‘Triple Bottom Line: Green Horizons – navigating towards a sustainable future’ post-event reflection

24th March 2024

We hosted an illuminating seminar at our office last week about a subject of profound importance not only to all businesses and entrepreneurs, but also to every member of the public: sustainability and climate change.

It was the second in our series of seminars, ‘Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profit.’

The discussion focussed on the title ‘Green Horizons – navigating towards a sustainable future.’ Our impressive line-up of panellists was as follows:  

The overriding message of the discussion is that we need to work together to address climate change: policymakers, the media, NGOs and businesses. The UK is committed to reaching net zero by 2050 – meaning that the total greenhouse gas emissions would equal the emissions removed from the atmosphere – this will require a collective effort.

Six key points arising from the discussion were as follows:

  • There is some scepticism about the push towards sustainability, but this does not constitute a big backlash. In a recent study, 69% of people said they would be willing to give away 1% of their income every month to combat global warming. Interestingly less than 50% think others would do the same. This demonstrates that people are willing to take action and make sacrifices themselves, but underestimate what others are willing to do. Paradoxically most of the world’s population wants to fight climate change, but these people tend to think they are in a minority. However, when it comes to politicians, governments and businesses, it’s a different story.
  • People recognise the importance of climate change. In Green Alliance’s political tracker, when people are asked for the most important issue, the environment has featured in the top five since 2018. However, the green consensus at Westminster of recent years may be fraying. One speaker noted that the Conservatives had contested and won four consecutive elections since 2010 on a pro-green platform butt the current government is showing signs of breaking with the consensus. This was reflected in the announcement made in January that they would legislate to require there to be annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds.
  • Historically, the UK has been a real pioneer in the green space. It was the first country to legislate for carbon budgets in 2008 and the first major economy to put Net Zero into law in 2019, but now it has fallen behind and is not performing well in its climate ambitions. The latest tracker from Green Alliance shows that despite some recent progress, the UK remains off track to meet its net zero climate commitment by 2050. According to one of the speakers, the UK is a laggard by international comparisons, and Brexit has hampered our progress. While the UK can contribute really interesting ideas when it comes to action on climate change, it’s the EU and US that are now leading the way.
  • Business has a pivotal part in enabling us to reach net zero. Carbon capture will play a significant role, as will new technologies. For now, we have to keep on burning fossil fuels to keep the lights on. The oil and gas industries are part of the energy mix to enable the energy transition and can reinvest their profits in renewables. A total investment of $8.1 trillion is required between now and 2050, according to the State of Finance for Naturereport. Furthermore, whilst Greentech has become a buzzword, 50% of the technologies we need to get us to Net Zero are not yet invented or at an early stage. For business, there is a razor focus on cost. When looking at the journey of decarbonisation, they ask what the bill will be. The US Inflation Reduction Act provides tax incentives for reducing carbon. At the same time, there is strong support for a carbon tax.
  • There has been a shift in the attention given to green issues by big corporates. Sustainability previously typically sat with the marketing department and C-Suites did not really engage with these issues. There has also been a move away from corporate “targetism” to a company now having to show what is being done in terms of sustainability. Regulators have grown markedly in the past 18 months and are active and cracking down on greenwashing. A sign of this regulatory activism was the recent decision of a Dutch court that KLM had behaved illegally by advertising itself as a sustainable airline.
  • As the economy pivots towards carbon reduction and a green-friendly framework, we will need to enhance education and develop skills. A couple of examples that were raised are the growing need for heat pump installers and skills to manufacture electronic vehicle manufacturing. The US pulls in lots of skills needed for the green tech sector through migration, but this is more challenging for the UK, particularly following our withdrawal from the EU.

The state of the climate debate is such that there is less argument about the science. The thrust for most policymakers and business leaders is advice on what to do. For any business looking to address climate change, it’s a journey. They will need to address their own carbon footprint – you can’t manage without measuring it. They don’t need to reach the destination tomorrow, but they need to start addressing what they can do to make a difference.

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