Calls for sustainable business action mount amid school climate strikes

The global business sector is facing a new wave of calls to bolster its low-carbon and resource efficiency agendas, with the school strike climate movement now uniting staff, students, consumers and policymakers alike in climate activism.

Calls for sustainable business action mount amid school climate strikes

Around 1.4 million people took part in last month's global strike

Since the first school climate strike was held by teenage activist Greta Thunberg in August 2018, what started out as a solo protest in Sweden’s parliament has grown to a global phenomenon. Wherever you are in the world, you’ll be hard-pressed to have missed the news that more than 70,000 children and young adults, across 270 towns and cities globally, have been walking out of their schools, colleges and universities every Friday since February.

Although this group crosses international borders and spans age all groups, social classes and stakeholders, its mission is unified – to urge national governments and large corporations to align themselves with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory. This is a feat which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has claimed will require global carbon-neutrality by 2050.

Critics were initially quick to argue that the protesters were too young to understand the scale of the global challenge at hand and that they were looking for an excuse to skip lessons. Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, has urged the strikers to stay in classes while several of her Cabinet Ministers, including Michael Gove and Claire Perry, have joined the likes of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas in supporting them. When asked by Lucas during this week’s Prime Ministers Questions whether she would meet Thunberg to debate the matter, May shirked the question.

But actions this week will arguably serve to silence the naysayers. In the midst of the school Easter holidays, 60 demonstrations involving tens of thousands of young people are taking place across the UK today (12 April), with similar action documented across 69 other nations.

This fresh wave of protests builds on a global school strike on 15 March, which saw one million people across the globe take to the streets to declare a climate emergency. They also come in a week where several pieces of research which have served to illustrate the issue of the global warming challenge have emerged. On Wednesday (10 April), new analysis from Carbon Brief concluded that those born between 1997 and 2012 will have to live on a carbon budget of just one-sixth of their baby boomer (born 1946-1964) counterparts and later in the week, the UK Government’s official emissions figures proved that the nation is likely to miss its fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

With headlines like these continuing to emerge at a pace, and with politicians, celebrities, influencers, educators and David Attenborough now publicly backing the strikers, it’s hard to imagine that the movement will slow down any time soon.

With this in mind, this article explores recent key climate activism headlines from the #FridaysForFuture movement and beyond.

The Climate Group urges businesses to heed school strikers’ demands

Ahead of today’s strike action, international non-profit The Climate Group urged business leaders and policymakers to heed the advice of what it described as “the generation with the most to lose from continued inaction”.

The body notably runs the RE100 and EV100 schemes, aimed at uniting business to spur a market shifts towards clean technologies in the power and transport sectors. Through these schemes and its wider work, it supports more than 200 businesses across 140 markets, as well as 220 governments, which collectively represent 1.3 billion people.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday (11 April), the organisation’s chief executive Helen Clarkson said school strikers embody the “energy and urgency that is needed to transform the conversation on climate action”.

“Our work with businesses and governments globally shows that real commitment and leadership on climate action is taking place globally – but in order to cap global warming at 1.5C, we need even more ambition,” she said.

“It is in the power of governments and large businesses to implement the solutions to climate change at a bigger scale – because the solutions are available. We urge them to listen and learn from these young people – the generation with the most to lose from continued inaction. Limiting climate change is not an issue of top-down versus grassroots engagement. The two approaches need to work together to achieve the biggest impact at the fastest possible speed.”

Vast majority of staff support mandatory climate targets for universities

While media coverage of the school strikes tends to home in on under-16s, survey results published this week by the higher and further education sector’s sustainability body the EAUC revealed that most of those educating their older siblings at colleges and universities would like the Government to set mandatory climate targets for educational institutions.

Of the 566 higher and further education sector staff to have responded to the survey, almost three-quarters (73%) said the Government should set mandatory carbon, resource and water targets for universities and colleges, with a further 18% saying that Ministers should develop a voluntary target framework covering these areas. Without this action, they argued, sustainability is unlikely to become widely embedded as a strategic concern across the higher and further education sector.

The research was jointly conducted by the EAUC, the National Union of Students (NUS), University and College Union (UCU), Association of Colleges (AoC) and the College Development Network (CDN).

“Young people are now calling on everyone else to wake up to this dire situation before it is too late,” EAUC chief executive Iain Patton said.

“Chief among these is their education system – they want to see institutions setting an example and committing themselves to fighting climate change. This is a pioneering sector that is leading the way in its sustainability commitment, but to push further, there needs to be a recognition at a Governmental level that sustainability is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is a necessity, and that means it is mandatory.”

Thousands of Amazon staff demand their employer bolsters its climate action

In a large-scale demonstration of employee activism, more than 4,500 Amazon staff jointly signed an open letter to the firm’s chief executive Jeff Bezos this week, calling for him to set stricter targets and policies surrounding clean energy, low-carbon transport and supply chain emissions.

The letter represents the biggest employee-driven push against climate risk in the technology sector to date. It urges Bezos to set a time-bound deadline for Amazon’s overarching aim of sourcing 100% renewable power and to develop a strategy for achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century, while also issuing a rallying cry for the e-retailer to stop offering custom Cloud computing solutions to oil and gas firms.

“Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis,” the letter states.

“We believe this is a historic opportunity for Amazon to stand with employees and signal to the world that we’re ready to be a climate leader.”

The publication of the letter comes a month before Amazon board members are set to meet to vote on whether a shareholder resolution, which would require the company to publicly release a detailed long-term decarbonisation plan, should be passed. It also comes in the same week that Amazon confirmed plans to invest in three large-scale wind projects.

In response to the letter, an Amazon spokesperson said the company already had an “unwavering” and “ambitious” approach to environmental issues.

“Amazon’s sustainability team is using a science-based approach to develop data and strategies to ensure a rigorous approach to our sustainability work,” the spokesperson said. “We have launched several major and impactful programs and are working hard to integrate this approach fully across Amazon.”

The call to action comes at a time when research has continually found that staff are becoming less willing to work for companies with values that do not align with their own ethics. Deloitte revealed in 2016 that 49% of millennials will refuse to work for companies which do not align with their own moral compass, with a more recent study from FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF) finding that 63% would turn down an interview with a firm that had recently been the subject of a CSR scandal.

Sarah George

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