines our core values: providing low carbon and economically beneficial solutions. We are quite proud that this project has gained international recognition since we were awarded “Best Project Developer” by Environmental Finance. Whereas many other consultancies would only manage certain aspects of this kind of project, EcoAct and Climate Pal, our subsidiary in Kenya, are committed to running all aspects of the programme.
Hifadhi, which is a Gold Standard certified project, has been developed and financed by the Livelihoods Fund, in partnership with EcoAct, and with Climate Pal as local partner since 2011.The project was launched in the Embu District to provide a more sustainable cooking solution to households and reduce deforestation. It now equips 60,000 households with clean cookstoves, positively impacting the lives of 300,000 people in rural communities. Moreover, 30 local workers are employed to build and distribute the cookstoves and 1,200 hectares will be preserved from deforestation over the ten-year life span of the project.
What are the future plans for EcoAct?
Building off our success in Europe, we are now expanding to North America with a new office in New York City as of September 2016. As many of our clients are either headquartered in Europe with a presence in the US or the other way around, it is a way for us to capitalize on the knowledge and innovations that are happening both in Europe and North America.
Speaking generally, legislation in Europe related to sustainable development and the environment has pushed the public and private sector forward significantly. In the US, innovation has progressed thanks to the private sector with certain companies leading the pack.
Through work with the public and private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic, this will reinforce our offering. There have been successes and challenges, but the key is taking our experience and working with our clients so that they can more efficiently move their programmes to the next level.
We are very much looking forward to engaging directly in such a dynamic market in the US!