Reflections on the year: climate action

Post author image. Gudrun Cartwright
Gudrun Cartwright, Climate Action Director at Business in the Community reflects on 2021.

COP26, hosted by the UK in November, showed the growing gap between public concerns about the climate crisis and perceptions of action being taken by business and government. Indeed, some have branded the summit as a greenwashing failure1.

Business in the Community’s (BITC) research with YouGov on what climate action the public wants from business, launched at COP, aimed to understand people’s concerns, views on business action to date and what people want in the future2.

The insights show significant public scepticism. Only 15% of people think business has engaged the public well on climate change. Just one in five think their employer is doing enough. A quarter think they aren’t. Almost half don’t know. 

Three quarters of business customers don’t know what the businesses are doing, even though it is important to them.  And, worryingly, two thirds don’t believe that businesses will follow through on their commitments, rising to 70% amongst young people.

It is also clear that very few people believe that the benefits or harm of climate action and/or climate impacts will be shared fairly across society (24% and 14% respectively).

So, climate action is no longer an environmental issue. It is about license to operate. About stepping up to show employees and customers that you take their future seriously.  That you want to be part of the solution. That you are taking action.

Photo taken by Gudrun Cartwright in Glasgow at a COP26 Youth Protest.

Next steps for businesses

As we move towards the time of year when many of us reflect on our priorities for the coming year and beyond, I would urge every business leader to put climate action at the heart of their strategy going forward. This involves setting ambitious targets aligned to science, for resilience and net zero. Even if you don’t know how to get there, it is vital to begin. But committing alone is not enough. Short term goals and plans, with the right resources, skills, accountability and rewards to achieve them must quickly follow. They must be communicated in ways that are engaging, easy to understand and show progress – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The transformation before us is huge and nobody has all the answers. By being authentic, open and transparent you will bring people with you. Show the human side of business. That you are about more than short term profits. Care that the future is a place where they and their families can thrive. In turn, you will build trust so that you are a magnet for talent and for customers looking to make a difference through their spending choices.   

As Ellen Renton said, in a poem written for BITC, “Your decisions are surgical instruments, you could save us with the right one.” Can we count on you?

References

  1. New York Times (2021)  COP26 Greenwashing Protest.
  2. Business in the Community (2021 ) What climate action does the public want from business?