Stockholm (NordSIP) – Koinrandorī, which is Laundromat in Japanese, has just returned from a trip to Tokyo to attend the annual PRI in Person conference. The obvious first question you might ask is whether more than 1,000 attendees should be flying from far away locations around the globe to take part in a sustainability conference. It does make it an easy target for cynics and ESG sceptics. Koinrandorī’s view is that while most meetings can be – and increasingly are – conducted remotely, it should be permissible for the occasional face-to-face gathering to take place. A short-term necessary evil for a longer-term good cause. So, was the conference worth the carbon footprint?
The event had a very rich agenda that made it impossible for an individual delegate to attend all the parallel work sessions, but the quality and breadth of speakers and topics was excellent. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s keynote speech was compelling, and he seemed well briefed on sustainability matters as he announced concrete measures being launched by his government to help finance the transition to a low carbon economy. The conference organisers had also endeavoured to cover social and governance themes as well as the climate-related subjects, with human rights and diversity, equity and inclusion among the breakout session topics.
More anger, please
Was anything missing from PRI in Person? Koinrandorī’s raison d’être is to focus on greenwashing, negative lobbying and all other forms of corporate and state-sponsored climate sabotage. While there was a panel discussion dedicated to the ESG backlash, with interesting contributions from the likes of CalSTRS, Fidelity and the PRI itself, it would have been good to have an injection of anger à la Al Gore TED talk. PRI in Person is by definition an echo chamber of like-minded people, all pulling in the same direction. What was perhaps missing was a real sense of urgency and dare we say it, controversy?
It would have been fascinating to have Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil in the hotseat on the main stage. His firm is consistently in InfluenceMap’s Top 3 Most Influential Companies Blocking Climate Policy Action Globally, scoring an overall D- and, according to the NGO: “ExxonMobil shows negative engagement on most forms of climate regulation and advocates for energy policies that would accelerate fossil fuel development. The company retains an extensive network of memberships to industry associations that actively oppose climate-related policy globally.” Only this week ExxonMobil spent just shy of $60 billion of its hard-earned cash to buy the slightly disingenuously-named Pioneer Natural Resources, a shale gas company, in a deal that could add 700,000 barrels per day of new oil and gas (BOE/D) to the fossil fuel giant’s output. It would have been exciting to see Woods grilled (perhaps not literally) on stage about his firm’s complete disregard for and denial of the climate crisis, which its own scientists had accurately predicted back in the 1970s.
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic
Equally stimulating would have been the participation of major plastics producers, such as local Japanese firms Toray Industries or Sumitomo Chemical, who could have come to the venue by bike to save on carbon. The latter is a member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), an industry body seemingly intent on promoting waste management and recycling rather than any measures that might reduce production levels of virgin plastic. ExxonMobil is also an AEPW member. Amusingly, the Sumitomo Chemical website strapline is: “The Dream of Chemistry in Your Life – We are always close to you.” Indeed, this statement is entirely correct given that microplastics have been detected in human lungs, brains, hearts, blood, placentas, and faeces. You cannot get closer than that. This week microplastics were also discovered within the clouds hanging over Japanese Mounts Fuji and Oyama, so the plastics industry really has put itself on the map.
The PRI in Person event was great, and Koinrandorī had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with many brilliant people, all of whom are doing their damnedest to drag the world into a safe low-carbon future. However, outside of this friendly echo chamber many powerful forces are working against the net-zero tide, fiercely protecting the status quo and their constantly rising revenue streams while paying lip service to sustainability through their marketing departments. Next year’s PRI in Person in Toronto would be greatly enriched by some high-stakes debates with some of these bad guys. What is Al Gore’s fee, I wonder? Let’s book him in.