Sustainability: the key to growth, survival and long-term profits?
“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act like you would in a crisis. I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.” – Greta Thunberg
We have ample data that supports the fact that our climate is dramatically changing. We know the society that we have built is driven by greed and profits over what’s good for nature. We know now we have run out of time and cannot put the climate crises alarm on snooze anymore. That’s the clear message from a study from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avoid some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, the world must slash carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and completely decarbonize by 2050.
In 1992, Cormac Cullinan’s Wild Law proposed “earth justice” or “earth jurisprudence,” a concept underlying the law’s ability to protect the environment and effectively regulate businesses that pollute. If a business activity harms the environment, what rights does the environment have to fight back? The older generations may have ignored this question and the parasitic relationship humans share with nature. But the young adults of today have acknowledged it.
THE GRETA EFFECT
Across the world – including in India – millions of students joined the movement “School Strike for Climate.” The marchers have demanded urgent action from authorities to address the climate crisis. The innocent voices have shamed not only governments across the globe for their inaction – but also corporations. A recent report from the United Kingdom on sustainable business leadership attributes changing attitudes in global boardrooms to the 2019 worldwide strikes led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Similarly, in India top corporate philanthropies have come together and started the initiative India Climate Collaborative (ICC) to find solutions for the challenges posed by the climate crisis, in collaboration with more than 40 organizations. Initiative members include major industrial corporations such as Tata, Godrej, Mahindra, and Wipro.
THE BLACK SWAN SHOWING THE WAY
The COVID-19 Pandemic is a black swan event that has paralyzed the global economy and imprisoned 7.7 billion people in their homes. It has caused worldwide socio-economic losses and undeniable suffering - but there have also been environmental gains. A recent University of Sydney study of the pandemic’s effects reported perhaps the biggest-ever drop in greenhouse gas emissions in recorded history. The study also noted, however, that the that the experience of previous financial shocks has shown that without structural change, any environmental gains are unlikely to be sustained once the economy recovers. Therefore, the pandemic may have shown us how to reverse the environmental damage in matter of few months. But to make this reversal permanent, drastic structural changes are still required.
GREEN GENERATIONS DEMAND GREEN ACTIONS
Brands today cannot remain oblivious to the impact their business practices have on the environment. More than half of the global population is made up of young adults (31.5 percent Millennials, and 32 percent Gen Z) who are demanding authenticity and sustainability from governments and corporations. Businesses are left with no choice but to re-evaluate their business practices to continue being relevant for these consumers. A study by the Wharton Business School found that these young adults are interested in supporting brands that are ethical, caring, and full of purpose.
Ybrands recently surveyed 80,000 young consumers globally (Millennials and Gen Z) and found that the brands they consider most trustworthy offer more than just a good product or service. For example:
- Netflix: The company purchases renewable energy certificates to match its non-renewable energy use and it funds renewable energy production from sources like wind and solar.
- Google: In 2016, the company marked 10 years of operating as a carbon neutral company. Six of its operating data centers have achieved 100% landfill diversion, and one of these has also reached Zero Waste to Landfill.
- Amazon: The company has a goal to install solar systems on 50 fulfilment facility rooftops worldwide by 2020.
SIDEBAR: BRAND BUILDING ACTION POINTS
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Dell Computers has created the Connected Workplace, a flex-work program that reduces the number of miles workers commute each year. This sustainability initiative has helped the company avoid about seven thousand metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Build green products: Siemens’ commitment to sustainability is demonstrated by its decision to manufacture and sell more environmentally friendly infrastructure products such as green heating and air conditioning systems.
- Practice sustainable procurement and sourcing: Cisco relies on its Supplier Code of Conduct to set standards for suppliers, so that they follow fair labor practices, ensure safe working conditions, and reduce their carbon footprint.