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50 shades of green: do business leaders really care about the environment?

By: John Bee, Managing Director, White Space Strategy

To many people, business leaders are the enemy when it comes to environmental impact. They preside over organisations big and small that emit, pollute and ravage the world of its resources, driven only by short term profit.

But, in my experience, the people who work for these organisations are often very different to what might be imagined. Many are passionate about the environment and feel a deep sense of responsibility for the future of the planet, however small their role in shaping it might be.

We wanted to find out the truth behind how senior business leaders think: do they actually care, and do they think sustainability is important?

We then wanted to identify some practical steps that business leaders could take to influence how their organisations work in practice, given the future challenges faced by our planet.

75% of business leaders think it’s extremely important that business growth is also environmentally sustainable. This insight comes from a survey by White Space Strategy in 2021. Sectors represented in the 75% spanned the whole economy, ranging from Energy to Packaging to Banking and Logistics, and many others besides.

This result indicates that business leaders do care.

Qualitative insights from business leaders who’ve contributed to Whiteboard support this conclusion. Hear from them directly in this Environment & Sustainability World in 2030 video. A few of the more interesting quotes are summarised below.

“To me, climate change is the number one challenge facing humanity. It’s something which I’ve dedicated my career to and, increasingly, I can say that it’s something everybody will need to dedicate parts of their career to as well”

David Watson, Head of Energy Transition Cadent Gas

“We need to be part of the solution or part of the problem. So starting with yourself and with your purpose and then continuously improving on that vector cannot be a bad thing. I think the other interesting question is: can we find business models that actually transform all we’re doing?”

Matthias Berger, R&D Director, Premier Foods

“To start to prepare for 2030, businesses will have to start really taking our sustainability challenges seriously and not just paying lip service to them. I think it will be largely driven by financing and I think that will drive how shareholders view business results”

Jesper Ekelund, Facilitation & Sustainability Lead, White Space Strategy

Do business leaders follow through with actions as well as words, though? COP26 in Glasgow indicates that, increasingly, they do. Half of the UK’s largest businesses pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. They had a combined annual turnover of £700 billion. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero came together at COP26 and announced that their members would transition their portfolios in line with the Paris Agreement – together, they represent $130 trillion in assets under management.

Clearly, the level of commitment of individuals and companies varies, and genuine commitment is not universal. Arguably, these timescales need to be reduced – business leaders need to be thinking about making real, tangible changes to have a positive impact by 2030, and not just by 2050.

To help make positive change easier, White Space Strategy has created a simple planning and decision making tool to help business leaders plan for change and push it through. It’s been co-developed with business and sustainability experts, with a focus on practical application in the present day.

Key considerations within the tool are:

  • Prioritisation, measurement & KPIs
  • Energy & water
  • Sourcing & suppliers
  • Resource consumption
  • Banking & pensions
  • Travel & home working
  • Products & innovation
  • Communications

To learn more about how business leaders view sustainability and are planning ahead to 2030, watch the videos and animated infographics elsewhere on Whiteboard.

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