Changemakers for the future

María Mendiluce, We Mean Business

Maria Mendiluce

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series ‘Changemakers for the future’, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. This time: María Mendiluce, CEO of We Mean Business.

“I’m not afraid of failing; I’m afraid of not trying.”

When I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I grew up in Pamplona, a small town in northern Spain. I come from a large family. My mother and grandma raised us with strong values, and my father showed us how happiness comes from helping others. I always wanted to work towards a greater purpose, to help the world be a better place, but never would have imagined getting the experiences I’ve had.

I started my job as CEO of We Mean Business (WMB) a year ago, but I’d already worked with the coalition through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). I worked with WBCSD for 12 years. Of various projects I led there, I’m particularly pleased with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. It mobilised over 1.5 billion dollars to invest in infrastructure in developing countries to prevent plastic from entering the ocean. When that happened, I thought: “Well, this is real. It’s not talking; it’s real action.” Society was pushing these companies to make the investments and bring solutions. I could really see the power of collaboration when it comes to solving a problem that’s threatening businesses and the planet.

All of us, WMB coalition partners, were really proud of our achievements in connection with the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference. We aligned ourselves with policies and actions that were influential in shaping the Paris Agreement. We brought in the business voice, saying: “We are here with you, we support you and we’re going to do more.” Since then, we’ve embraced important issues, such as the goal of net-zero emissions. Now we’re focusing on accelerating actions to halve emissions by 2030.

Talking about failures and successes
These days, many great initiatives are created, but it’s essential that we align them and work together. This is why WMB joined forces with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Energy Transitions Commission and the World Economic Forum. Together forming the Mission Possible Partnership, we are driving the demand signal to hard-to-abate sectors so that large companies reduce the cost of new technologies. Through our positive experience with the Climate Group on RE100 and EV100, SteelZero and Concrete Zero, we’ve seen how companies are ready to commit to buying low carbon materials and transportation. Most emissions from big multinationals come from their supply chains. Reducing the footprints of cement, steel and chemicals embedded in the materials they use is fundamental to their net-zero journey, and it makes that efforts are done in collaboration with others.

WMB has many examples of successful collaboration, such as mobilising over 1,600 companies to be aligned with net-zero goals and having 400 companies sign a letter to President Biden, urging the US to commit to halving emissions by 2030. We like to talk about successes. We often fail to acknowledge when things are stuck or we haven’t found a solution yet. Fostering an environment for business to invest in climate solutions is one such area. The world cannot afford to dismiss any solutions. Personally, I’m not afraid of failing; I’m afraid of not trying. If we try something and it doesn’t work, let’s learn and correct course.

Hopes for the future
If I had 10 minutes to speak at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, I’d tell world leaders that 2050 is too far away. We must reduce emissions in the next 10 years. World leaders need to be courageous. Governments need to invest more on R&D in novel technologies needed for the future. They need to ban the use of products that are too energy-intensive and the world cannot afford. They need to find solutions through fiscal policy, for example, to incentivise the uptake of low carbon materials or introduce carbon pricing that penalises energy-intensive material. We know that at some point if the demand is great enough, costs get reduced and then we can further scale, just as we did with renewables.

To drive the transformation needed to address climate change, we need to transform our mindsets and embrace a different skillset. My children learn about sustainability challenges in school in a way my generation didn’t. We need to catch up. Every segment of society needs reskilling. We need to equip present and future generations with skills to bring and embrace solutions. We’ve done it with COVID-19 vaccines in a very short period. Humanity has the capacity. We have to put our talents to work. Companies know they need to train their staff, but most importantly, they need to help them shift their mindsets.

María Mendiluce is CEO of We Mean Business, a coalition of organisations that advise companies on ways to become more sustainable and responsible. Prior to this, she helped expand WBCSD’s climate and energy work, guiding over 200 member companies on transformative climate policy, energy transition, plastic waste and urban mobility to influence the global climate landscape. She has over 20 years of experience in sustainable development, energy and climate action.

We Mean Business catalyses business to take climate action and advocates for ambitious climate policies, keeping the pressure on governments to meet Paris Agreement commitments. The IKEA Foundation supports the We Mean Business coalition in promoting business action on climate change and creating a safer, more prosperous future for children and families living in poverty

Related article
21 reasons for hope in 2021