Meeting the Moment for Climate Action: Q&A with Maria Mendiluce, CEO, We Mean Business Coalition

October 12, 2020

BSR is pleased to welcome Maria Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition, as a plenary speaker for BSR Conference 2020, where we will virtually gather the sustainable business community around the theme: Meet the Moment. Build the Future.

Meeting the moment doesn’t solely apply to the events of 2020, momentous as they may be. It also means taking action on the ongoing—and worsening—climate crisis. In May 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn in full swing, Maria was appointed CEO of the We Mean Business coalition. A proud founding partner of the coalition, BSR welcomes Maria to the position and looks forward to our continued collaboration to catalyze business leadership, climate action, and policy ambition to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

We were able to connect with Maria ahead of BSR Conference 2020 to learn more about what she thinks is needed from business to meet the current moment and build a more equitable and sustainable future.


In 2020, we’re facing the COVID-19 crisis, mass unemployment, and the growing movement to end systemic racism alongside devastating climate impacts across the globe. How do the events of this year underscore the need for business to take meaningful climate action? In your opinion, what is the role of business to meet the moment? 

The world is continuing to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn, systemic racial inequality, and more, but the impacts of climate change cannot be ignored. Most weeks bring fresh headlines of wildfires, such as in California and Australia, droughts, and rapidly melting ice caps. They’re all stark reminders that inclusive climate action and a transition to a net-zero economy that does not leave marginalized communities behind cannot wait for calmer times.

While the pandemic has revealed our fragility, it has not diminished the recognized need for bold climate action, and governments, citizens, and the corporate world are increasingly driven to harness this poignant moment of change in a way that benefits us all.

Climate action is a driver of innovation, economic growth, competitiveness, resilience, and job creation. The latest research shows that green stimulus measures are better at boosting jobs and GDP growth than business as usual or traditional government stimulus measures. There is a clear incentive to drive bold climate action as a way to recover better and create good jobs.

However, we must ensure that we deliver a just transition that does not exacerbate social inequalities. This includes building a more resilient labor market that redeploys, retrains, and upskills those working in high carbon industries for the new green economy.

In this time of global disruption, ambitious climate action by both business and government is more urgent than ever before. Climate action equals greater resilience and, for forward-looking businesses, this is quickly moving beyond their sustainability teams to be a core part of business strategy. This is why it’s so timely that, as a coalition, we have launched the Climate Leadership Now guide. The time is now for business leaders to significantly raise the bar; we need to reboot economies, solve the climate crisis, and bring benefits to societies globally, while leaving no one behind. 

At BSR Conference 2020, we will be discussing ways in which business can contribute to the creation of a more just and sustainable future. As business begins to create post-COVID-19 strategies, how important is it to include climate action in these future plans? How can they show Climate Leadership Now?

Encouragingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has not diminished the recognized need for bold climate action and actually has strengthened resolve among citizens, companies, governments, and investors to drive real progress. Consequently, the need to develop a robust leadership position on climate action is more urgent than ever and should be central to any company’s strategic vision.

We are truly at a pivotal turning point in history, and companies can harness this moment to join the Race to Zero and set a course out of the crisis through climate leadership.

This means aligning corporate ambition with the best available climate science, setting targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, at the latest, with strong interim targets to get there through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Companies must identify and implement action to reduce carbon emissions across operations and supply chains to enable them to deliver on their ambition.

Then it means speaking up to secure wider change through advocacy.

In September, the We Mean Business coalition launched Climate Leadership Now, our new guide outlining how companies can progress their climate strategy toward a climate leadership position fit for this decisive decade. We urge all companies to engage with these three A's: ambition; action; and advocacy. Now is the time to join the Race to Zero and show leadership in the global effort to tackle the climate crisis.

Business and governments need to work together to accelerate climate action. Ambitious company action emboldens governments to set stronger policies, which in turn enable the scale-up of business actions. 

One of the pillars in the Climate Leadership Now guide is Advocacy, highlighting the crucial role and voice that business has in helping developing policy frameworks to spur a zero carbon economy. How can business use its influence to ensure that governments build back better and include climate action in their economic recovery plans? 

Business and governments need to work together to accelerate climate action. Ambitious company action emboldens governments to set stronger policies, which in turn enable the scale-up of business actions. We need companies to make the case in support of bold climate policy.

In a recent video interview with We Mean Business, Jakob Askou Bøss, senior vice president at Ørsted, said, “It’s quite clear that governments cannot do it alone, and companies cannot do it alone. We need to work together. Governments need to set ambitious targets for carbon reduction and renewable energy deployment and create the visibility needed for companies to deploy the vast amount of capital and drive the innovation that is needed to further mature and scale renewable energy and to further bring down costs."

This December will mark the five-year anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement. To meet the goals of limiting warming to well below 2°C, governments need to increase their national pledges. In your point of view, what is the role of business in helping to meet the Paris Agreement goals?

Corporate climate ambition and action help mitigate and avoid risks, like business interruption, supply chain collapse, and market destruction, whilst bringing opportunities like cost savings, new markets, new finance, new customers, and new products. Business leaders can see the benefits and are seizing them.

Just this month, PayPal, Walmart, Ford, and Facebook are among companies to have increased their level of climate commitment, announcing bold strategies to accelerate the zero-carbon transition. To date, nearly 300 companies have joined the Business Ambition for 1.5ºC campaign, led by SBTi, We Mean Business, and the UN Global Compact, including those in hard-to-abate sectors such as the world’s largest cement maker, LafargeHolcim.

During the past few weeks, we have seen the kind of corporate leadership the world needs. We need more businesses to follow suit, because this must become the new business norm.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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