“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction”
Hoesung Lee, Chair of IPCC
“The fact is: Climate risk is financial risk.”
“This is the moment for companies, government and society to work hand in hand to…transform our economy into one that works for the benefit of all.”
Jean-Marc Ollagnier, CEO Europe, Accenture
The IPCC’s latest Synthesis Report presents a stark picture of the urgent, systemic action needed immediately to slow climate change and our impact on the natural world: “Human-caused climate change is already affecting… every region across the globe”. We’re currently on track to exceed both the 1.5ºc and 2ºc temperature pathways from the Paris agreement unless there is a dramatic shift in policy and action.
Some 3.3bn people are vulnerable to climate change – and those who have contributed the least to climate change are worst affected. The actions of the wealthiest and most able to address climate change are the cause of environmental, social and economic crises for over 40% of our fellow humans. And then there’s the destruction and havoc on animals and plants we share the planet with – species are disapeering at the fastest rate in human history, with some 1.2m plant and animal species under threat of extinction, many before the end of the century.
Unless we stop vacillating and get on with serious change, it’s going to get a lot worse and fast. Every increment of global warming will intensify multiple, concurrent hazards, with the likelihood of irreversible changes increasing with higher global warming levels - this isn’t going away.
This bleak picture isn’t new news, but that same report does offer hope that we can still mitigate the worst of future impacts if we take decisive, coordinated and urgent action now and utilise the methods that already exist. Will this keep us within the 1.5ºc increase (after which accelerated warming is all but inevitable)? Unlikely but still may be possible, and at least helping stall intensification of the multiple climate hazards already happening – extreme weather, mass flooding, fires, habitat destruction and species loss to name a few.
There has been adaptation planning and implementation across all sectors in recent years, with documented benefits and (varying) effectiveness, but the truth is that soft targets and slow-moving policy, on-going fossil fuel reliance and climate inaction is the enemy in this battle - society simply isn’t adapting fast enough, and investment is not forthcoming at the rate needed for systemic change.
Yet we know that government and business can pull together investment and coordinated action when necessary - rapid response to the Covid pandemic proved it can be done if the threat is deemed serious enough (and not diminishing the many, many lives lost in the pandemic, unquestionable mistakes and learnings for future global crises). Efforts in the fight against climate change, however, remain patchy with every positive step in one area offset with lack of focus elsewhere. The UK government’s own climate advisors have criticised the lack of investment in the face of climate change - the Chancellor’s latest budget did little for the race to net-zero and overlooked opportunities for boosting the green economy and its potential to address so many of our economic, environmental and social woes.
The public, however, are increasingly alarmed and engaged across economic, social and environmental issues with 65% saying climate should be a top priority, and want action. Civic campaigners 38 Degrees, for example, feature multiple sustainability focused petitions - from sewage pollution to fast fashion to the repair movement to the cost of living crisis - issues important to British people looking to government and business for leadership in the fight for a fairer, greener, more impactful world.
The government is, however, fighting multiple fires and fast-tracking the green economy (with its potential to tackle stagnated growth, inequality, immigration and environmental damage) has taken a backseat. This feels a missed opportunity at a time when Britain is navigating its post-Covid, post-Brexit position in a world riddled with geo-political fracture-lines. As Conservative MP Chris Skidmore damningly put it, Britain’s national and economic reputation is at risk if we don’t lead in the fight against climate change (although arguably there is more at risk than our reputation if we ignore climate change).
Which leaves business and industry the responsibility – and opportunity – to drive sustainability action towards a more sustainable world (and economy).
Public Demands Business Acts
According to Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer, the public see business as not only competent but more trusted than government. On this basis, it is not only a matter of survival for your company to deliver sustainability action, your shareholders, customers and employees look to your company to lead in the fight for a fairer, greener, more habitable society. People want more engagement from business across climate change, economic inequality, healthcare access and workforce reskilling. Most customers buy brands based on beliefs and values (63%), with employees increasingly considering a company’s social impact when choosing a job (69%) – they expect CEOs and their organisations to take a lead addressing societal issues and problems (taken from Reuters State of Sustainability Snapshot, 2023).
Importantly, however, the same research also finds people want more trustworthy information from businesses, which brings us to the overflowing laundry basket of “vague, misleading or unfounded” environmental claims leading up to the new EU greenwashing rules. This feels like progress until we see that these too have been watered down (no laundry pun intended) following lobbyist pressure, with consumer and environmental groups citing the guidelines as “too vague” to have real effect.
Evidence the Work
There is, however, an undeniable workload for companies wanting to apply (or revisit) science based targets towards net-zero and honestly communicate their sustainability action (or inaction) given the complex array of standards (some 230 sustainability and 100 energy labels currently exist in the EU alone), growing reporting requirements and involved certification processes (such as globally recognised B Corp). This is where specialist sustainability partners (such as Futuretivity) come in, helping companies navigate their journey to becoming less environmentally damaging, more socially impactful, and in a way that is honest, credible and trusted.
It is clear that business leaders want to up the sustainability ante, with strong focus on environmental issues - 63% prioritise strategy and supply chains, and 60% climate and carbon impacts. The shift from responding to short term pressures and regulation to strategic focus on longer term objectives and influence with partner businesses reflects growing understanding of the need to embed environmentalism within the culture and wider goals of a company.
Benefits for Business
Those wider goals will inevitably include economic good health – and a good point to note the financial benefits of transitioning into the green economy. The sustainability market is worth some $12tr per annum, offering cost savings of 20%-30% through more efficient use of resources (often under-utilised), innovative processes and new business models. Companies such as logistics firm CHEP prove that it is possible to be profitable whilst also maintaining the highest sustainability levels, having established on principles of collaboration, strategic partnerships and sustainable sourcing that have insulated them against global supply chain challenges, mitigated risk in the face of energy and geo-political crises, and allowed them to operate with reduced costs.
Building a reputation as a responsible, fair business is helping brands to stand out, attract talent, build a loyal customer base and ensure strong supplier partnerships, the very traits that will enable business to lead in the fight against climate change – and attract investment. Leading as a sustainable business, however, must deliver rapid and sustained action, honesty about what has (and what is yet) to be achieved, and demands collaboration where previously there was competition.
We truly are reaching the point of no return and there is little point delivering bottom line returns if the arse has fallen out of the planet. But hope is not lost – there is so much we can do to make business a force for good and positive human impact. Let’s take the imagination, innovation and ambition that has built world-changing businesses and mind-blowing products and apply that to building a world we can all live in.
Futuretivity for Business Sustainability
Futuretivity delivers climate positivity with vibrant, socially impactful commercial power. We recognise that the how-to of sustainability can be overwhelming, so we partner with businesses to empower them with actionable roadmaps, skills for the future and meaningful connections to succeed. Being a conscious business needn’t cost the earth nor cost your business.
For more inspiration and insights on sustainability for business go to futuretivity.com/resources If you are a company that needs help with sustainability in your business book a call with Futuretivity now and get sustainability delivered.