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Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Tufts alum talks corporate climate change action in Hoch Cunningham lecture series

Tyler McCullough manages companies’ carbon emission goals for environmental company Ceres.


Curtis Hall is pictured on Sept. 14, 2021.

The Environmental Studies Program held its final Hoch Cunningham Environmental lecture series on Thursday, featuring Tyler McCullough (LA’17), manager of corporate climate action at the environmental advocacy firm Ceres. In the lecture titled “Investor Advocacy and Business Working to Address Climate Change,” McCullough discussed how Ceres facilitates corporate sustainability and how companies are transitioning to clean energy while maintaining financial ambition.

After graduating from Tufts in 2017 with a degree in environmental science and international relations, McCullough taught English abroad before beginning his work in the environmental sector. Now, he works on implementing Ceres’ climate transition action plans program to help large companies and clients reach their sustainability goals. 

“Ceres uses three levers to affect our change,” McCullough said. “The first one, which is really our niche … is investor change. Essentially, investors are very influential, especially over the companies they own, but also over policymakers, so they can push companies to take sustainability actions in the name of business.”

According to its website, Ceres is an environmental nonprofit based out of Boston that works with investors, companies, policymakers, regulators and other nonprofits to tackle the ultimate goal of creating a more sustainable future.

“Second, with corporate change … We work directly with leading companies, companies that want to do the right thing on sustainability,” McCullough said. “We help them take those actions. Lastly, [we work with] policy and systems change. Investors and companies are both really influential on policymakers.”

Ceres primarily works with companies in industries such as banking, electric power, food, oil and gas, steel and transportation, which collectively produce 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to McCullough.

“A lot of companies are making commitments,” McCullough said. “A third of the world’s largest 2,000 companies have net zero goals. But that means two-thirds do not. It also means that those that have the goals might be, and often are, lacking on interim targets, implementation and quantitative progress against their goals. So, it’s great to have a goal, but it’s certainly not enough.”

That’s where Ceres steps in to provide companies with the resources to conduct detailed planning and to ensure accountability toward meeting those goals.

“The company has specific, forward-looking actions that will share in each of these areas and the expected quantitative emissions reductions they expect from each of those actions,” he said. “Oil and gas is one of our focus sectors because it contributes a huge amount to emissions. There are near-term things that these companies can do — that they are willing to do — if they’re pressured to do so … so if as investors and as policymakers, we can force and push these companies to reduce methane emissions now, that is what has to happen.”

McCullough highlighted two major challenges in keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, a figure needed to hit in order “avert the worst effects of climate change.”

“One, we need 45% emission reductions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050,” he said. “And second, the International Energy Agency has estimated we need $131 trillion to finance that transition, whether for companies, for governments, etc.”

He expressed optimism that steps are being taken to achieve these goals. In 2022, the U.S. passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which he called “the largest investment in climate ever by the government in the history of mankind.”

“Currently, within the investor finance community, 50% of assets under management are committed to helping this transition to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” McCullough said. “Companies basically are waking up to the reality that climate change poses risks to their business … [and] that climate change has opportunities for them.”

McCullough also compared what investors, companies and policymakers must do on all fronts to bring down greenhouse emissions.

“Essentially, investors need to decarbonize their portfolios,” he said. “Companies that have really high emissions footprints — how can we, as investors, pressure them and equip them with capital to bring those emissions down? … Companies need to set these targets, reduce emissions and take a variety of sustainability actions. Policymakers need to understand climate economic risks, and then support economy-wide decarbonization.”

McCullough commended the climate finance sector’s recent growth and climate-conscious investments, and made clear that all types of environmental action — including that of protesters — are essential to creating change.

“Five years ago, a company would laugh at you if you’re saying you need to take this action for a business reason. A lot of progress has been made by today, the fact that so many companies have signed up for these targets and are taking these actions,” he said. “We really need all of these solutions and we need all of them at once.” 

Editor’s note: McCullough provided the following comment to the Daily: “Tyler McCullough was speaking to his personal experience and perspectives, which are his own, and do not reflect Ceres' official positions.” 

The article was updated on Jan. 23 to clarify Ceres’ role. A previous edition of the article further misstated the sectors collectively responsible for 80% of greenhouse emissions. They are oil and gas, electric power, transportation, food, steel and banking. The Daily regrets these errors.

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