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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

IS THE CLIMATE CRISIS ANY OF OUR BUSINESS?

2022-08-26 07:55

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, FUTURE OF WORK, SUSTAINABILITY, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING, ENGAGEMENT, CLIMATE CRISIS,

IS THE CLIMATE CRISIS ANY OF OUR BUSINESS?

The climate emergency has finally got real on home turf. And every single person or organisation with a vested interest in the future of this country...

climatechangebusiness-copy.jpeg

19 July 2022 marked a record-breaking temperature in the UK. 

 

40.3°C was recorded in Coningsby, Lincolnshire (1) – surpassing all meteorological predictions. Extreme heat enveloped the country, wildfires broke out and homes were burned to the ground. Designed for very different weather patterns, our public systems and services were unable to cope with the fallout.

 

The climate emergency has finally got real on home turf. And every single person or organisation with a vested interest in the future of this country, and indeed our planet, now has an obligation to reduce carbon emissions, whether they want to do so or not. 

 

To not act on decarbonisation is to put the future at risk. Rising temperatures disrupt entire ecosystems and imperil our entire civic infrastructure which was never designed for the meteorological events we’re now seeing. 

 

If that’s not convincing enough, citizen consumers in their droves have started voting with their wallets to proactively select which organisations they’re willing to do business with, based on their sustainability and carbon credentials. 

 

Business owners have a primary role to play in the transition towards net zero

And yet an article published at the start of August suggests that microbusiness owners (those businesses employing fewer than ten staff) are largely unaware of the impact they can have (2).

 

City A.M. referenced research from Start Up Loans, a sub-division of the UK Government-owned British Business Bank, that revealed two astonishing data points:

 

1)     40% of microbusiness owners don’t believe reducing their carbon emissions will make a difference;

2)     78% of microbusiness owners aren’t educated on what net zero is

 

This is startling and terrifying in equal measure. 

 

According to the Government’s own website (3), the SME business sector makes up 99% of the overall business population here in the UK.  How can so many people with the scope to make a huge difference in the transition to net zero be so uninformed or lack the belief that their contribution matters? 

 

Yet it tallies with a conversation I had earlier in the year with a local authority programme manager tasked with helping local businesses become more energy efficient. He shared his frustration that so many businesses were simply ignoring his advice that rising fuel prices would cause extreme financial stress across the board.

 

And yet here we are. Cognitive dissonance – the perception of contradictory information – is alive and well in 2022.

 

It’s unsurprising, of course. For years the media and politicians have downplayed the climate crisis. Unfortunately, when the fossil fuel industry is worth trillions, it can easily afford to spend vast sums of money on PR spin, lobbying and in some cases, the funding of political campaigns. Check out The New Climate War by Michael Mann (4) if you don’t believe me. 

 

And in the misinformation / disinformation post-truth era, it’s arguably easier to trust your own feelings than try and make sense of an often time conflicting overwhelming tsunami of data. 

 

However, business sustainability is now an employment issue

More and more citizens are experiencing climate anxiety – a recognition that the environment parameters we need for healthy and sustainable living are now deteriorating. 

 

Climate anxiety is listed by Mental Health UK as ‘a sense of fear, worry or tension linked to climate change.’ A 2021 Avaaz survey of 10,000 people scattered across 10 countries found nearly half of young people to be suffering from climate anxiety, with 75% of those polled feeling that the future is frightening (5)

 

And for business, it increasingly makes no commercial sense to ignore the climate crisis or opt out of taking action. It’s increasingly an issue upon which citizens (who are also consumers AND employees) will vote with their feet. If you’re not showing authentic green credentials, purchasers and consumers will shop elsewhere. 

 

Closer to home still, 2021 research from IBM shows nearly 70% will consider the organisation’s environmental position before applying for or accepting a new role. 48% of those surveyed would take a reduced salary to work for an organisation demonstrating environmental responsibility (6).  

