With the UN holding its summit on change climate from 2 December, leaders discuss what they’re doing to protect the environment and ensure the sustainability of their businesses
NATSAI AUDREY CHIEZA (main picture), founder and director of Faber Futures, a biodesign studio and consultancy
Energy and transport tend to be the most commonly named and shamed sectors as the biggest polluters in business. The fashion and textiles industry rarely gets a mention, yet it emits more carbon dioxide than the total produced by global air travel and shipping combined. Washing clothes is a particular bête noire, releasing 500,000 tonnes of microfibres into the oceans every year.
I’ve tried to address the problem by developing a biofabrication system for making silk scarves that uses natural dyes excreted by bacteria. It doesn’t require synthetic chemicals and it uses 500 times less water than the conventional process would consume. I’ve spent eight years on this, but I’m no scientist – I have an architecture degree.
The climate emergency requires radical solutions. If my story shows anything, it’s that “cognitive diversity” – ie, hiring people with a variety of skills who think differently from you – is imperative. My company realised this when consulting firms in the biotech and fashion sectors. Collaboration between people who wouldn’t normally interact can bring about real innovation and a mindset shift.
Too many firms are waiting for legislation to kick in – there are many such laggards in the fashion industry, for instance – but we all need a long-term innovation strategy. We’re at a point where the climate crisis is starting to bite economically. Companies will soon start failing because of it.
Having said that, I am still optimistic. The latest generation of entrepreneurs have a visible sense of purpose in their work. They are eschewing Silicon Valley’s “move fast and break things” ethos in favour of rebuilding and rehabilitating.
It’s not only about making materials less harmful to the environment. Firms should adopt an all-systems approach where sustainability touches all facets of the business model, from governance to growth strategies. Yes, it’s a tough task, but it’s not a restructuring. It’s a state of mind and an investment strategy that will give any enterprise lasting resilience.
ANGELA TERRY, founder of climate-action website One Home
Compared with the US and China, the UK has done well. In shutting coal-fired power stations and developing the world’s largest offshore wind capacity, we’ve shown we can decarbonise and create jobs. Unilever, whose sustainable brands deliver three-quarters of the company’s growth, has blown out of the water the idea that it’s somehow a sacrifice for a business to go green.
Any firm that fails to adopt green tech such as electric cars will also fail to attract talent. I recently told an oil major that, back when I was a student, everyone wanted to work for it, but now millennials wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, as it’s one of the bad guys.
We need to battle the fear of hypocrisy too. Business leaders have told me that they can’t discuss climate change because they fly spare parts in from China. We all burn fossil fuels. If we all waited to be perfect, nothing would ever get done.
As a leader, you have all the power you need. Get boards involved. Set goals. Integrate them in performance reviews. Shell, for instance, is linking bonuses to carbon-reduction targets. If Shell can do that, anyone can.
Angela Terry is a member of IoD South West
SHAUN McCARTHY, founder and director of Action Sustainability
It was hard for me not to smirk when Ryanair recently declared itself the EU airline delivering the lowest carbon dioxide per passenger mile. After all, this is a company whose CEO once said: “The best thing to do with environmentalists is shoot them.”
It’s clear that climate change is finally on the corporate agenda when even Ryanair can see marketing value in claiming to be “green”.
There has to be a visible commitment to science-based targets from the top of your business. This needs to be expressed whenever you talk with shareholders, customers and your team.
Equipping your firm with the right skills for a carbon-neutral future is also vital. Thousands of construction-sector SMEs are learning free of charge with the Supply Chain Sustainability School that I chair, for instance.
Furthermore, what is it about using less energy that’s going to cost you more? The sooner that firms get on the net-zero bus, the better. If you don’t take climate change seriously now, you won’t be in business for much longer.
Shaun McCarthy OBE is a member of IoD South
DAVID ALPERT, co-founder and MD, the International Institute for Anti-Ageing (iiaa)
Last summer I was 10 degrees from the North Pole. It’s one of the most remote places in the world, yet the Arctic waterline was full of plastic – some from my own industry, cosmetics. It was a frightening sign that we have so little time to change things before it’s too late.
At iiaa we’re passionate about seeking green solutions. In our bid to go plastic-free, we package products in cardboard cylinders or biodegradable pots. By 2022 all 80 cars in our fleet will be electric.
But even though adopting a green business model could offer a competitive edge, many firms will remain wasteful until the law makes it too costly and uncomfortable. Governments therefore need to drive change.The UK’s plan to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is a brilliant example of the opportunities: it will force car makers to switch to electric; the firm that gets the contract to supply Uber with electric cars will really clean up.
If the UK can lead the world in the creative industries, it could be a post-Brexit centre of excellence for green enterprise too. Business just needs to put pressure on government to achieve it.
David Alpert is a member of IoD London
CHRIS BIRCH, director of sustainability, Hilson Moran
It was a no-brainer for us to get our office in Manchester certified under the Well standard – a measure of how a building can benefit its occupants’ wellbeing. It has improved staff retention and helped us to win business too.
Should other firms adopt similar sustainability measures? I don’t think they’ll have a choice in the long term – half of the UK’s local authorities have declared climate emergencies and will soon start to push companies to act.
Those that comply quickly will be offered incentives such as grants for adopting green tech and practices. But, as we get closer to 2050, there’ll be fewer carrots and more sticks.
Procurement functions will also become increasingly demanding of suppliers. If you’re supplying a supermarket chain, for instance, you’ll probably soon have to make declarations on sustainability as a result of your customer’s zero-carbon commitments.
The recent statement by the Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, that firms ignoring the climate crisis will be driven out of business is largely true. Sustainability isn’t just a “nice to have”; it’s going to be a legal requirement.