It is already beginning to happen. On 20 May, Dale Vince, an entrepreneur and founder of the renewable energy utilities firm Ecotricity, publicly declared a climate emergency for his company with a pledge to upgrade the company’s current sustainability commitments to become a carbon-neutral business by 2025:
“Today we are declaring a Climate Emergency, joining some 500 local government organisations around the world that have already done so. As far as I can tell no other business has yet done this, they need to – ‘business as usual’ is a major part of the problem,” Vince wrote in a Facebook-post, and lateron also posted this video:
“More quickly by communication and collaboration”
Vince and Ecotricity may not be the first in the world, though. Four days earlier, on 16 May, Paul Hargreaves, who is CEO of the fine food wholesaler Cotswold Fayre, posted a blogpost announcing ‘Climate emergency now declared’.
“The government declared this a few weeks ago following the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations, but we are yet to see any change in government policy as a result. Hopefully as companies we can act rather quicker,” said Hargreaves in an article in Speciality Food Magazine.
“As David Attenborough said in his recent TV programme, “What happens now and in these next few years will profoundly affect the next few thousand years”. We need to act now together to stop the almost irreversible damage we are doing to our planet. What this experience has highlighted is that there is too much individualism within the speciality food sector, too much re-inventing the wheel and more would be achieved more quickly by communication and collaboration.”
~ Paul Hargreaves, CEO of Cotswold Fayre, a certified B Corporation with 32 employees
“Consider the case for urgent action”
In April, together with the CEOs of Unilever, Solarcentury, the Body Shop, Triodos Bank and Toast Ale, among 16 others, Vince had backed the Extinction Rebellion group’s call for the declaration of a climate emergency in a letter published in The Times. The letter ended with this statement:
“Most businesses were not designed in the context of the developing climate emergency. Hence we must urgently redesign entire industries and businesses, using science-based targets. To kick start the process, businesses should make a declaration that we face a climate emergency and organise a session at a full board meeting to consider the case for urgent action. We will encourage the senior management teams of which we are part to do likewise.”
“We need a collective voice by business leaders”
“Rethinking entire business models is necessary. But it’s not sufficient. Given the state of our climate emergency, it’s not enough for individual companies to buy offsets, put solar panels on roofs, create internal carbon taxes or even transition to regenerative agriculture,” observed Gilbert in his article in Quartz, calling for a new level of engagement, inspired by the results of the local government campaign:
“We need a collective voice and collective action by business leaders across industries, across sectors, and across geographic boundaries. We need businesses to influence our governments “to act as if the house was on fire,” in the words of 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg,” Gilbert wrote.
“By declaring a climate emergency, business leaders can not only justify to shareholders the necessity of changing their own practices and business models, but also, and more importantly, create the context in which policymakers can align incentives so that the capital markets reward instead of punish sound, long-term planning. This is how we will spring into immediate action that can help mitigate the worst of the life-altering challenges we will face if we fail to behave “as if the house was on fire”.”
“There seems to be a recognition that getting at least some business and financial market leaders on board is now a critical next step towards longer-term system change. That strikes me as encouraging, and something we should now put our collective weight behind. So how long before you ask your own board to urgently consider the political, social and commercial implications of the climate emergency?”John Elkington, author of 19 books, has served as a member of over 70 boards and advisory boards, described as the “godfather of sustainability”
→ Ethical Corporation – 2 May 2019:
UK MPs have declared a climate emergency. Isn’t it time for business to do the same?
“As political leaders give in to a key demand of Extinction Rebellion, John Elkington of Volans explains how a platform of business leaders is now supporting the climate activist group.”
→ South China Morning Post – 7 June 2019:
Climate change will turn the Earth into the next Titanic unless corporate captains wake up and act quickly
“Heads of large corporations, not governments, need to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and focus on the planet’s long-term survival instead of short-term profit, while economists must factor the cost to the Earth into GDP calculations”
Charter for businesses
A template for what it looks like when a council or local government declares a climate emergency was established when Darebin City Council did it as a world’s first in 2017.
Could a similar template or model be developed for the business sector?
