An interview with Bloomberg’s Sustainability Editor, Eric Roston
06 April 2016

​Journalist Eric Roston has been overseeing sustainability news coverage at Bloomberg LP since 2011, and over the past 15 years has worked on climate change from virtually every angle, including publishing the popular science book, ‘The Carbon Age’. Eric Roston will be moderating all four plenary sessions at next month’s GRI Global Conference. In this exclusive interview, we discover his views on the key sustainability challenges of our time, and, what action is needed to solve them.
What do you see as the main issues in sustainability right now and why?
The issues are more focused, direct, and I think mature, than they have ever been in the past. The idea of a global “carbon budget”—that there’s only so much CO2 we can produce without courting true danger—now enforces discipline on every nation and company that considers it. The crash in energy prices has both helped and complicated the movement away from fossil fuels. We’re seeing the leading sustainable companies really transforming what they make, how they make it, and how they disclose it all to stakeholders. There are now commonplace, standard practices in sustainability that a decade ago would have been wishful thinking.
In what way do you see sustainability reporting and increased transparency playing a role in helping to address these issues?
In the U.S., which is the place I know best, policy developments tend to lag private-sector adoption. So the more that the country’s and the world’s biggest companies embrace sustainability and transparency, the likelier it is that Washington and state capitals may give it the force of law. What we’re looking for here is contagion—a good kind—where companies compete on sustainable best practices and lift everybody around them.
Last year we saw major developments in the sustainability landscape, namely the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Change agreement. How important were these developments and how do you think they will affect business and economies?
Everything in the SDGs is also good for business. Health. The rule of law. Infrastructure. A clean environment. Efficient systems. The faster nations can address the challenges spelled out in the SDGs, the better it is that business will be able to serve their citizenry.
Much is made about the lack of the UN climate process to produce a legally binding treaty that guarantees carbon cuts. It was probably never possible. But that shouldn’t diminish the very real soft power which is already signaling markets, companies, and governments that it’s time to step up an already fast-paced transition toward a carbon-free energy economy.
Why has Bloomberg LP decided to partner with GRI for the 5th Global Conference?
The partnership is a great expression of Bloomberg LP’s modus operandi. Several years ago, long before I slinked in, Bloomberg LP ginned up two major initiatives under the leadership of Curtis Ravenel, global Head of Sustainability. One initiative brought sustainable scrutiny to the company’s worldwide operations, resulting in massive, widespread cost savings, efficiency improvements, and a strong sense of community. At the same time, the company built into the Bloomberg Professional Service an entire platform devoted to the environmental, social, and governance information disclosed by public companies. All that information is available to clients along with companies’ traditional financial data. So in both its operations and its product, Bloomberg LP took an early lead in sustainable business, and the GRI Global Conference is an ideal place to see what people think is happening next.
The first plenary session at the GRI Global Conference asks the question “20 years on: Are we making a difference?” What do you think?
Where we see changes in improved livelihoods, in how companies use resources, in better technology, they are coming faster than even some of the most starry-eyed optimists might have predicted 10 years ago. Only good can come from transparency. Only good can come from cleaning up the energy system. And only good can come from defining business as a means to improving people’s lives and communities.
What’s your message to people who are contemplating attending the GRI Global Conference but have not yet committed to doing so?
My god, what are you waiting for? The GRI Global Conference is about nothing less than the most transformative ideas in the world, brought to you by the people who invented and are implementing them. For me, sustainability is not about companies and governments. It can’t be if you want to keep the topic lively and engaging. It’s about people, and why people do what they do when they get out of bed in the morning. These particular people are dead-set on improving the lives of others around the world and into infinity. That’s who we’re going to hear from. This meeting-of-the-minds will bring tears to your eyes and laughter to your gut. You will make new friends. You will bring back inspiration for your colleagues who can’t make it. You will change the world. But you have to sign up first.