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How Climate Activism Has Reached the Boardroom

Charlotte Gilmour December 13, 2019

2019 is proving to be the year of climate action. Not only are we seeing millions of people across the globe protesting every Friday, but we’re also seeing businesses in greater numbers commit to being carbon neutral, with household brands including Amazon and Gucci joining the ranks.

The ambition of carbon commitments is also increasing. Stripe, a software company, recently set a new standard for what a sustainable business looks like by announcing a $1 million commitment to become carbon negative. If other companies follow suit and commit to going beyond net-zero carbon emissions, businesses have the potential to play a frontline role in the battle against climate change.

Why This Shift?

While concerns about global warming have been voiced for years, two key events have sparked recent activism.

In 2018 the IPCC report caught the world’s attention with scientific evidence that humanity only has until 2030 to reduce emissions by 45 per cent to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 Celsius. If we limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius, we will still have a world with coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice; if temperatures increase above this threshold to 2 Celsius, we will not.

Shortly afterward, Greta Thunberg gave her powerful TEDx Talk on the urgent need to act against the climate crisis, a speech that has since been viewed more than four million times online.

Where Thunberg really sparked change was not by raising awareness of climate change (as awareness was already growing), but by giving people a way to act. Her rallying cry to join the #FutureforFridays protests was heard and, every Friday since, kids have joined protests calling for immediate action against the climate crisis.

Many people feel powerless in the face of climate change, with many believing that changes to one’s own lifestyle won’t ultimately change the overall trajectory of the climate crisis. That’s where Thunberg’s rallying cry was heard: by the vast number of people that want to see change but don’t know how to bring it about.

Business Leaders Take a Stand

Thunberg also ignited activism among business leaders when she called for adults to strike alongside the school children in September. This global strike was supported by six million protesters across 150 countries, including 1,000 brands. Adults turned up, not just as activists, but as business leaders and brought the equity of their brands with them.

B Corps, which use business as a force for good, united to show support for climate action. B Corp leaders from Fairware, Mills, and Yulu PR, rallied other CEOs to sign a ‘Statement of Support for Climate Action Now.’ What started as a grassroots activation in Vancouver, British Columbia, quickly spread to other regions, and before the global climate strikes, 130 CEOs had signed the statement from Canada, the US, and the UK.

Signatories of the ‘Climate Statement’ included companies that are developing solutions to address the climate crisis, such as carbon-credit marketplace Pachama, alongside household brands such as Danone.

CEO signatories of the ‘Climate Statement’ spanned many industries, from financial companies (Community Savings Credit Union and Rhiza Capital) to retailers (SPUD and Nada). Many business leaders also attended their local strike.

Other well-known brands led individual acts to demonstrate their support. Retailers including Patagonia, LUSH and Ben & Jerrys ⁠— all renowned for their public advocacy ⁠— closed their stores and offices on the day of climate action, enabling employees and encouraging their customers to strike.

Online platforms such as Tumblr, Kickstarter, WordPress, Imgur, and BitTorrent, also supported the strike by providing free ad space or banners to help raise awareness.

What Happens Next?

While turnout for the climate strikes reached an all-time high in September, humanity’s future still hangs on a precipice thanks to the climate crisis. Now’s the time for this advocacy to turn to action, with the end of 2020 being the deadline for global carbon emissions peaking if we’re to prevent temperatures rising beyond 1.5C this century.

In 2020, more businesses will make commitments to becoming carbon neutral or even better, carbon negative. Business leaders will also increasingly advocate for changes that benefit the environment, whether that is by setting new industry standards or lobbying for policy change.

Consumers are calling for action against the climate crisis, and businesses will listen more acutely. Research from Accenture shows that 63 per cent of global consumers prefer to purchase products from companies that reflect their own values, and more importantly, will avoid those companies that don’t. For the majority of consumer companies, supporting climate action is not only good for the planet but also the bottom line. This added incentive will encourage businesses that haven’t traditionally advocated, to take a stand.

Businesses have the collective potential to make a significant difference in the battle against climate change. The next 12 months will be a critical time for reducing carbon emissions, and we need to see businesses lead this fight from the front.

Climate Action / Stakeholder Capitalism
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