 

Against a backdrop of chronic skills shortages in the UK and surging inflation, surely that’s worth considering. 

 

As Edelman’s Trust Barometer consistently affirms, business is now seen as the only trusted institution (7). This is unsurprising given that mainstream politics today seems less about responsible governance of the systems that uphold a well-functioning society and more about hubris, control and personal gain.  

 

Personally, I can’t sit by and watch the world disintegrate. I may not have the biggest platform or voice, but I have a conscience and I believe absolutely that business has a primary part to play in the transition to sustainability and reduced carbon emissions. I can make a difference in my own small corner.

 

For years now there’s been inefficiency in business. You don’t need to look further than the ongoing appetite for marketing merchandise that greets you every time you attend a conference or live event. 

 

But who actually wants all this branded stuff? Who wears the t-shirt, writes with the pen, drinks from the mug? Isn’t ‘merch’ all a bit yesteryear?

 

Adding value and building a brand reputation happens when all the micro-touch points an organisation has with its environment make a difference in the world. Today, brand reputation is less about logoed USB sticks and far more about the impact, beyond profit, that your organisation makes in the world.

 

We all have to get started on the transitional pathway to reduced carbon emissions. Aside from the compelling moral and ethical obligations, UK legislation now demands it. 

 

And every member of your organisation has a part to play. One of our clients, Dale Office Interiors, has formed an internal ‘green team’ at work. It gathers regularly to discuss how the business can meet its carbon reduction targets. 

 

Given the scale of climate anxiety, it stands to reason that most people will have some idea of actions a business can take to reduce its carbon footprint. Making sustainability an inclusive company-wide agenda, rather than a selective topic solely for discussion in the boardroom offers the primary advantage of harnessing collective intelligence. Including as many diverse perspectives as possible on key issues is a critical component of long-term organisational futureproofing.

 

And for microbusinesses operating with fewer than five staff, why not join forces with a couple of other friendly organisations to form an ecosystem green team?

 

This is what we’re doing at Working the Future. 

 

For the past six months we’ve volunteered to support the international publishing launch of The Carbon Almanac – a single source repository of climate data and facts. This involvement has introduced us to a global collective of concerned citizens who are committed to doing all they can to create systemic change. The conversations we’re tapping into give us far wider perspective than if we were to tackle the sustainability issue in isolation. 

 

We’re then sharing and comparing emission reduction tactics with like-minded organisations within our ecosystem.

 

We’ve also joined forces with other companies in our network to coordinate and organise carbon literacy training that we mightn’t have been able to otherwise access due to our size. 

 

Ending our dependency on carbon is a systemic and global challenge. For years the fossil fuel industry hoodwinked us into thinking it was up to us at an individual level (it was BP who came up with the notion of individual carbon footprint in 2004 (8) to live more sustainably. What a lie.

 

I fully understand why small business owners might feel they can’t make a dent in the issue of carbon emission reduction. But the truth is that when we act together, the impact of our actions soon builds up.

 

We’re building a community of individuals and organisations who want to be the change. We invite you to come and join us. It’s OK not to have all the answers. But one thing we know for sure is that finding the solutions to these problems is better if we act together. 

 

Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about or join the resilience community we’re building. 

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Foresight Focus reports and products.

 

References

[1] www.lbc.co.uk/weather/what-is-the-highest-uk-temperature-on-record/

[2] www.cityam.com/micro-businesses-express-apathy-towards-net-zero-agenda/

[3] www.gov.uk/government/statistics/business-population-estimates-2021/business-population-estimates-for-the-uk-and-regions-2021-statistical-release-html

[4] Mann, M. (2021). The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. London: Scribe

[5] secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/climate_anxiety_briefing_2021/

[6] www.ibm.com/downloads/cas/RVXZZX3L

[7] www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/aug/23/big-oil-coined-carbon-footprints-to-blame-us-for-their-greed-keep-them-on-the-hook

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