3rd December 2015

Big brands shouldn’t ‘COP’ out in Paris

As world and business leaders converge on Paris for COP21 (the 21st Conference of Parties) otherwise known as the Paris Climate Conference, let’s look at the achievements, hearsay and how big brands are trying to make the headlines.

Tech titans Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, among others, made a commitment at the conference to build on Government research to help commercialise low emission technology and bridge the gap between promising concepts and actual working products.

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Business leaders coming together to form a network and use their power, voice and influence to help tackle the clean energy issue is indeed laudable, but while they are examining the wider issues, they also take a look at their own businesses.

Take Bill Gates’s Microsoft, for example – how much energy goes into developing and making one of its products? Does Mark Zuckerberg’s environmental commitment extend to understanding the energy implications of daily Facebook usage? Are these tech giants doing anything to lead by example or are they simply funding schemes that occur outside of their businesses without addressing what is happening within their walls?

Allegedly an organisation called Brandalism has hijacked Adshels across Paris to highlight the hypocrisy of the brands sponsoring the events but not examining their own efforts to tackle climate change.

I recently saw a presentation from Will Day, Fellow of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). He pointed out that, in the past two years, these tech giants have helped us create more data than we have ever had before, but asked what are we learning from it and how can we use it to make a real difference to the environment, rather than simply setting up a fund to examine it?

In real terms, if we ran the earth as a business, this year it would have started making a loss on the 13th August – known as earth overshoot day. So, for four and a half months this business hasn’t been making a profit…

With more than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries all over the world meeting in Paris, this is the perfect turf to really examine business practice and use the ideas that come from it to make real, accountable changes to help bring us a step closer to halting climate change – yes that is a big ask!

One thing that is clear is business leaders are able to drive this sustainability revolution! The supply chain is one of the biggest culprits affecting our climate, and we, as consumers and employers, can all work together as a community to minimise its impact.

Look at jean makers Levi Strauss & Co – it has pledged to use less water in the production of its products if consumers use less to wash them. This is a very impactful approach that can make consumers stop and think about their own behaviour.

Carpet tile manufacturer Interface has committed itself to Mission Zero – a vow to ensure its manufacturing processes have no impact on the environment at all by 2020. This, again, is a powerful pledge that resonates with customers.

COP21 pictureIkea’s desire for each of its stores to go off grid and even contribute to generating energy for others helps go a long way to addressing energy usage in a world with diminishing fossil fuel resources.

And what about leading glass manufacturer Encirc? It has consolidated deliveries into fewer loads to remove lorries from the roads, modified warehouse procedures to cut plastic packaging use and significantly cut the waste it sends to landfill, all helping to boost supply chain efficiency and minimise the carbon footprint of its products.

What do all of these companies have in common? They are making changes internally to drive change in their wider markets and, ultimately, inspire others to join them. They are empowering their employees to think sustainably and approach working practices in a new way, and are now reaping the physical and financial benefits.

Using your profile to attract consumers and the media to the issue of climate change is very important but, it’s not just about making gestures and investing money in research.  Businesses need to spend more time and effort ensuring their own operation is leading the way in sustainability before turning their attention to the wider world.

By Helena Reid, B2B Associate Director