The new kids on the climate block
If the climate-based protests from school children over the last week are anything to go by, the future of our world is in safe and caring hands. What kind of world we leave them will be dependent on the actions of the next generation of sustainability leaders.
Never has a saying felt so antiquated. “Children should be seen and not heard” has been stomped into the ground by a wave of protests from school children, despondent with how national governments and policymakers are reacting to the looming climate crisis.
Thousands of school children across the world have gone on strike in recent days, taking to the streets to voice a collective concern over climate change.
Started in August by 16-year-old schoolgirl Greta Thunberg – originally as a solo protest in Sweden’s parliament - the phenomena has now captured the interests and attention of more than 70,000 school children each week, across 270 towns and cities globally.
The recent protests have added weight to the global climate agenda, but with an added footnote that action to date has fallen well short of public expectations and future generations.
The average person you cross paths with on the street may not be aware of what the IPCC stands for, let alone what its landmark report warns of, but for the children that have taken to the streets of London and Manchester, to name but a few, the IPCC’s report is the bedrock of their argument.
The report warns there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C - beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
While Greta took to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier in the year to tell global policymakers: “I want you to panic”, I’d argue that leaders should realise the opportunities that are presenting themselves.
In the build-up to the protests, climate change and sustainability have become mainstream. From Blue Planet to Formula E, via Budweiser’s SuperBowl ads, human impact on the planet is not only more evident, it’s become an empathetic discussion point for people around the world.
We’re now entering an era where the clothes we wear and vegan sausage rolls we can consume aren’t only chosen so for price or comfort but for a sense of belief that personal decisions are benefitting the planet.
The wider public isn’t just engaged on the subject, it is largely invested. By 2025, three-quarters of the UK's working population will be millennials that want to buy from companies that have a purpose beyond their products and operations; it is now the role of business to cater to this new demand.
The Clean200, which ranks the world's largest publicly listed companies by revenue generated from clean energy products every year, is proof that sustainability can create business prosperity.
Companies listed on the Clean200 have collectively outperformed the S&P global 1200 energy index since 2016, achieving an average 1.29% growth in value, compared to the average of -2.49%. More recognisable is the economic growth delivered by Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan.
Speaking of Unilever, even those in the vanguard of sustainability leadership are undergoing transformational change. Paul Polman’s departure from the consumer goods giant may not affect Unilever’s sustainability ambitions, but it does leave a leadership void, and the next generation needs to step up and become the epitome CSR excellence.
Scattered amongst the school children taking to the streets may well be individuals that will accelerate sustainability leadership in the long-term, but as a collective they will become a primary market that business must appease.
More intermediately, it is the mission of those still in the early stages of their professional careers to step up and show the world that the business community is taking climate change seriously.
The edie 30 Under 30, for example, is a nomination-based membership community of 30 talented sustainability and energy professionals, aged under 30, who have already achieved great things or are showing fantastic promise.
These youthful visionaries will now benefit from an unrivalled opportunity to connect with one another and learn from bespoke events that will equip them with the tools to not only become sustainability leaders, but redefine what this leadership looks like.
As the window of opportunity to alleviate pressing climate concerns shortens, now is the time to empower the people we work with, the people we talk to and the public we serve with the understanding, desire and opportunities to act on climate change.
Children are now being seen and heard; how will your business react?Matt Mace