All companies want to be seen to be doing good. They also work within a societal framework and that framework is shifting. In order to find their space, they need to show a flexibility few have previously demonstrated.
If we call this framework capitalism and what supports it consumerism, then the framework’s biggest challenge is, without doubt, the climate crisis.
20 fossil fuel companies, both state and shareholder-owned, have produced 35% of the the carbon dioxide and methane released by human activities since 1965, the year the American Petroleum Institute told its members that what they produced could produce ‘marked changes in the climate by the year 2020’.
Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause ‘catastrophic’ consequences, they pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action, funding thinktanks and retired scientists to pour doubt on climate science. They sponsored politicians to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image.
This continues, with adverts by Shell creating the impression that they’re switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In reality, Shell’s annual report reveals it invested $25bn in oil and gas last year, but no figures for its much-trumpeted investments in low-carbon technologies.
Nature magazine says we have little chance of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless the existing fossil fuel infrastructure is retired. Instead, the industry intends to accelerate production, spending nearly $5tn in the next 10 years on developing new reserves. It is committed to ecocide.
Society is guided by consumerism. It has been crafted with the help of advertisers, celebrity culture and a media that casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices pretty much impossible.
In such a system, individual choices are lost in the noise. Consumerism renders us powerless, trapped in a narrow circle of decision-making; it is a brilliant con.
The system needs to be changed and people must act as citizens rather than consumers, because those choices we make when buying sustainable packaging rather than plastic, long-lasting clothes rather than disposable, will have no discernible effect.
That then, is the broad picture; perhaps only mass political disruption, out of which can be built new and more responsive democratic structures, can deliver the necessary transformation.
Not everyone will want to join Extinction Rebellion, but these types of movements will proliferate until some seismic economic shift occurs and in the meantime business needs to prepare for a rapidly approaching new world order.
Survival is our strongest instinct and companies will have to be part of the climate solution. We want to survive and companies, rather than inventing pine-scented variants of cleaning products, must come up with products that help the world’s survival.
We are going to demand this and companies are going to have to respond. Make no mistake, it is going to be huge, the backdrop to everything we do.
If you want to sell your products, you will have to be green. If you want to employ people, you will have to be green. Greenwashing will not cut it anymore.
What can companies do to ensure they are environmentally friendly, something their customers and shareholders are increasingly demanding?
In a series of articles, ExecutiveSurf will look at how the environmental crisis might impact on business and the way in which companies must find solutions to fight for their survival.
They face huge challenges, but there are also massive opportunities for companies and employers that confront these issues head on, with transparency and honesty.