After COP27: how corporates can fight the climate crisis

When governments aren’t willing to take the big steps needed, it’s up to business to make the systemic impact we all need.

Our last piece on the COP27 and the climate crisis was, it would be fair to say, tinged with a little doom and despair. It’s justified, as many see COP27 as a low point in the fight against climate change, despite our early hopes. But, here at NEXT, we’re not ones for bleakness. We see hope in what comes next (the clue is in the name), and we always seek to point a way to a better future. So, if our governments are failing us on this issue, what can we do?

As individuals? Not much. The climate science website puts it thus:

Our lifestyle choices can help to reduce carbon emissions, but a single person’s actions alone will not make a lot of difference. To have a significant impact, we will need technological innovation and structural changes, along with strong environmental policies that are adopted on a global scale.

So, as individuals in our personal lives, we can do relatively little. But, as people with jobs, with the ability to steer the direction of our companies, and their structural impact on the economy, we can do great things. And we should.

Corporates for climate justice?

We can make this argument from the perspective of ethics, and climate justice. That was, after all, the major theme that seems to have emerged from COP27. Let’s take a moment to look at what many regard as the single success of COP27, the loss and damage fund:

While many details remain to be negotiated, the fund is expected to see developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the climate crisis supported for losses arising from droughts, floods, rising seas and other disasters that are attributed to climate change.

This is an attempt to implement systemic change, by realising that some countries are disproportionately hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, without the financial resources to adapt. And the wider decisions at least paid lip service to the need for change:

The cover decision, known as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, highlights that a global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investments of at least USD 4-6 trillion a year. Delivering such funding will require a swift and comprehensive transformation of the financial system and its structures and processes, engaging governments, central banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and other financial actors.

Again, we solve this crisis through technical innovation and systemic change. Governments, when they put their mind to it, can deliver systemic change. But the private sector is often much more efficient at delivering technical innovation.

Capitalism versus the Climate Crisis

And so, we’d like to make this argument for investment in fighting climate change from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. The one way that individuals can have an impact on the climate crisis in a capitalistic system is by voting with their wallets. Gen Z consumers are choosing sustainable products where they can. More significantly, they’re influencing their Gen X parents and even Boomer grandparents to do the same.

Wayne Gretzky’s famous maxim that we should “skate to where the puck will be”, often cited by Steve Jobs, conceals a more challenging truth. If you want to make the most of doing that, you have to skate there before the pack. Consumer Euros are already shifting. Shift now, and you shift with advantage. Shift later, and you’re merely avoiding disadvantage. The founder of Patagonia built a billion-dollar company on this idea — before effectively giving it away.

Any business can start a transformation journey today, reworking supply chains and products to make them lower-carbon and more sustainable. Or, at worst, starting the investment in the research that will lead that way. And you, as a skilled marketer, know exactly how to tell that story to your customer, both existing and future.

But there are other ways you can contribute, too.

Riding the sustainability wave

When I say you should ride the climate wave, I mean it very literally indeed.

From The Guardian:

The cost of generating power from tidal streams has fallen by 40% since 2018 – and a report published last month by a government-backed research centre, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, forecasts prices could fall below nuclear energy in little over a decade, with one-megawatt hour of power due to cost as little as £78 by 2035 compared with £92.50 for the new Hinkley Point C power plant.

As conventional energy prices rise inexorably upwards, in part due to the war in Ukraine, then the financial viability of sustainable energy grows. The more investment there is in it, the more the prices fall. Ironically, Putin may have well propelled the world further down the path of sustainable energy than most COPs have.

But the key paragraph for us in The Guardian piece is the one that follows:

Simon Cheeseman from the research center argues tidal stream energy is at the “point of commercialisation” as companies are keen to scale up production and deployment.

This is exciting stuff. There are both commercial and marketing opportunities here. You can support this transition directly, by investing in companies developing out tidal power. Or you can support them indirectly, by sourcing your energy needs from companies that are investing in sustainable power.

Do one. Do both. Tell your customers about it, so they feel good buying from you. Every government failure is an opportunity for corporate action. The (relative) failure of COP27 could be an opportunity to welcome in consumers who want to use their money to effect change — while actually ensuring our survival as businesses and as a species.