Jonathon Porritt: Corporate advocacy must be cornerstone of coronavirus recovery

EXCLUSIVE: Business leaders must use the Covid-19 recovery process as an opportunity to promote the benefits of deep decarbonisation, and to rebuild an economy based on strong social and environmental values, Forum for the Future’s founder-director Jonathon Porritt has told edie.

In a special episode of #SustyTalk recorded during edie’s Net-Zero Week (18-22 May), Porritt explained that there is an opportunity to “lock-in” much of the emissions reductions brought about by the lockdown, whilst delivering a just transition around climate change.

“We are going to need every single business leader who’s expressed an opinion about addressing the climate emergency out there with the loudest clearest voice that you can possibly imagine, because there’s a real battle ahead,” Porritt said.

“There’s a very clear change in the mood in this country… There is a realisation of how much we owe to different parts of society that previously we discounted the importance of – in the NHS and care professionals, and so on. There is also an understanding that far too many people have lived for far too long in abhorrently precarious financial conditions. And business has a role in helping to put a lot of that right.

“I’m hoping that businesses will see [the coronavirus recovery] as an opportunity for really committed leadership – not just on decarbonisation but on building a better country than we were before, and using their voice to talk compassionately and intelligently about fairness and equity in our society.”

System change

Connecting to edie from his home in Cheltenham, Porritt said that the coronavirus is driving some permanent changes in behaviours among businesses and consumers alike. Regular commuting and international travel will massively reduce post-pandemic, for example, whilst the global food economy will become much more localised.

And in addition to this, Porritt noted that there are now opportunities to rewire the UK economy in ways that will accelerate the net-zero transition. Road building programmes should be halted in favour of more sustainable transport solutions, he said, whilst the Government must take heed of advice to make energy efficiency a strategic infrastructure priority. 

In the 20-minute conversation, Porritt goes on to discuss the aviation sector, which has witnessed the number of flights drop by more than 90% since lockdowns were imposed. Looking ahead, Porritt believes climate advocacy will be critical to the survival of many airline businesses.

‘Regain your social licence’ 

“[Airlines] are going to have to commit to a whole process of changes – they need to dramatically accelerate the efficiency argument, increase sustainable aviation fuels, and they’ve got to get the offsetting piece right.

“This is a challenge to those leaders in the industry to ramp up that commitment and be completely honest with consumers. One of the ways out is to regain your social licence to operate by being completely up front on what you have to do around the climate emergency.”

Porritt, who received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection, was named the Lifetime Achievement Award-winner at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards earlier this year. Watch his inspiring acceptance speech here.

In addition to his ongoing work with Forum for the Future, Porritt is president of Population Matters, president of The Conservation Volunteers, a non-executive director of Willmott Dixon, and a director of Collectively – an online platform celebrating sustainable innovation. He is also involved in the work of many NGOs and charities as a patron, chair or special adviser.

Watch more #SustyTalk video interviews here.

edie’s Net-Zero Week 2020

This #SustyTalk interview with Jonathon Porritt was hosted during off edie’s Net-Zero Week 2020 (18-22 May) – a themed week of online content and events dedicated to supporting sustainability, energy and resource efficiency professionals on their journey to net-zero, and beyond. 

As well as exclusive interviews, features, reports and blogs, the Week includes three online events on the themes of business leadership (19 May), energy management (20 May) and resource efficiency (21 May).

View all of our Net-Zero Week content here.

edie staff

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