Centre for Climate Safety in collaboration with Geelong Media has given it a shot. Recently they developed a climate emergency charter, which is distributed online as an open source document, outlining how a network of climate leaders among companies and corporations declaring a climate emergency could be given a collective visibility and an increased possibility of influencing others.
The aim of the charter is “to reach an unprecedented level of engagement and understanding of what is required. In relation to their branding and sales as well as internal messaging to management and staff, businesses must increase awareness of and make visible their intention to adequately address the climate emergency.”
Australia has a number of sustainability councils and climate roundtables and many other well-meaning climate-action bodies and initiatives already, focusing on what needs to happen in the business sector and attempting to get everyone to join the action.
“I’ve seen so many of them come and go, and there are a few of them that stay around. But the thing is: In the meanwhile, emissions keep rising. Every year. So clearly something is not working here. Something different needs to happen. What is being done is simply not enough. Not drastic enough, if you will,” said Mik Aidt.
“We are currently seeing a new “wave” among 600 councils, and that is where we got the inspiration from. Maybe in a similar style, some more bold leadership could be shown by individual company owners – who then, after a while, would be showing these larger and therefore more slowly working coalitions, networks, unions and alliances that there is substantial basis for making much stronger and much bolder decisions, and that they need to listen to what these climate emergency first-movers are saying.
The large NGOs and action networks wouldn’t listen if they were contacted by an advocacy group. The actual “wave” of climate emergency charter signatories need to begin rolling, before anyone will take notice and realise they need to step up as well. This is what we saw happen with the council movement. When hundreds of companies suddenly stand together as a collective force after having declared a climate emergency themselves and started acting accordingly on the decision, then something meaningful could actually begin to change.
This is the bottom-up approach, relying on the leadership and courage of individuals. It is the ‘act local, think global’ approach.
We said the same three years ago about the potential for what councils could do, if a declaration was made by a large number of them. In the beginning no one could see it happening. Then a majority of newly elected councillors in the Darebin Council, who all had signed our national climate emergency petition, surprised everyone by buying into the basic idea of declaring a climate emergency at council level. And look what has happened since. It’s possible. All we need is making the call, and keeping track of each company joining in.”
→ Read the Climate Emergency Charter
“I am announcing this week that we, at Cotswold Fayre, have declared a climate emergency and I am encouraging you to do so too.”
~ Paul Hargreaves, Cotswold Fayre CEO
Amazon employees demand emergency action
“Speed is everything. Without bold, rapid action we will lose our only chance to avoid catastrophic warming. There is no issue more important to our customers or our world than the climate crisis, and we are falling far short,” Amazon employee Emily Cunningham said during a speech at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, referring to a shareholder resolution and a letter signed by over 7,600 other Amazon employees, for the company to step up its action on the climate crisis.
“We know we are on the right side of history and have the backing of employees and investors,” she said.
The resolution did not pass at the shareholders meeting, but the call from 7,600 employees remains.
→ Medium – 23 May 2019:
The Dramatic Moment When an Amazon Worker Asked Jeff Bezos to Protect Planet Earth
“The Amazon CEO stayed backstage as employees stood up to demand change in an unusual show of force”
“We, the undersigned 7,683 Amazon employees, ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter.
Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis. We believe this is a historic opportunity for Amazon to stand with employees and signal to the world that we’re ready to be a climate leader.”
→ Medium – 11 April 2019:
Open letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors
“We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”
~ Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired, Chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002. Honorary Professor at Strategic & Defence Studies Centre of Australian National University in Canberra, and a member of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.
Measure, reduce and offset
Dale Vince, Ecotricity co-founder, wrote on Facebook:
“It looks quite straightforward to me. We have a long standing environment policy to ‘become a zero carbon company at our earliest opportunity’ – this is in alignment with Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, which came along more recently, in December 2015.
We’re going to upgrade this commitment by putting a date on it. We’re choosing the XR target date of 2025 – to be net carbon neutral or zero carbon – however you like to express it.
And we’re going to blend the methodologies of the UN and more recently the Climate Change Committee of Parliament – to implement this.
