World leaders attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) proclaimed the need for urgent action. However, progress to address climate change has been elusive. Moving forward, sustainability practices will need to be built into every project and process if the world is to arrest the most damaging effects of global warming.
The pandemic has raised awareness of the impact humans have on the environment and the effect environmental degradation has on human well-being and on the world economy. The U.S. and EU have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, China has pledged to do the same by 2060 and India by 2070. Most renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels, thanks to investments over the past decade. And projects have been initiated to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; the AFR100 megaproject in Africa, for example, aims to reforest 247 million acres across 10 countries by 2030.
Even with such actions, the situation is getting worse.
After a temporary lull in emissions due to the “Great Lockdown,” there is “no sign we are growing back greener,” according to the World Meteorological Organization, which found rising concentrations of major greenhouse gases in 2020 and the first half of 2021.
To help turn the tide, businesses must take on more responsibility. One-fifth of the world’s largest companies have set net-zero targets. Many more need to do the same and they'll need to join forces with government, academia and other organizations. Greater investment in sustainability projects is imperative, particularly in industries that produce the most emissions, such as energy production and transportation. Billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide still need to be removed from the atmosphere each year through reforestation and other means — a process that's barely begun.
Global Megatrends 2022
The benefit that project managers bring to sustainability efforts is creating the most optimum way of getting the work done.
Co-founder and CEO, Nexus Power
Building Sustainable Products: Interview With Nishita Baliarsingh
Nishita Baliarsingh is CEO and co-founder, with her sister, Nikita, of India-based startup Nexus Power. A PMI Future 50 honoree, she is working on producing a biodegradable electric vehicle battery from agricultural waste.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are seeing massive interest, but charging times, battery safety and the environmental impacts of lithium-ion batteries are concerns. Nishita Baliarsingh and her twin sister, Nikita, had a bold idea: to create a high-performance, biodegradable battery from crop waste that tackles emissions from the burning of crop residue, while also providing farmers with extra income.
“The concept of sustainability is not clearly understood,” explains Baliarsingh. “Many consider it to be ‘saving the planet,’ but really, it’s optimum utilization of resources. You’ve got to look at the entire chain from raw material through production to the sales channel when you're trying to build a product that is sustainable.”
Progress toward sustainability started at the individual level with small gestures like carrying reusable bags and refillable jars to reduce packaging. Baliarsingh says, “we have seen a lot of change in the last 10 years and should expect to see much more in the next 10.” She cites recent moves by Tata Group, one of India’s best-known companies, as evidence that large companies are moving from a purely profit-optimized model. “They have significantly improved their carbon footprint and they're moving to a carbon-neutral space. In the next 10 years they could go carbon negative. So it's not like effectiveness is not visible,” she stresses.
“Technology will be one of the major game changers in terms of sustainability. The pandemic has really opened doors to a lot of things that earlier we didn’t even think could have been done virtually, such as videoconferencing.”
Baliarsingh says the need for project managers to drive sustainability efforts is high. “Project managers will be required everywhere. Everything that we do today is called a project — whether it's a one-day project, 10 days or six months—you would need project managers to make sure that the entire process is streamlined. The benefit that project managers bring to sustainability efforts is creating the most optimum way of getting the work done.”
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