This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Investing in our planet’. It points out that businesses in alignment with government and citizens can form a partnership to fight the climate crisis. A partnership for a sustainable and greener future.
It makes sense. With research suggesting that 75% of each person’s emissions in the UK are from products and services, their impact is truly fundamental. From the huge carbon emissions and water waste of the fast fashion industry to the greenhouse gas emissions of burning fossil fuel, we’ve heard it all before.
And policy makers have taken notice. The UK has already been leading on green policies such as the government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which will mobilize more than £30 billion of government investment in the private sector by 2030. And new standards and regulations are increasing ESG (environmental, social and governance) expectations of businesses and can create incentives for transitioning to net zero. But while we ask businesses to move at pace on the green journey, we need to consider the impact of such a significant transition on the bottom-line, the disparities between different types of businesses and balance the ‘gives and gets’ associated with that.
First, it’s worth analysing what’s really making a difference. Talking about Corporate Social Responsibility, ESG goals, going greener through new technology brings flashy headlines. But sometimes the answer may be a bit less exciting when considering the economic cost of production. Could existing assets be used until end of life? Could something be mended and recycled before we discard it and invest in something new and greener? After all, everything whether green or not will have a cost of production and will require resources and raw materials to produce.
We also need to consider how to bring businesses from the high-emitting industries to the climate table. Replacement products for cement, mining, oil and gas will take time to come to market and highly emitting companies cannot adapt overnight. Cutting them off completely or not including them in the climate conversation will lead to a negative economic impact in an already challenging climate.
Conversely, while over 90% of businesses are in the small and medium category, many have already been hit by the pandemic and may have their own challenges in putting environmental concerns on top of their agenda. Here the UK government’s initiative to set up the Business Climate Hub could be helpful. Asking UK small businesses of up to 250 employees to join in the fight against climate change, the hub encourages businesses to commit to halve emissions by 2030 and become net zero by 2050 while supporting them with ideas, tools and resources to do so.
Finally, involving businesses who can truly innovate, and problem solve in this space will be key. This could vary from new businesses developing renewable technology to using hackathons or re-skilling programmes to drive new ideas.
Whether a small business changing to LED lightbulbs or a corporate investing millions in climate change R&D it all adds up as long as we’re challenging ourselves and trying to make a difference in a pragmatic way. Investing in our planet is about ‘acting boldly and innovating broadly’ and serves as a good reminder for businesses, no matter their focus, that each one can play a role in the fight against climate change.
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