The UN approach to net carbon neutrality is to Measure, Reduce and Offset – we did this last year with Forest Green Rovers, who became the first sports club in the world to achieve that.
The recent CCC report sets out an ambitious goal for the whole of the UK to be carbon neutral, by 2050 (bit later than we would like but that will change in time) – and differs in delivery from the UN by suggesting offsetting take place in the host country, rather than in developing ones. That makes perfect sense. Current offsetting is a useful transition tool, but can’t deliver the end game.
We already have a focus on returning farm land back to nature, it’s a part of our approach (Energy, Transport, Food and making room for Nature), and we’ve a blueprint site for that in Gloucestershire where we’ve created new habitats and planted about 20k trees.
We also already measure our carbon footprint and we reduce each year as far as we can.
So right now we’re working on the details – we’re looking at what it will take to offset our residual carbon footprint (which for the last year was 760 tonnes) with a UK based habitat creation scheme – taking a piece of land and giving it back to nature. I don’t know yet quite what that will take, what area of land or extent of tree planting – but I’m confident that we can hit or beat that 2025 XR target. We have to.
Of course it will be easier for some companies to do than for others – but there’s no excuse for not getting started now. Businesses of all shapes and sizes, you need to do this! Adopt a target then Measure, Reduce and Offset your way to it. Let’s get this ball rolling…”
“Most businesses were not designed in the context of the developing climate emergency. Hence we must urgently redesign entire industries and businesses, using science-based targets.
To kick start the process and in support of the social movement for a climate emergency, a number of business leaders in April 2019 stated that businesses should make a declaration that we face a climate emergency and organise a session at a full board meeting to consider the case for urgent action.
They said they would encourage the senior management teams of which they are part to do likewise. These individuals are committed to examine the question of how to help business and financial markets to do what currently seems to be impossible for them: to declare a climate emergency – and then develop transition plans in close consultation with wider society.
The plan is that we will convene working sessions through 2019.”
→ Business declares a climate emergency:
“Helping Business and Financial markets declare a climate emergency”
→ Quartz – 29 May 2019:
The best way to fight climate change is to treat it like a business
“I believe companies must lead where policy makers have failed to. Like states and parliaments, business leaders should declare a climate emergency.”
→ The Guardian – 22 May 2019:
Amazon workers demand Bezos act on climate crisis
“Jeff’s inaction and lack of meaningful response underscore his dismissal of the climate crisis and spoke volumes about how Amazon’s board continues to de-prioritize addressing Amazon’s role in the climate emergency.”
→ BusinessGreen – 20 May 2019:
The XR effect: Ecotricity declares ‘climate emergency’ and sets 2025 net zero target
“In what could prove to be a world first, green entrepreneur Dale Vince has today declared a ‘climate emergency’ at renewable energy specialist Ecotricity.”
→ Edie – 21 May 2019:
Ecotricity responds to climate emergency with carbon-neutral goal for 2025
“Green utilities firm Ecotricity has publicly declared a climate emergency, vowing to “upgrade” its current sustainability commitments to become a carbon-neutral business by 2025.”
→ The Sunday Times – 22 April 2019:
Business leaders voice support for climate activists who shut down capital
“Business leaders have voiced their support for Extinction Rebellion, the environmental protest group that shut down parts of London last week, calling for an “urgent redesign” of global industry in a letter to The Times.”
→ New York Times – 4 June 2019:
Companies See Climate Change Hitting Their Bottom Lines in the Next 5 Years
“Many of the world’s biggest companies, from Silicon Valley tech firms to large European banks, are bracing for the prospect that climate change could substantially affect their bottom lines within the next five years, according to a new analysis of corporate disclosures.”
“Here are three ways businesses can unlock the economic benefits of low-carbon growth:
1. Reform Business Practices
2. Engage Consumers in the Solution
3. Work with Government
→ World Recourses Institute – 21 May 2019:
3 Ways Businesses Can Lead the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy
“More businesses are recognizing the reality of our changing climate. As of May, 553 companies collectively representing more than a $10 trillion market cap have committed to adopting emissions-reduction targets. These actions aren’t just good for the climate. Research shows they can be good for companies’ bottom lines.”
