Accelerating sustainability with science

What are Swiss organizations doing to tackle sustainability? Simone Pedrazzini, branch director of our sustainability partner Quantis, takes a look:

2020 has been a landmark year. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated acute, longstanding vulnerabilities in the structures and systems that underpin today’s globalized economy. Looking toward the future, the question on many minds is: how do we build back better?

The answer is clear: ambitious sustainable action – starting now. Climate change presents many of the same risks to business and human well-being as the current global health crisis. And the decisions we make now will determine how we will fare in the face of future shocks. With that in mind, it’s evident that sustainability isn’t canceled, but rather the most important topic of them all. In order to properly manage our impact, we have to act now, with bold, science-backed actions.

Science: the best compass for any sustainability journey

In its policy brief issued on June 22, 2020, the United Nations said that countries will be better positioned to recover from the shocks of COVID-19 and build future resilience by accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are the blueprint for shaping a better and more sustainable future for all. They address some of the most pressing global challenges we face today, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are interconnected, and to achieve them all by 2030, an integrated approach is needed. For many, this can make knowing where to start a challenge.

When people ask me which goals are the most relevant to prioritize, I don’t respond with a specific number. It’s not the SDG number that matters the most, but rather the framework we use to achieve them. I prefer to highlight the importance of using a science-based approach to identify priorities. A science-based approach helps point us in the right direction toward the issues that will have the most meaningful impact. This ensures that we’re doing what is needed, not just what we think is attainable. What’s more, it provides a way to measure and monitor progress, so we can continue to make improvements and drive critical change. 

But if I were to give a number, it would be 1.5°C . Why 1.5°C? According to leading climate scientists and the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), this is where we need to cap global warming in order to stay within planetary boundaries (the limits of what the planet can sustain) and prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change. To do that, we need a science-based approach to properly manage the sustainability challenges, identify the most valuable actions and make sure we’re going far enough.

Switzerland’s sustainability agenda

How can this be implemented in reality? Let’s take a look at the example of Switzerland, which ranked 3rd on the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s 2020 Environmental Performance Index. Housed within its 2030 Agenda, the country’s Sustainable Development Policy outlines its policy priorities for sustainable development in the medium to long term using the SDGs as a frame of reference. Climate change has been identified as a key priority and the government has outlined reduction goals and high-level measures to achieve them in the Federal Act on the Reduction of CO2 Emissions.

To make meaningful progress on these priorities, local authorities are harnessing the power of sustainability science. A good example of this is the Canton de Vaud. To define a climate roadmap for the territory, the Canton performed an inventory of its direct and indirect greenhouse gases emissions. The information generated from this science-based approach provided an overview of Vaud’s key climate challenges and a robust starting point for shaping public policies to reduce emissions, adaptation strategies and actions that align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

The vital role of business

But governments can’t do it alone. As recently highlighted by Christine Hofmann, Director a.i. of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), achieving these sustainability targets will not be possible without the full participation of businesses. 

As we enter into the decade of action for sustainability, there is no longer room or time for discussions about “why” sustainability is a priority. Now is the time for action and the focus must be on “how” we will reach our sustainability targets. Businesses are increasingly onboard with this thinking. In fact, more than 900 companies, including Swiss companies such as Nestlé, Firmenich, Barry Callebaut, Swisscom and Mammut Sports Group, have now committed to set science-based targets through the Science Based Targets initiative, which provides clear greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets aligned with climate science. With clear targets in place, businesses can keep the focus on identifying the most effective actions to actually reach them.

There are many tools and frameworks, such as a corporate footprint or a materiality assessment, available that can help companies put concrete actions into place to improve environmental sustainability of their products and operations. In Switzerland,, the Swiss Network for Resource Efficiency, offers a range of resources and cross-sectorial expertise that enable businesses to reduce their ecological burden by reducing their dependence on raw materials. 

To build resilience and accelerate action on climate change, we have to act, and we have to act now. In this decade of change, a science-based approach is invaluable for supporting smart decision-making and ensuring efforts are focused on the most effective and meaningful actions that will bring us closer to delivering on our sustainability targets.

Simone Pedrazzini,
Branch Director

About Quantis
A leading sustainability consulting group known for its robust, metrics-based approach, Quantis guides top organizations to define, shape and implement intelligent sustainability solutions. Its team of talents delivers resilient strategies, robust metrics, useful tools and credible communications for a more sustainable future.