From 'reducing' to 'reversing': How can business leaders win the war on carbon?

EXCLUSIVE: The global climate movement must undergo a fundamental shift in thinking and communicative approach in order to instil business leaders with the belief that they can reverse global warming, the special guests on edie's latest podcast episode have said.

Interface's chief sustainability officer believes business leaders across the world must move from a sustainability philosophy based on ‘reducing’ environmental impacts to one based on ‘reversing’ climate change

Interface's chief sustainability officer believes business leaders across the world must move from a sustainability philosophy based on ‘reducing’ environmental impacts to one based on ‘reversing’ climate change

Environmentalist and author Paul Hawken and Interface’s chief sustainability officer Erin Meezan appeared on episode 26 of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast this week, in which the pair agreed that a different level of conversation is needed across the science and business communities if we are to reverse the build-up of atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change.

Hawken, who has recently published a book titled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, said that the communication from science and the media around climate issues has been “at best, inept”, leaving society feeling helpless and disempowered.

“Science has emphasised the impact of climate change, and that has involved a sense of doom, fear and ominousness,” said Hawken. And the media has been all too free to take that and add hyperbole and scary imagery to exaggerate it, although it’s based on good science.

“You combine the news that we’re in big trouble with the idea of helplessness and disempowerment on an individual level and what you have is a recipe for indifference and numbness.”

System revolutionary

Hawken’s book is the culmination of the work of Project Drawdown – a coalition of businesses, scientists, researchers, analysts and NGOs – to assemble and present the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming, based on carbon impact. (Scroll down to view the top five solutions in the list of 100).

“This isn’t a book about what we could do, this is a book about what we are already doing and know how to do,” Hawken said. “When people see the book and the list of solutions, they get a sense that actually it is possible to reverse global warming, as opposed to silver bullets or fantasy projections.”

During the one-hour podcast discussion – which is available to listen to in full on iTunes – Meezan from Interface revealed that it was Hawken who had inspired the carpet tile manufacturer’s founder, Ray Anderson, to launch the Mission Zero sustainability strategy, which sought to eliminate any negative impact the company may have on the environment by the year 2020.

“It’s fair to say that Paul’s ideas transformed our company,” Meezan said. “The inspiration that Paul provided to our founder made a revolutionary change in his mind. And Paul’s ideas really provided the framework for us to implement those ideas.”

Interface last year launched a revamped sustainability vision – Climate Take Back – which is based on a series of bold commitments, including one to ‘bring carbon home and reverse climate change’.

Raising the bar

Meezan went on to explain that it is this pioneering level of ambition that has enabled Interface to continue innovating and coming up with new, commercially advantageous ideas around corporate sustainability.

“When we raised our ambition level and cast our view differently, it opened up an entirely different universe,” Meezan added. “It’s what every company wants; it excites customers. What business leader doesn’t want their innovation department completely charged up? That’s at the heart of driving interpreting ideas in the business.”  

Other business leaders across the world must now be willing to increase their ambition and move from a sustainability philosophy based on ‘reducing’ environmental impacts to one based on collaborating with one another to ‘reverse’ climate change and delivering social good, Meezan said.

“It’s time. We simply have to accelerate what we’re doing – we have to challenge ourselves to do better… it’s time to set the next target on climate change and that is about reversing… that’s the ambition we all need to have.

“When we stood up and started saying that we had this ambition to reverse global warming, it felt uncomfortable, because no one else was saying it – very few businesses share that ambition. What’s going to get more CEOs standing up and making these commitments is strength in numbers – these coalitions [such as The Climate Group’s RE100] and this ability for us to connect and be part of a bigger community is going to be absolutely crucial.”

Subscribe to the Sustainable Business Covered podcast for free here.

Luke Nicholls


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