→ IISD – 28 March 2019:
Governments and Corporates: Driving Each Other Forward on Ambitious Climate Action
“Companies have kick-started a process to set science-based targets aligned with the goals of Paris – now it’s time for governments to follow suit by upgrading their national climate plans.”
→ Saur Energy – 5 June 2019:
Seventy Majors From India’s Top 100 Corporates Shifting to RE: WWF Report
“Giving a boost to the renewable energy sector in India, the latest WWF India report says that 70% of top Indian corporates have shown increased uptake of renewable energy.”
→ The Economist – 23 May 2019:
A Shakespearean guide to how firms tackle climate change
“Central bankers, shareholders, customers and employees are urging firms to take bolder action to tackle climate change. In some boardrooms, the message is sinking in; to date 210 firms collectively worth more than $6trn, ranging from carmakers (like Renault) to confectioners (such as Mars), have committed to “science-based targets” to cut their carbon footprint in line with the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to 2ºC or less relative to pre-industrial levels.”
→ Sierra Club – 29 April 2019:
Climate Change Costs Are Starting to Bite Business
“What will it take for American businesses to get serious about fighting climate change? Maybe this: In January, facing $30 billion in liabilities for its role in recent wildfires, California’s mighty investor-owned utility Pacific Gas and Electric filed for bankruptcy protection. Overnight, the company lost half its value.”
→ Forbes India – 25 April 2019:
Climate change: The big test for public and private regulation?
“Recent decades have seen many private regulatory initiatives emerge in areas where states appeared to be incapable of creating international regulation.”
→ Edie Newsroom – 24 April 2019:
SDGs In Action: How Tetra Pak is achieving Goal 13 – Climate Action
“Tetra Pak utilises an array of onsite renewables solutions to lower carbon impacts.”
→ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 30 March 2019:
Target pushes suppliers to go green, too
“Target Corp has announced a sweeping set of goals to reduce its carbon footprint that for the first time puts pressure on its suppliers to do the same. The Minneapolis-based company said that 96 percent of greenhouse gas emissions related to its operations come from businesses that produce raw materials, manufacture products and transport them to stores. Target will give its suppliers until 2023 to set forth a plan to reduce carbon pollution at their facilities as well as from the energy they purchase to power their operations. The retailer pledged to get such agreements from 80 percent of companies in its supply chain.”
→ The Guardian / Bank Australia:
Millennials are increasingly prioritising purpose over profits — a shift that could shape the business landscape for years to come
“The phrase “conscious capitalism” has always seemed like something of an oxymoron. But as the world becomes shaped by far-right politics, an uneven distribution of wealth and power and mounting anxieties related to the environment and climate, people — especially socially conscious millennials — are joining grassroots movements and rallying around political causes in droves.”
→ The Fifth Estate – 4 June 2019:
Second property group in Australia achieves Science Based Targets
“Frasers Property Australia has joined Investa as the second in the Australian property sector to achieve an approved real estate Science Based Target.”
Building momentum towards a zero-carbon economy:
Science Based Targets
The Science Based Targets initiative is committed to driving the greatest ambition on corporate climate action. In May 2019, the group released a new suite of resources for companies to set science-based targets in line with the most ambitious aim of the Paris Agreement — limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
222 companies have their science-based targets validated. The targets initiative aims to mobilise companies to set science-based targets and boost their competitive advantage in the transition to the low-carbon economy.
It is a collaboration between CDP – a charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts – and the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and one of the We Mean Business Coalition commitments.
The We Mean Business coalition is catalyzing business action and driving policy ambition to accelerate the zero-carbon transition.
The initiative defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting, offers resources and guidance to reduce barriers to adoption, and independently assesses and approves companies’ targets.
→ Gareth Kane on Linkedin.com – 4 June 2019:
“OK, you’ve called a climate emergency, now what?”
“The in-thing at the moment is to declare a climate emergency. The idea behind the ’emergency’ bit being that we need to act now, not later, to combat runaway climate impacts. So a huge number of organisations are declaring an emergency, and then… well… ummm… box ticked?”