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From left: James Bidwell, Alice Garton, Fran van Dijk and Douglas Rogers | Photo source Springwise

5 Ways Businesses Can Combat Climate Change

Science & Environment

After many decades of pushing back meaningful action, we are now at the threshold of irreversibly damaging our planet.

The latest Springwise Sessions event, Planet Positive: What to Do About Climate Change, took place on 4 June 2019, focusing on the biggest single challenge facing us all: climate change.

To explore this in detail, we brought together a diverse panel of experts from the business and environmental community for a stimulating debate, led by James Bidwell (Chairman, Springwise and Co-Founder, Re_Set). Joining him were Alice Garton (Senior Lawyer and Head of Climate, ClientEarth); Fran van Dijk (Founding Partner, One Stone Advisors and B Corp Ambassador) and Douglas Rogers (UK newsletter writer for Extinction Rebellion).

The four exchanged sobering facts and inspiring ideas in front of a diverse collection of business leaders and innovative thinkers at The Club at The Ivy in London. The stakes were made clear: After many decades of pushing back meaningful action, we are now at the threshold of irreversibly damaging our planet. Yet at the same time, never has there been the means or the technology at our disposal to do what we need to do.

The audience was left with much to think about, and some clear ideas on how to take action. The Springwise team thinks it’s important to expand these messages as far as we can, so we have put together five key takeaways from the discussion and a list of action items.

Green is good for business

James cited examples set by Patagonia, who in 2016 pledged to donate 100 percent of its Black Friday profits to 1 % for the Planet, a collection of sustainability-minded businesses that pledge to donate 1 % of profits to approved environmental causes. Springwise and Re_Set are also proud members.

The brand expected this to be about $2 million, but the buzz around the announcement spurred that donation to over $10 million, while it also, “introduced a load of new customers to the brand,” James told the audience. “If you are pursuing a positive agenda, an environmental agenda, it is good for business.”

The company also joined a 2017 lawsuit against President Trump for his decision to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. When political allies of the president called for a boycott of Patagonia, it had the opposite effect, and Patagonia said the result was its best financial year to date.

You don’t have to be perfect, but action is a must

Fran spoke of how B-Corp member businesses are answering the call to balance profit with purpose. She emphasised that perfection is not the goal, as “it’s not easy to become perfect when you’re making stuff,” but the point is that businesses have to start somewhere.

As an example, B-Corp member COOK recently switched all of its energy usage to renewables and were able to cut its carbon footprint by half. Other B-Corp members include Ben & Jerry’s, Pukka Herbs, Etsy, Patagonia, Re_Set (pending) and many others across the globe.

“Start where you are, be open, declare it’s an emergency, do what you can and say what you’re going to do next,” Fran said.

Do what makes you uncomfortable

There’s no easy way to attain the change needed within the business community.

“The way our businesses have been set up to run needs to be changed entirely. We have to do things that are uncomfortable, we have to get out of the way we’ve always done business,” Alice commented.

What may also seem uncomfortable for business owners is the kind of outside pressure from activist groups like Extinction Rebellion, but the dire environmental situation requires it.

“We need that pressure from the outside, we need that radical push because it is a climate emergency,” Fran said of groups like Extinction Rebellion.

James closed the event urging everyone to commit to the principal of doing something uncomfortable.  

Companies and governments can be sued over climate change

“The law is an enabler, not a barrier,” was one of the key points of the talk, made by Alice. She went on send a very clear message to those still in the business of polluting the planet: ClientEarth will use the law to stop you.

When the Polish energy company Enea decided to move forward with its plans to open a new coal plant, ClientEarth intervened with a world-first lawsuit legal challenge, marking the first time a company will have to defend itself in court, “over a failure to manage material climate-related financial risk when making a major investment decision,” as ClientEarth, a charity that uses the power of the law to protect the planet, puts it.

Alice spoke of strategic litigation and of ClientEarth’s approach, which was to purchase shares of the company and file suit against them as a shareholder on the basis that the proposed coal plant would be a stranded asset.

“We’re demonstrating the point that company financial laws have evolved and that company directors have to think about whether it would be more profitable to build wind and solar, which in this case it would be,” Alice explained.

The power of demanding change from governments

There are more companies doing things the right way, but sustained change has to come from governments too.

“I really admire and appreciate the idea of B-corps and these great companies showing us how we can do it,” Douglas said, but he emphasised the importance of putting pressure on governments, which is the focus of Extinction Rebellion. “As long as greenness or sustainability remains a USP (Unique Selling Proposition), it’s going to be very, very difficult to change things.”

Extinction Rebellion gained notoriety by organising the “occupation” of four London landmarks (Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square) in April.

Douglas also explained the three demands the activist group has made of the UK government:

1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency

2. Government must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025

3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice

The London protests spurred smaller yet similar climate protests across 33 other countries and led to the UK Parliament’s declaration of a climate and environment emergency.

On a related note, Alice praised New Zealand’s government for “prioritising well-being as a metric of the economy rather than just GDP growth.”

What you can do now

Getting your company to declare a Climate Emergency

Performing a free B-Corp assessment

Joining 1% for the Planet

Supporting Extinction Rebellion

Doing something uncomfortable

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