1st AmCham Sustainability Summit discusses journey to Net-zero
Claudia Patricolo of CEE Energy News (left) and climate and sustainability expert Martin Porter.
Photo by Lazar Todoroff.
Put COVID aside; forget, if you can, the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. You end up with what we used to call “business as usual”, when everyone in the company had to worry about the existential threat posed by climate change.
This was the world the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary had in mind when it planned “Journey to Zero”, its first sustainability conference, long before war became a reality. At one point during the day, AmCham CEO Írisz Lippai-Nagy summed up the nature of a journey that we have all been on.
“When I joined AmCham eight years ago, sustainability wasn’t even on our agenda. A year and a half ago, some of you, our members, started asking us about this. And here we are at our first sustainability conference.
The summit, held at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, featured keynotes, moderated discussions, inspirational stories and breakout sessions. Gábor Baranyai, Deputy Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Hungary to the EU, gave the opening speech. This was followed by what many felt was one of the highlights of the day.
This was a discussion with Martin Porter, Executive Chairman of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership in Brussels, Expert Advisor to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 on climate and resource issues, and Senior Strategic Advisor to CLG Europe. Opposite him was Claudia Patricolo, editor-in-chief of CEE Energy News, who began her career as a journalist in Hungary as an intern at the Budapest Business Journal.
Responding to a question from the floor towards the end of this session, Porter remarked that while it is “natural for the focus to be on Ukraine right now”, the desire for a more sustainable future cannot be suspended.
“The climate must remain our North Star,” he said. “Strategically, it makes no sense not to.” He said he was encouraged by how climate change has remained front and center throughout the pandemic. Postponing the action was not an option, he argued. “It just gets more expensive and much worse.”
Fit For 55
A discussion of national impacts arising from the EU’s ‘Fit For 55’ package (which refers to EU measures to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 ) might well have been the most engaging session, if only because it included dissenting opinions (if expressed politely).
Moderated by Thomas Narbeshuber, Vice President for Central and South Eastern Europe at BASF, the panelists were: Barbara Botos, State Assistant for Climate Policy at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology; István Bart, founder and director of the Climate Strategy Institute 2050; Endre Ascsillán, CEO and Vice President of GE Global; and Antonella Sopranzetti, head of European affairs at ExxonMobil.
While Bart praised the measures taken by the government, he criticized that they did not go far enough. “We have a national climate law, but it’s only five paragraphs; there are no serious steps.
He described government communication on net-zero as a “thought experiment: very interesting, but there is no power. What the government requires of itself and people to achieve it is not there.
But he also said the companies represented in the conference room were “complicit” in not doing more with their economic power to push the government to move faster and further.
A series of inspiring “sustainability stories” were presented in TED-talk style. Joerg Bauer, President and CEO of Tungsram, talked about beating world hunger by creating “circular food hubs” from vertical indoor farms. Liz Madaras, founder and CEO of Poliloop, described how her team worked to find bacteria that could break down polymers. Managing Director and Global Head of ESG Research and Development at MSCI, Oliver Marchand, explained how his former startup used data science to accurately map carbon footprint and measure carbon risk in “climate investments”. . Christopher Mattheisen, managing director of Microsoft Hungary (speaking, as he was joking, without the benefit of a PowerPoint presentation), described how the software and cloud services company “provides the plumbing for AI” to help with everything. , from wastewater treatment to monitoring prehistoric herds of wild horses.
The afternoon ended with four breakout sessions that discussed issues related to clean energy, circular economy, mobility, sustainable financing and EU taxonomy.
This article first appeared in the print issue of the Budapest Business Journal on March 11, 2022.