Global warming is a searingly hot topic – and business leaders must do more before it’s too late
20 Jul 2023
Traditionally, Britons head to southern Europe to bask in the sunshine during the summer. Yet this year, with a deadly heatwave sweeping the continent, British tourists face the prospect of a hellish holiday season – even if they stay home.
Indeed, the heatwave is called Cerberus – a reference to the multi-headed hound of Hades that guards the gates of the Underworld. And Cerberus is biting hard. Ground temperatures in Spain have hit more than 60C, and wildfires rage in Italy. At the same time, Greece has introduced emergency measures to help workers cope with 48C, and the Acropolis, the country’s most visited monument, is closed temporarily.
The planet is ablaze in other continents, with the United States hit with a heatwave that has seen 112 million people issued with an alert. Meanwhile, also in mid-July, heavy rains and flooding caused dozens of deaths in South Korea. President Yoon Suk Yeol called for an overhaul of national preparedness as extreme weather becomes “commonplace”. There is a worrying sense of normalising these events, and businesses – not just governments – have a critical role in reducing global warming.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023, published in January, climate change is the biggest threat to the planet in the next decade. Respectively, failure to mitigate climate change, failure of climate-change adaption, natural disasters and extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse make up the top four risks of a 10-year period.
Similarly, the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer reading showed that climate change is the top existential fear worldwide, scoring 76%. Nuclear war was next, with 72%. The research also suggested that businesses are now trusted more than governments – 62 versus 50, marking a 12-point trust gap. Therefore, the onus is on business leaders to take action and drive the sustainability agenda.
The other day, I was on a Teams call with a client based in southern France. He was feeling the heat as the French government had enforced regulations preventing air conditioning units from being set below 26C due to energy consumption concerns.
Reflecting on this, I remembered that the British Royals had announced that they planned to drop some of their rooms to 16C in the winter, resembling the temperature of the castle hundreds of years ago. These conscious decisions, made by governments or the Royal family, point to sustainability. But do these choices go far enough? To what extent are they going to push the world’s thermometer down?
While the mercury level is rising on leaders to take action, there are examples of a few companies going beyond what others are doing. For instance, shampoo-maker Faith in Nature became the first organisation to appoint “nature” to an executive board last September.
I recently noticed on LinkedIn that a pet-food company supported hundreds of large farms for regenerative agriculture. It shows how some progressive businesses are thinking through the implications for themselves and their supply chains, demonstrating a shift from a focus on squeezing suppliers to reinvesting in them. Although this move may lead to higher consumer costs, it’s a considered choice. And as the late environmentalist David Brower said: “There will be no business on a dead planet.”
Steps can – and must – be taken to benefit all, including enhancing supply chains, improving customer satisfaction through eco-friendly branding, and contributing to a healthier environment. Sustainability is no longer a box-ticking exercise, like offsetting carbon emissions by planting trees. Instead, it needs to be an integral part of our daily lives and decision-making processes.
Businesses must take climate change much more seriously. It’s not only about reducing the carbon footprint but taking responsibility for your suppliers, understanding their environmental attitudes and educating them accordingly.
Sustainability should be the top priority on the leadership agenda. The next normal for driving this agenda involves reinvesting in suppliers, promoting eco-friendly operations, and encouraging education around sustainable practices. Business leaders need to ask themselves: are we taking sustainability seriously enough? Deeds have to match words now – otherwise, it will be too late.
As with the pet food example, collaboration is vital. Trusted partners and experts can guide us through this complex yet crucial journey towards greater sustainability. There is no time to lose. The future of humanity is at stake.