Business leadership on climate change: acting like it’s real

25 April 2019

Our Corporate Partnerships Director Mike Peirce writes about the need for ambitious business action - and what exactly this looks like. 

“Tell the truth and act like it’s real”. This is the voice of environmental protest, a slogan from Extinction Rebellion that captures the uncompromising mood of this rapidly evolving movement as it works to get climate change back up the UK’s agenda.

Actually the message is as much pointed at the champions of environmental action as at those resisting change, government or otherwise. We’re not going fast enough to keep to a world of 1.5°C warming – all of us need to do more.

Farhana Yamin, the international environmental lawyer who glued her hands to the floor outside Shell in London, complained of having been sold false hope. So, what would it mean for businesses to tell the truth on climate change and act to show they know it is real?

Setting earlier goals and making faster progress

The starting point for business has to be committing to action that matches the scale of the challenge in front of us. This is the power of cleaner, smarter energy goals that commit companies to shift their whole operations globally – going well beyond the idea of contributing ‘a fair share’ (which relies on every other business also doing its part) to genuinely driving a clean economy.

Of course, the timescale matters too. The plans that underpin some corporate commitments are in danger of being delivered too slowly. That’s why here at The Climate Group we invite companies to work to ambitious timelines towards 100% renewable electricity (RE100), electric transport (EV100) and smart energy (EP100), and we report on their progress year on year.

We’ve been pleased to see that more and more companies are making headway, reviewing interim targets as they progress towards their goals and inspiring others to follow their lead. More than one in five RE100 members have now achieved over 95% renewable electricity, while EV100 members have already switched more than 10,000 vehicles to electric.

"What would it mean for businesses to tell the truth on climate change and act to show they know it is real?"
Mike Peirce, Corporate Partnerships Director, The Climate Group

An integrated approach to driving change

Around 230 major companies around the world have now joined at least one of The Climate Group’s business action initiatives, with more than 20 of those opting to join a second. But a pick-and-choose approach is running out of credibility fast.

That’s why we’re delighted to see RE100 members Landsec and RBS putting cleaner, smarter energy at the forefront of their corporate strategies by becoming the first members of all three programs. As well as showing that emissions cuts go hand-in-hand with business growth, they are demonstrating the highest levels of leadership.

Already committed to doubling its energy productivity as part of EP100, Landsec has now joined EV100 to increase the number of electric vehicle charge points across its portfolio to over 300 by the end of 2019 – underlining the huge enabler role the real estate sector can play in accelerating corporate uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

“We understand that more and more of our customers are opting to drive electric vehicles,” said their Head of Sustainability; “we want to ensure they have the opportunity to charge when visiting a Landsec asset.”

RBS meanwhile committed to switch its fleet to electric and encourage staff uptake of EVs by providing a further 600 charging points by 2030, as a new member of EV100. The bank also joined EP100 and will improve its energy productivity by 40% by 2025 against its 2015 baseline. Only last week the Governor of the Bank of England called on banks and other financial institutions to do more to avoid climate catastrophe – this is RBS showing that it’s listening.

"Business has to be committing to action that matches the scale of the challenge in front of us."
Mike Peirce, Corporate Partnerships Director, The Climate Group

The power of joining RE100, EP100 and EV100 is not just in the emissions saved as a result, but in a collective louder business voice that drives faster market change.

These are three practical steps that companies can take to be (and be seen to be) more ambitious – both by reducing the impact of their own core business activities and also by influencing hundreds and then thousands more companies to follow suit.

Contributing at a scale and pace that matches the expectations of increasingly vocal stakeholders enables leading companies to develop trust. On top of that there are promising financial wins that will keep everyone in the boardroom very happy.

Meaningful opportunities ahead

It’s clear we’re at a critical moment in history as we move to harness technology and innovation to decouple economic growth from environmental impact. Businesses can and must be a driving force.

We’ll be showcasing the leaders at Climate Week NYC in September. If you’re not already involved, let us at The Climate Group know what change you’ve been making and how you wish to get on board. Contact us at info@TheClimateGroup.org

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