Suppliers, governments and banks grapple with climate change questions

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Oil suppliers, automakers, bankers, and politicians are all exploring how climate change will steer business strategies, a Movin’On panel showed.

MONTREAL, Que. – Striking a balance between financial goals and a desire to fight climate change can be a challenge. Look no further than the interest in electric vehicles as an example of a chicken-versus-egg debate. Which should come first, the charging stations or the vehicles themselves?

Vehicle manufacturers, fuel suppliers, governments, and financial institutions alike are searching for the strategies that make sense.

Total, the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company, now wants to supply any energy source linked to mobility, said senior vice-president – strategy, marketing and research Philippe Montanteme, during a panel discussion at the Movin’On Summit in Montreal. Against that backdrop, the company has invested in everything from electric vehicle charging stations (acquiring France’s G2mobility) to biodiesel capabilities.

The challenge for suppliers is to motivate managers to invest in technologies that don’t offer a direct payback in the near term, he said.

Montanteme also stressed the need to embrace new energy sources while still improving the efficiency of vehicles that run on traditional fuels. “We cannot change in one day,” he said. Solutions might even differ from one city to the next.

Automakers are acting on shifting trends as well.

The increasing focus on sustainability and environmental protection is already leading BMW Group to focus on a vehicle’s entire carbon footprint from the moment it rolls off the assembly line to the time it’s recycled.

“This is something we are driving through our portfolio now,” said Ursula Mathar, BMW’s vice-president of sustainability and environmental protection.

The focus has the OEM exploring strategies like car sharing services – something that could actually require fewer cars on the road but maximize the way they’re used.

“Electrification is needed – and not in 10 or 20 years, but it’s needed now,” Mathar added, referring to the need for politicians to support the underlying infrastructure like charging stations.

In the meantime, financial institutions are showing growing interest of their own in backing environmentally sustainable business initiatives.

“We face high expectations to act and we’re prepared to take a stance and act,” said Sophie Javary, a vice chairman at the BNP Paribas bank, based in France.

The bank recognizes the challenge of global warming, she added, referring to the way flooding can influence real estate values.

Private investors are looking to back such investments as well, she said, referring to a manifesto signed by 415 institutional investors representing $32 trillion in investments. They’re ready to put their money behind sustainable activities.

Still, the Paris Accord’s 2030 environmental targets to reduce greenhouse gases are approaching quickly, said Miguel Gaspar, deputy mayor of Lisbon, Portugal. “It’s not that much,” he said of the timeline. “It’s more or less the lifecycle of a product.”

“We need bold and we need fast action,” he said. “It’s not happening fast enough, and we have to discuss how can we change faster.”

Finding the political will to support plans that reduce trucking emissions could be one of the biggest challenges.

“There is definitely a difference between passengers and freight,” Gaspar said, “because passengers vote and boxes don’t.”

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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