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What does it look like when businesses take climate action?

Climate Action Benjamin L Jones from Unsplash Half-circle stamp style image with 'Greenheart for greener futures' caption
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A great deal of excitement has been pulsing through the Greenheart Consulting ecosystem as Climate Week NYC approaches. In partnership with the United Nations General Assembly, the event is hosted by renowned international non-profit Climate Group , whose purpose is to drive climate action, fast.

With the event due to start next week, we decided to take a step back and ask ourselves, what does it look like when businesses take action on climate change? And how does this business action differ from the protests and civil disobedience we tend to associate with climate activism?

As with all worthwhile questions, the answer is that it depends. It depends on factors like who in the business is driving the action, the time, funding and resource available, as well as the general culture and ambition of the organisation as a whole. With these factors in mind, and in the hope we will spark thinking, reflection and perhaps action, in this article we explore four quite different, but equally important, approaches to climate action in the context of the private sector.

  1. Employee-led action

By this stage we are all aware of the importance of simple lifestyle changes like reducing meat consumption and opting to use public transport. But what about actions that individuals can take within the context of their job roles?

As Project Drawdown highlight in their Climate Solutions at Work guide, ‘inside most companies, only a handful of people with “sustainability” roles consider climate issues part of their workday. But in this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job’.

Their guide goes on to outline some key steps that employees can take, such as forming groups with like-minded colleagues and engaging in a power mapping exercise to ensure requests are explored with a more accessible staff member with the right type of leadership influence, rather than brought to the most powerful, often time-poor, decision maker.

On that, it is also key that business leaders actively work to build a culture that encourages employees to reflect on their day-to-day work and think creatively about ways climate action can be integrated into both their job role and the wider business. This might be something as small as switching your search engine to Ecosia and encouraging others to do the same. It is key to remember that while they may seem small at the individual level, the positive impact of actions like this compound exponentially when they are gradually implemented by more and more employees across your organisation.

Businesses can also incentivise employees to engage in climate positive behaviours through a rewards and recognition platform, such as Perkbox. There are even climate-specific rewards platforms like Pawprint, who report that 4,560,762 kg CO2e has been saved by their users to date.

  1. Supporting the innovators

Another approach is for businesses to use a percentage of their profits to support the wide range of NGOs and research institutes working to combat climate change and restore nature.

One example that we love at Greenheart is the Seeding Change project being delivered by the trailblazing ecologists at Cornwall Wildlife Trust in partnership with Seasalt. The project is focused on the restoration and expansion of dwarf eel seagrass in the Fal-Ruan nature reserve; not only is seagrass an incredible carbon store, it’s also fantastic for supporting biodiversity, which is a win-win.

Naturally, not all businesses have the resource available to develop a bespoke partnership like Seasalt have. Another best practice to consider is making a public commitment to donate at least 1% of company profits to environmental and climate-focused organisations. Many are now choosing to formalise such commitments via certification from 1% for the Planet as it signals to their stakeholders that the commitment is credible, vetted and impactful.

Another way that we encourage businesses to take climate action is through paid employee-volunteering time and/or team days. Excitingly, there is now a wide range of charities out there offering bespoke team events that have clear and quantifiable outcomes, such as Trees for Cities and Thames21. At Greenheart we have chosen to use our team volunteering time to support grassroots organisation the Phoenix Garden which is hidden away in London’s West End.

  1. Divestments and climate-friendly employee pension plans

Another form of climate action we are beginning to see more companies engaging in is the divestment of capital stored in banks, equities and bonds away from businesses and industries that are contributing to carbon emissions and an over reliance on fossil fuels. This divested capital can then be reallocated into greener funds that promote clean energy, the regeneration of nature and business models built for the new economy.

As well as thinking about their own portfolios, companies should ensure that their default employee pension plan is an ethical and climate-friendly option.

While the divestment of funds will take time and requires a well-developed strategy, it is an unavoidable key step for any ambitious company wanting to take their net-zero commitments all the way. For a thought provoking read on how divestment is becoming increasingly paramount in the context of Big Tech companies, we recommend this article from the The New Yorker.

Taking steps towards  science-based targets

The fourth and final form of climate action that we are delighted to see more companies engaging in is taking the steps required to meet  ambitious science-based reduction targets. While many organisations are now choosing to have their targets reviewed and validated by the SBTi, what’s even more impressive to see are long-term investments in operational changes and business models. For example, The HEINEKEN Company has invested £25m in kicking off the process of replacing the gas-fired heating system at their iconic Manchester brewery with heat pumps powered by renewable electricity. The system will run across all parts of the site and will allow excess heat from one process to be captured and reused in another.

However, prior to setting and beginning to work towards targets, it is key that businesses conduct a full and comprehensive assessment of their value chain in order to understand their scopes 1-3 emissions profile. In addition to supporting ambitious but realistic target development, this process enables companies to pinpoint the most significant sources of emissions in their value chain and identify the key stakeholders, such as suppliers and logistics partners, they will need to engage with in order to begin making  meaningful progress..

Closing thoughts

Our conclusion is that climate action takes on a range of forms. However, at its core, it’s is about every stakeholder group in a business, from individual employees right up to the C-suite, being intentional and proactive in taking the steps required to bring about emissions cuts. It is also clear that taking climate action is no longer a ‘nice to have’ if companies want to future-proof their operations and maintain a long-term licence to operate.

At Greenheart our belief is that businesses should not let the complexity of the issues or the fear of getting things wrong stun them into inactivity. In this time of impending polycrisis all action is valuable – it’s the process of committing  and getting started that really counts.

If you would like to talk to us about your company’s reductions ambitions, or are wondering where to begin with the implementation of climate-friendly practices, then please get in touch to see how our Planetary Health circle can support you.

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