Science‐Based Carbon Targets for the Corporate World: The Ultimate Sustainability Commitment, or a Costly Distraction?

3 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2015

Date Written: December 2015


Dr. Alice Stewart conclusively demonstrated, in 1958, that pediatric X‐rays doubled the risk of childhood leukemia. Nevertheless, doctors continued X‐raying mothers‐to‐be until 1980. Margaret Heffernan's (2011) book, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, documents this and numerous other examples of our skill at ignoring information that points to something we don't want to know. Specifically, on the topic of climate change, Heffernan notes: “[I]n failing to confront the greatest challenge of our age – climate change – all the forces of willful blindness come together, like synchronized swimmers in a spectacular water ballet.”. When it comes to corporate sustainability, we're seeing some recent efforts to get past willful blindness. In 2013, we saw examples such as Auden Schendler (co‐author of this piece) and Michael Toffel's (2013) publication in Grist, Corporate Sustainability is Not Sustainable, which itself built upon Professor Robin Craig's (2012) article provocatively entitled “Climate Change Means the Death of Sustainability.” More recently, in Lima, Unilever's Paul Polman said that “.. most CEOs…know that their companies cannot prosper in a world with runaway climate change.” Perhaps, after years of corporate sustainability flag waving, it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that much of what companies classify as “sustainability” is, at best, green fluff that is fundamentally out of touch with the realities of anticipated climate change. Significantly, chief executive officers (CEOs) themselves are questioning the historic focus on corporate sustainability policies and targets. As summarized in the CEO Study on Sustainability, jointly published by the United Nations (UN) Global Compact and Accenture (2013): “Business leaders [now] believe that only with greater government intervention — at global, national and local levels — can sustainability move from sporadic incremental advances to a collective and transformative impact.”

Suggested Citation

Trexler, Mark and Schendler, Auden, Science‐Based Carbon Targets for the Corporate World: The Ultimate Sustainability Commitment, or a Costly Distraction? (December 2015). Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 19, Issue 6, pp. 931-933, 2015, Available at SSRN: or

Auden Schendler

Aspen Skiing Company, ( email )

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