(And why taking your team into the wild can help you figure it out)
photo by Scott Evans on Unsplash
Most organisations aren’t doing enough on climate change. And the chances are, even if you’re already working hard to reduce your organisation’s environmental impact, there’s still more you could do.
Even as we see the immediate effects of climate change growing all around us (in the form of wildfires, unseasonal weather and flooding) there’s a risk that the coronavirus pandemic is serving as an unwelcome distraction.
The reality, though, is that the earth is warming and that climate change can no longer be avoided. What we can do is to avoid its most devastating effects: but that will take significant, decisive and rapid action to achieve.
What the world has committed to
The Paris Agreement committed the world’s governments to keep temperature increases to below 2℃ (and ideally below 1.5℃) more than pre-industrial levels, and to become carbon neutral between 2050 and 2100. As temperatures have already risen by 1℃, that’s no small commitment. The last climate conference, COP25, ended in fractious disagreement, with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres saying that “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.”
As the next climate conference, COP26, approaches this November, the climate emergency has become even more urgent. While the pandemic took the world’s focus away from climate change temporarily, we now have a unique opportunity. We’ve seen what we can achieve when faced with an urgent problem, and how it has been possible for governments, businesses and individuals to pull together internationally. While the global pandemic response has been far from perfect, it has proved that we are, as a species and a nation, capable of taking significant collective action and making sacrifices for the common good.
Increasingly, it’s becoming obvious to businesses and governments that there is no longer a conflict between economic growth and dealing with climate change. We cannot continue to endlessly ‘grow’ according to crude traditional measures of GDP.
Any business that doesn’t recognise this, and act accordingly, might find itself with a serious recruitment problem. According to a survey by the Pawprint app, which helps employees meet their employers’ climate change targets, 55% of employees think companies should do more, up from 45% at the time of the COP25. Climate change was particularly important to younger employees, with 30% of millennials saying they’d be willing to change jobs if they felt their employers weren’t doing enough. And only 14% of people said that UK business actions were good enough.
As the dust settles on the pandemic, as your employees begin to come together again, and as you plan for the future – how can you work out if you’re doing all you can, and what more could you do?
1. Focus on data + meaningful action
When talking about climate change, there is a risk that it becomes a lip-service exercise, rather than a meaningful way to create real change. People know this, and are sceptical as a result. Only 30% of people surveyed by Salesforce agreed with the statement “I trust business commitments to reducing emissions”.
This means that you need to be willing and able to analyse your own behaviour and set clear, ambitious targets as a result. According to a Deloitte survey of over 1,000 CFOs, “companies’ climate responses focus primarily on measures that have a short-term cost-saving effect”.
It may well be that this isn’t the case for your organisation, and that you’re already doing much more than lip-service. But it’s important to be aware of the risk that ‘doing something about climate change’ becomes simply another box to be ticked, and another job amongst many. Even if you believe you’re doing well (or you’re in a sector that is naturally lower-impact), be honest with yourself about whether you’re really doing all you can.
Climate change impact analysis needs to be built into everything you do. Whenever you think about launching a new product, taking a new direction or implementing new processes, there needs to be a thorough analysis on climate impact.
Crucially, you need to be willing to be open about what you find, publish your data and change direction if the analysis doesn’t stack up in favour of reduced impact.
2. Work on your supply chain
Dealing with climate change doesn’t end only with you. Build climate change action strongly into your procurement processes and be willing to work with suppliers to help both you and them achieve your climate goals.
Smaller organisations are often particularly able to use their supply chain to become more climate-friendly, lacking the complex corporate processes that can act as a block for larger businesses.
3. Reduce travel and energy use
For most organisations, the pandemic naturally reduced travel and energy use significantly. If you’re now going back to the office, how can you continue that? And if you’re moving to a 100% or mostly-remote working model, have you analysed how much difference that really makes?
Remote working isn’t necessarily always better, and it could be that hybrid working has the greatest climate impact of all. Commuting still happens, and offices are still open, and analysis has shown that hybrid working can actually lead to greater climate impact.
The balance will be different for every organisation, and it can be difficult to draw solid conclusions. It’s often worth getting qualified support to analyse your working patterns.
You could also commit to carbon-reducing actions such as joining the One Million Tree Pledge. At School of the Wild, we’re 657 trees into our own pledge. Some way to go, but small steps add up...
4. Aim for B Corp certification
B Corp certification assesses environmental and social impact over five key areas (governance, workers, community, environment and customers)... and it’s necessarily difficult to get.
Even if you’re not yet ready for certification, taking the initial assessment will give you tools, and a clear idea of where you are now and what you might need to do. Aiming for B Corp certification is a clear statement of intent.
Certification isn’t available for non-profits, but being aware of the B Corp principles can still act as a guide for non-profits.
You could also apply to join Business Declares or sign up to the UK Business Climate Hub. As well as providing a public declaration to your customers and stakeholders that you are taking the climate emergency seriously, they have lots of tools and resources that will help you take action towards net zero.
5. Get buy-in
Any initiative to become more climate friendly will only succeed if your employees believe in it and feel part of it. But it’s unlikely that you’re going to get the kind of meaningful buy-in that you need if you make climate change a top-down process.
To truly engage your people in the raw reality of the potential impact of climate change, take them into nature. On a Sustainability and Social Responsibility day, you and your team could answer the vital questions you must consider if you’re going to give your climate change strategy teeth.
Outdoors, in the woods, you’ll draw inspiration from the natural world to consider where you are now and what more you could do. Around the fire, you’ll come together to generate new ideas. And you’ll leave with a concrete set of actions that you can implement immediately.
spending time with colleagues where we step completely away from the day to day... was really a helpful reminder of how things don't have to carry on in the same way. ”
Find out more and book a day for your team here.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.