Corporate Responsibility

When Governments fail, businesses have to step in

You don’t have to be in Davos this week to support climate and sustainability. Just apply these simple 5 steps for your organization.

Hardly a week goes by without a new climate summit, Parliaments make another attempt on agreeing some kind of green deal, a young Swedish lady appears in front of world leaders, and social media buzzes with debate about whether taking airplanes for the next summer vacation is the right thing to do. Maybe it is only me, but this seems to have been going on for a long time now. And are there any clear results? Well, there is one, and that is that the young generation is still marching every Friday. For good reason.

These days it feels a bit like the climate debate is more driven by lobbyist agendas and the ambition to swim in water without getting wet, rather than businesses committing to actually change how they operate. And yes of course, does Jane Doe really want to consider overall sustainability impacts if that would mean that the beloved meat is missing from time to time on her plate when having lunch or dinner?

It is also surprising that governments seem to be failing to educate the public about what really drives the carbon footprint and therefore give us a clear understanding of what behaviors are right – and which ones are just there to silence our conscience or make a quick headline. If that were the case, silly new phrases like “flight shaming” wouldn’t even exist given global air travel accounts for less than 2.5 percent of carbon emission.

So, what really does count? According to EU Eurostat and the US Environmental Protection Agency, around half of the global greenhouse gas emission result from Agriculture and Electricity and Heat production, each coming close to around 25% of global emissions. Within that, 15% of the world’s carbon emissions result from livestock and animal farming, of course with significant differences by country.

In May last year, I had the opportunity to discuss environment and climate at a conference in the US with NBC chief meteorologist and Emmy award winner John Morales. Two things he shared have really stuck in my mind. The first was when he said that “an even slightly warmer atmosphere can hold more water and therefore change weather dynamics significantly. Meaning we will not necessarily see more weather phenomena and weather caused emergencies, but the ones we will see will be much more intense and devastating.”

The second was around the impact on people living on this planet. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, many of those countries at long-term climate risk are those that might generally be considered to be “less well off”. Therefore, the price of carbon emission from mass animal farming and electricity consumption is often paid by people that receive significantly less benefit from these than those living in industrial countries.  As an example, the UN has warned that climate change threatens one in three Bangladeshi children.

So, what can we do about the dilemma?  This is where businesses and decision makers need to step in. And of course, it would be fantastic if every corporate would follow the footprints of Michael Bloomberg with his Beyond Carbon initiative or Microsoft’s recently announced carbon negative commitments. But climate consciousness isn’t a black or white decision and not everybody, or every business, has the deep pockets of Bloomberg or Microsoft.

How about we, as business owners and decision makers, just start with the following five steps that should be easy to implement and would indeed make a true climate difference:

  1. Green Energy
    Most of the modern industrial countries in the world have a liberalized energy and electricity market. Meaning we can pick and choose our preferred energy supplier. Let’s just power every office location where possible and in one’s control exclusively with energy from renewable sources. And even in shared offices or locations that have a joint sourcing policy with other businesses sharing the building, why not take the lead by putting pressure on landlords to switch to a green energy supplier.
  2. Plastic
    The state of our oceans and many reservoirs around us has become scary. Would it therefore really hurt anyone to remove and ban plastic throwaway articles from offices? And that should include water bottles, coffee creamers and even garbage bags. Garbage bags? Yes indeed – it will not hurt any of your employees if garbage bags are only available in cafeterias or communal areas.
  3. Food
    How about providing animal protein at events or any kind of corporate hospitality only if available from proven sustainable sources outside factory farming? That does not necessarily reduce the emission caused by livestock. But exclusive supply from organic and sustainable sources would probably drive hospitality budgets and cost up – which, I am sure, would ignite some creativity around alternatives for animal protein in order to protect budgets and planet.
  4. Charity
    As mentioned earlier, the people on this planet paying the highest price for emissions, are often the ones less fortunate. Therefore, it should be an imperative for everyone in a position of responsibility to allocate funds to drive corporate responsibility programs helping those that cannot help themselves. And whether this is allocating a percentage of free cash flow or just getting a charity momentum going in the organization, it doesn’t really matter. Starting does.
  5. Equality
    The last aspect almost goes without saying. In a world where we can only solve key challenges such as carbon emission together as a global community, there shouldn’t even be a discussion about equality of gender, religion, ethnicity, or orientation. But sadly, there still is.

Implementing the five steps above is actually easier than it sounds – in case it does sound difficult for some of us reading this. From experience and having just implemented it as charter in one of my businesses, all it takes is reading and agreeing to it.

So, how about your organization joins companies like Iptor in making the 5 steps part of the business gene, making a difference for the planet we live on.

Christopher Catterfeld
Managing Partner, CMO/CPO