UK public want chief execs to lead on climate action, survey finds

Almost two-thirds (60%) of the UK public believe that the chief executives of corporations should be leading the national fight against climate change, a new survey has found.

April saw the term ‘Climate Change’ gain the highest number of Google searches since the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference

April saw the term ‘Climate Change’ gain the highest number of Google searches since the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference

Conducted by consultancy Kin&Co earlier this month, the survey quizzed two groups of 1,203 and 2,084 adults respectively on their attitudes to sustainable business and climate action.

Across these two groups, 69% agreed that climate change is now an “urgent issue” for large brands, rather than something likely to affect them in the distant future. Indeed, 59% said they would like to see their favourite brands declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, as the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments did earlier this month.

The findings follow weeks of climate protests, ranging from the school children strikes orchestrated by 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg, to the “civil disobedience” protests led by the Extinction Rebellion activist group. They also come in the wake of David Attenborough’s ‘Climate Change: The Facts’ documentary on the BBC and the launch of his ‘Our Planet’ series on Netflix.

Kin&Co’s survey found that events such as these, coupled with increasing mainstream media reports of scientific research into climate change, is already beginning to change the behaviour of consumers and staff. 

Of the 3,287 people it surveyed, more than one third (36%) said they had already switched at least one of the products they frequently buy to a more sustainable alternative or brand, such as plastic-free toiletries, refillable water bottles or vegan foods.

As for employment, 35% of respondents said they want their employer to take bolder and more ambitious action on climate change, with 30% saying they would respect their organisation’s chief executive more if they led on this agenda. This sentiment was particularly pronounced among the Millennial generation – those aged 25-34 – with one in five willing to take a pay cut to make this happen, and one in seven having already considered changing jobs to work for a company with stronger environmental credentials.

This finding echoes the results of similar research to have been carried out in recent times. Communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF), for example, found that 93% of the millennial generation want to buy from companies that have purpose, sustainability and environmental stewardship built into their ethos. Additionally, Deloitte revealed in 2016 that 56% of millennials will exclude companies that are not operating sustainably from their shopping lists, while 49% will refuse to work for companies that go against their personal ethics.

Closing the corporate carbon gap

Amid this backdrop of increased climate awareness, several companies with UK operations have already moved to bolster their climate strategies, in anticipation of the Government adopting the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice for reaching net-zero carbon by 2050.

Among them is Ecotricity, which this week pledged to become a carbon-neutral business by 2025 and Scottish Power, which has struck a deal with Glasgow City Council to create a net-zero power and transport sector.

But more widely, progress has been slow, with Carbon Credentials estimating that just one in ten businesses across the UK have set a numerical and time-bound carbon reduction target.

In a bid to change this trend, Kin&Co is using the publication of its survey results to urge all chief executives to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’ at their organisation’s June board meetings. It argues that doing so will pave the way for more organisations or all sizes and from all sectors to implement “robust plans” for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Funding challenges

In related news, a group of 11 scientists have today (23 May) penned a letter urging super-rich philanthropists to funnel more of their money into schemes which aim to minimise climate change, or to help communities adapt to its impacts.

Convened by the Climate Alliance and sent to the chairs of the UK’s largest 100 charitable foundations and the 100 families with the highest combined net worth, the letter claims that less than 3% of philanthropic funding nationwide is currently given to climate-related causes.

It states: “We implore you to urgently consider significant investment to prevent further ecological catastrophe - whether through your personal investments or your philanthropy.

“The changes to our natural world are critical to the lives of the communities you support.”

Time will tell whether the letter garners a significant change in investment from these sources.

Sarah George



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