The 2019 edie Sustainability Leaders Forum took place in London last month, where we heard from a great line-up of inspirational thought leaders from the world of sustainability. From CEOs to NGOs, corporates and consultants, all were keen to share their expertise with the audience. Below are our top takeaways from this informative and insightful two-day conference.
• Leading on sustainability is about ‘embracing the fierce urgency of NOW’ – and this means recognising and responding to global challenges as an emergency today, rather than putting off action till tomorrow. The data is clear, the planet is warming because of humankind and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns us that limiting the effects of global warming requires “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes, in all aspects of society”.
• Sir Jonathon Porritt CBE (Founder director, Forum for the Future) emphasised the need to make intelligent connections between natural, human and economic elements of sustainability. This helps micro-level stories, facts and trends to ‘ladder up’ to the much more significant global, macro-level picture. For example, in the past few weeks, media stories about diesel car production, the melting of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, and the degradation in mental health of UK children should not be presented as random, disparate stories. Instead they are interconnected issues which reflect broad themes such as climate change, wellbeing and the green economy, and we can only begin to tackle these challenges if we can see them as part of the bigger picture.
• Sometimes the global challenges we are faced with can feel overwhelming, and it’s all too easy to feel hopeless. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. A number of speakers touched on the brilliant Project Drawdown, a piece of research that forms the “most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”. It features a list of one hundred viable and existing solutions to address climate change, from food waste reduction to family planning, and it’s a great reference point for anyone wanting to understand the actions needed to mitigate, and eventually reverse climate change.
• The Right Honourable Claire Perry MP (Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) gave an overview of the UK government’s approach to sustainability, including via its work in the developing world through the Department for International Development. And whilst the question of Brexit inevitably came up in the questions, the Minister focussed more on the opportunities for clean growth (which is one of the key pillars of the UK’s Industrial Strategy) and underlined the UK’s leading position in the world for promoting and enabling green technology and finance.
• Companies need “Earth-Competent Boards” we were informed by Phillipe Joubert (Chair, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group; CEO Earth on Board). An earth-competent Board is one which understands that sustainability is something which must be owned and acted upon at Board level. He stressed that “shareholders own shares, not the company” and for far too long the focus on short-term investor returns has distorted corporate governance.
• It isn’t all about Boards however! If you want to get something done in business, it always helps to have people on your side, and as we heard from Kene Umeasiegbu (Head of Environment, Tesco) it’s essential to find champions at a mid-management level to help implement sustainability commitments. And even though it can sometimes be difficult to get permission to do things in a business, his advice was to act now, and apologise later - sometimes it’s the most effective way to move forwards!
• We heard a lot about the circular economy - what it looks like and how it can be achieved in different sectors. But we also heard that the “circular economy leaks – and it generally leaks at the point of the consumer”. For example, when it comes to plastics and packaging, although companies are stepping up efforts to use recycled materials and make materials recyclable, the closed loop only works if consumers are willing to return those materials, and if the infrastructure exists to make that possible. Currently in the UK the confused recycling infrastructure, combined with sometimes indifferent consumer behaviour are obstacles to a genuinely effective circular approach to materials.
• Financial institutions have a crucial role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. As we heard from Leon Wijnands (Global head of sustainability, ING), banks can create impact through exclusionary policies, for example by not investing in certain sectors and issues with negative sustainability impacts. However Mr Wijnands said this can only have a limited effect. A more effective instrument is to focus on what banks DO invest in, rather than what they don’t. Not only will this help to future-proof banking activities, it will also help to speed up the transition to a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Author: Responsible Business - London
Source: Responsible Business