Chris Packham: ‘Complacency and contentment are the worst enemies of business’

Packham was this week granted permission for a judicial review at the High Court, in which it will be determined whether the Government broke its legal climate obligations by rowing back on policies relating to electric vehicles, home energy efficiency and low-carbon heating last autumn.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak justified the changes by stating that it was unfair to make households pay for heat pumps and electric vehicles during a cost-of-living crisis.

Packham said these claims are “entirely fallacious”, given that low-income homes would see reduced energy bills from higher energy efficiency standards and heat pumps.

Moreover, he believes the Prime Minister should have assessed the potential impact of the changes on the delivery of its legally binding Climate Change Act commitments with its official advisors before they were announced. Instead, the Climate Change Committee scrambled to calculate the impact post-announcement, ultimately concluding that rollbacks would make the UK’s transition more expensive and risky in the 2030s and beyond.

“I see this as a form of protest, a practical protest,” Packham tells edie. “Whatever happens in the court, this will generate an opportunity for conversations on these important issues…. Which must certainly be dealt with in a forthright, intelligent way and a legal way.”

Reframing the conversation

edie asks Packham for his advice to business leaders concerning climate-related, practical and peaceful protests and advocacy.

This is a crucial yet sensitive topic to approach in a year where more than 40% of the global population is eligible to vote in a general election, but where the UK Government is striving to limit protest rights with an overt focus on environmentalists.

Packham notably starred in a Channel 4 documentary last autumn exploring whether, at a time of accelerated climate and nature breakdown and with leaders only acting incrementally, it is justified to take part in disruptive protest.

He tells edie: “People like myself are fighting on two accounts, now. We’re fighting for the climate and for our right to peaceful protest and justice.

“[But] you don’t have to take to the streets with a placard to be a protestor… You can protest by speaking – you do not have to be shouting – and I think business plays a very important role here.”

Focus on opportunities

Packham elaborates that businesses that are leading the way in fostering a culture environmental advocacy within their workforce are those that “reframe” sustainability-related projects as opportunities rather than as problems that are a struggle to address.

For example, is measuring emissions from staff travel a burden, or an opportunity to explore projects such as cycle-to-work schemes which will in turn improve physical health? The same could be said for implementing a plant-based menu in the staff canteen.

Packham says: “Some things may be challenging to deliver, of course – you may need to change working practices, mindsets or even the direction of the business. But they are still opportunities, because businesses will only survive if they evolve.”

In a recent PwC survey of more than 4,700 business leaders, around half said they believe their business will cease to exist within a decade without reinvention. Responding to the climate crisis and aligning with net-zero was cited as a major catalyst for transformation.

Anchoring decisions in this need to transform is key to delivering a joined-up, water-tight strategy, Packham believes.

He muses: “Complacency and contentment… aren’t they surely the worst enemy of any business? You should always be thinking about how you can move forward by better looking after your staff and the future of their families. This is implicitly important.

“One of my favorite mantras is that it’s better to jump before you’re pushed. That way, you are in control on when you jump and when you’re going to land. Otherwise, you’re just falling.”

Involving all voices                                                          

A great many businesses are already leading their sectors or national markets on embedding climate action.

Three-quarters of large businesses are now tying executive pay to climate-related KPIs such as emissions reductions, for example. The proportion of businesses with in-house chief sustainability officers tripled year-on-year for 2021-2022. And more than 4,700 firms now have emissions goals verified as science-based.

But more could be done to engage staff at less senior business levels.

In its infancy, for example, is the process of implementing specific policies iterating employees’ rights to engage within peaceful activism without repercussions. Website development company Wholegrain Digital claimed it was the first British firm to make this change in May 2023.

Packham believes this practice can and should disseminate across the private sector in the coming months and years.

He also foresees the proliferation of ‘citizen’s assemblies’ within businesses, giving everyone from junior part-timers to executives “access to a voice to raise their concerns”. This could range from concerns that the company has little to no environmental strategy, to worries that the strategy is not inclusive enough, taking into account just transition principles.

This practice, he argues, would doubtless result in calls for the addition of new voices to the decision-making and project delivery process – specifically, the voice of younger professionals.

Younger generations doubtless feel urgency to respond to interlinked, global environmental crises because their future wellbeing is at stake. Polling by youth climate platform Force of Nature has found that almost six in ten people under 24 feel a sense of doom about the future of humanity.

But, as already noted, there is a chance to reframe this challenge as an opportunity. Packham elaborates: “Within any task-centric project, having people with lower risk adversity can be enormously advantageous, and young people have bravery and confidence in buckets.

“One of my favorite facts is that, when NASA put a man on the moon in 1969, the average age of people working at Mission Control was 25. I imagine this was because they were extremely hard-working, energetic, ambitious and not risk-adverse.”


Renowned naturalist, presenter and campaigner Chris Packham has been confirmed as a star speaker for edie’s biggest event of the year, edie 24.

He will deliver an exclusive, intimate 1:1 conversation during the conference’s second and final day on 21 March 2024, at 133 Houndsditch in Central London.

edie 24 is the brand’s largest face-to-face event of the year and will convene hundreds of sustainability and energy leaders in central London on 20-21 March 2024 for two monumental days of keynote speeches, panel debates, unparallelled networking opportunities, interactive workshops and more.

Experts speaking alongside Packham on this year’s packed agenda include:

  • Chris Skidmore, author of the Net-Zero Review
  • Claire O’Neill, chair of the WBCSD and former UK Minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Chris Stark, outgoing CEO of the Climate Change Committee
  • Hannah Cornick, head of sustainability and social innovation at Danone
  • Natalie Belu, co-CEO of Belu and independent candidate for London’s Mayoral Elections

Tickets for the event are available now on an individual, group and sharing basis, with a full price list available here.

With places limited, edie users are encouraged to book edie 24 tickets now. You can secure your place here.

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