gas stationThe Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics Conference was held recently with more than 200 CEOs, entrepreneurs, industry experts and policymakers discussing profitability, innovation, and smarter uses of energy. The focus was on the opportunities and risks that are quickly emerging and changing across sectors within the intersection of business and environment. Here are some of the highlights:

● We have a chance of reaching 50% renewable energy use in the 2060 timeframe, but it will take at least one of five miracles to come true, and about 200 crazy people working really hard at all five. — Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Chairman, Microsoft

● We need a rapid change to get to 50% renewable energy in 10 years. The best generalized solution would be to price CO2. — Elon Musk, Chairman and CEO, Tesla Motors and CEO and CTO, SpaceX

● We must change our source of food – raising cattle the way we do it doesn’t work. —
J. Craig Venter, Chairman and President, J. Craig Venter Institute

● The present and future role of natural gas is contested, but it could be the best bridge fuel as we move away from petroleum altogether. We could cut our consumption of OPEC oil by 60%. — T. Boone Pickens, Chairman, BP Capital Management and Edward G. Rendell, Former Governor, State of Pennsylvania

● Most people believe that there is environmental damage involved in fracking, but it’s needed for the future of energy in the US. In the words of California Governor Jerry Brown, fracking is not as bad as environmentalists say, or as good as the companies say. How do we make the best out of a bad situation — Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman and CEO, Chesapeake Energy

● By improving ESG (environment, social, and governance) principles, sustainability can mean more cash flow and making more money. This is crucial for incenting and supporting companies with sustainability missions. — David M. Rubenstein, Managing Director, The Carlyle Group

● Our consumption and daily habits add up, but can add up for good. For example, Robert McDonald says 4.4 billion people on the planet use a P&G product every day. Today 40% of laundry is washed in cold water – P&G has a goal of 70% in cold water. This alone would have an impact on several percentage points of the world’s GHG emissions. — Robert A. McDonald, Chairman, President and CEO, The Procter & Gamble Company

● Selling green is about being honest. Marketers have less control over the message, and are instead are expected to be transparent and authentic. — Dara O’Rourke, Chief Sustainability Officer, GoodGuide

● We have the technology to reduce waste and increase recycling, reaching a waste diversion rate close to 100%. But this is an area where we need very effective subsidies and incentives, and a change in culture and behavior. — David P. Steiner, President and CEO, Waste Management

● The best companies are embedding sustainability into their innovation pipeline. It’s in everything they do and it’s part of their image and brand. — Betty Noonan, Senior Vice President, Panasonic Consumer Marketing Company of North America

● China had more patent applications than the US for the first time in history last year. This marks a change in innovation, transparency, and the rule of law. This will go a long way to sparking change for sustainability in China’s economy and workforce. — C. S. Kiang, Chairman, Sustainable Development Technology Foundation

These are just some of the great comments, discussion points, and reflections I heard while in Santa Barbara. There was a clear focus on how the abundance of natural gas, a cheaper, cleaner alternative to petroleum has changed the energy market in the U.S. While natural gas was once thought to be a bridge fuel to a low (or no) carbon economy, that bridge appears to be getting longer.

By Cynthia Figge, cofounder and COO of CSRHub. CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world. CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues.