Business leaders call for 'green growth narrative' to support climate action

Green business leaders from a range of industries have unanimously called for a narrative of "green growth" to be adopted by policymakers and the private sector alike, in an effort to ramp up climate finance and accelerate the shift towards a global low-carbon economy.

M&S sustainability director Mike Barry believes new BEIS ministers should help other ministries to become “carbon literate”

M&S sustainability director Mike Barry believes new BEIS ministers should help other ministries to become “carbon literate”

A senior and multi-sector panel of sustainability experts gathered at an Aldersgate Group event in London earlier this week to discuss how key environmental issues should be best outlined to ensure they are embedded fully into business and Government practices.

Among the panel was Meryam Omi, head of sustainability at asset management firm Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM) - a company which recently formed part of coalition of investors controlling $13trn to call on G20 leaders to ratify the Paris climate agreement.

Omi said: “We provided a large voice to say we need a clear direction on travel from the policymakers. Without that, it’s very hard to start to move finance in the right direction. Everybody’s talking about how private capital could have a lot more clarity as to where finance is heading and what type of finance is needed.

“I think the question of narrative is really important. When I’m talking internally and also to clients I don’t talk so much about climate action but more about energy transition and that seems to resonate more with the board because everybody can see that energy is transitioning. It’s important that from the climate side, it can’t just be an add on, it must be integrated in business practices.

“From a shareholder’s perspective, different people tell you different things, and they all have different futures. So you talk to oil and gas people and they tell you what the future’s going to look like, then you speak to retailers and utililty companies, and their futures don’t match. We have to connect to provide the right narrative because we only have one future, so we have to finance the right one.”


Also speaking at the Aldersgate Group event was Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at M&S, which has set a sustainable blueprint in the retail sector by launching the M&S Energy Society initiative, aimed at providing customers with an opportunity to invest in green energy. Barry likened his role in providing a narrative of energy efficiency to other colleagues to that of the new BEIS ministers, who he believes should help other ministries to become “carbon literate”.

“I can see the climate crisis unfolding is far worse than anybody ever imagined," he said. "Unless we see a narrative of green growth we will not see a rapid adoption of the climate action required. I’m delighted we have a new industry strategy provided by BEIS because we haven’t done enough to drive a low-carbon economy.

“The message to my friends in the new ministry is that their role is very similar to mine. Whether its food, clothing, lorries, building property, our job is to get the rest of the business to become carbon literate. I think a role the new ministry is to make their colleagues in the other ministries carbon literate. Work involved in soil, work with the transport ministry, work around pensions and housing efficiency, there are so many areas of the Government that you can make carbon literate. It needs to encourage businesses with regards to efficiency, resilience in supply chains and green business models."

'We can solve it'

The view that business and Government should strengthen the green narrative was shared by panellist Andreas Regnell, senior vice president of Swedish energy company Vattenfall, one of the world’s leading wind power firms.

Earlier this year, Regnell provided energy consultancy services for the Swedish Government, which later presented a new agreement for the country’s energy consumption, with a date set for Sweden’s energy production to be 100% renewable. Regnell told the audience in London that this breakthrough was facilitated only through a positive shift in mentality among investors, engineers and Government.

“When we pushed the system, and asked "how" instead of "if", we quickly realised that the system has much more flexibility and strength than we expected," Regnell said. "Previously, the entire system was designed to meet demand, but when you think about the ability to match demand, there is so much flexibility in the system that we never thought of.

"The challenge of generating 100% renewables was so huge that when we used to ask engineers they said it was impossible. Now because of the change in narrative they no longer say it’s impossible. They say we can solve it, we don’t know exactly how, but we can solve it.”

The Aldersgate Group event also hosted a keynote speech from BEIS Minister of State Nick Hurd, who confirmed that the UK will ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change "as soon as possible", but insisted that the treaty must be replicated by a resilient domestic low-carbon energy policy developed in collaboration with the business sector.

George Ogleby


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