4 Ways for Businesses to Authentically Be Part of COP27
World leaders won’t soon forget the palpable disappointment in the air as they gathered to sign the final agreement at COP26. At the eleventh hour, the Glasgow Pact underwent a slight but damning wording change – they agreed to “phase down” coal power rather than the stronger “phase out” – at the request of just two countries. The threat of a no deal, the “worst possible result out there”, meant that the rest of the nations had no choice but to agree to their request. With a watered down but agreed upon pact, this move ultimately tarnished the authenticity these two countries held in the fight for climate justice.
As COP26’s climax became a battle of words, this was a wake up call to businesses and countries alike. Authenticity hangs by a thread; all it takes is a single word for trust to crumble. What steps can help prevent businesses from suffering a similar fate?
1. Be intentional – turn pledges into action
A focus for COP27 is “action on the ground”. Pledges are nothing but hypotheticals without strategic plans in place, and at COP26, McKinsey found that, while net zero commitments are the new norm for businesses, “relatively few have yet to make clear, detailed plans for how they will achieve net zero”. But is there a lynchpin that goes beyond having a solid action plan?
“When climate action is imbedded into an organisation’s purpose, that infiltrates into the culture of the company, and every level of the organisation will hold that commitment”.
Take UK-based consumer goods company Reckitt. It’s a requirement for UK-listed companies to release a plan for achieving net zero. But Reckitt has taken this one step further by pledging net zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of the 2050 target. They’ve already attributed their 53% reduction of operational greenhouse gas emissions to switching to renewable energy, and their plan is published online for all to see.
How have they done it? Underneath their ambitious plans, goals and reports, Reckitt holds climate action at the core of their company ethos. Sustainability is their “compass”, as their “culture equips us for sustainable growth so that we may continue to protect, heal and nurture the generations to come.” When climate action is imbedded into an organisation’s purpose, that infiltrates into the culture of the company, and every level of the organisation will hold that commitment – actions inevitably follow suit.
2. Be audacious – go to the moon
Is there a case for setting ambitious climate goals and reacting on the ground, rather than setting achievable but ineffectual targets?
X Development, Google’s semi-secret research organisation and birthplace of unfathomable ideas, attribute their success to their ‘moonshot mindset’: the idea that it’s better – and easier – to go for 10X impact rather than 10% improvement.
Why is it that every 5 years at COP, countries are asked to resubmit their pledges to catch up with the need, rather than beginning with those aims in the first place? Even this year at COP27, we’re expecting all countries to revisit and strengthen their targets, as per stipulations at COP26. If businesses start adopting moonshot mindsets, progress may come faster with less time spent playing catch up.
If businesses start adopting moonshot mindsets, progress may come faster with less time spent playing catch up.
Of course, things don’t always go to plan. But Alyssa Gilbert, head of policy at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change, stresses the importance of “if-then plans”, ie. what to do when you’re not meeting your targets. If things start going awry and you’re not hitting your climate goals, then it’s time to fall back on your “if-then plans”, and own up to why it went wrong.
3. Get uncomfortable – ask the hard questions
Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. The only way for businesses to accelerate climate action is by asking the tough questions. We saw unfounded corporate commitment to tackling the climate emergency at COP26, where 1,000 companies agreed to set 1.5°C-aligned targets. Sanda Ojiambo, CEO & Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, emphasised at COP26 that “leading companies must now build trust by setting credible and independently-validated emission reduction targets and report on their progress.”
“Leading companies must now build trust by setting credible and independently-validated emission reduction targets and report on their progress.”
It’s easy for an organisation to say they’re on the path to net-zero, but are the above 1,000 companies able to answer the following questions:
- Are you using supply chains that span countries impacted adversely by the climate crisis?
- Is the remuneration and benefits of company directors and shareholders influenced by meeting climate-related targets?
- Are there any further sanctions for not meeting goals?
- Are you reporting on your progress?
4. Communicate authentically – beware of greenwashing
“Saving our planet is now a communications challenge,” says David Attenborough – but this doesn’t mean that all your business’ efforts should be directed into your communications strategy. In fact, even though Deloitte has found that although 40% of consumers surveyed prefer to choose brands that have environmentally sustainable practices and values, almost 1 in 2 don’t know what information to trust, thanks to an increase in greenwashing.
There’s a fine line between engaging with climate action, especially if it’s a new endeavour for a business, and greenwashing.
Greenwashing is the term used to describe companies that portray themselves as more environmentally sustainable than they really are. Not just an advertising tactic, it also distracts consumers from a company’s true environmental harm.
There’s a fine line between engaging with climate action, especially if it’s a new endeavour for a business, and greenwashing. However, what separates the wheat from the chaff is transparency. Being able to own up to previous shortfalls, prioritising clear language over jargon and acronyms, being explicit about the business’ goals, methods and reporting on these will all help to convey trustworthy alignment to curbing climate change.
COP27 will last for two weeks, but your climate-focused activity should be a year-round endeavour. With something as ineffable as trust, climate-focused activity has to come from a company’s core, and only then can it reach the moon.