Step up, and stop standing by

In the foreword for edie's 2021 Sustainable Business Leadership report, Forum for the Future's founding director Jonathon Porritt outlines the urgency required from businesses to step in delivering ambitious strategies to create a sustainable future.

Step up, and stop standing by

Step up and stop standing by. That was the call to action from Extinction Rebellion back in pre-Covid 2019. And in June that year, the UK became the first major UK economy to pass into law a net-zero by 2050 commitment. With civil society on one side, and Government (a Conservative Government at that) on the other, what else could companies do but step up?

And they did – just as they have in the EU and even in the US. Facing the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years, keeping the focus on the climate and ecological emergencies through 2020 has indeed proved very challenging. But there’s been a constant drumbeat of corporate initiatives that made for a much more positive conclusion to the year than was once thought likely.

This is powerfully reflected in edie’s 2021 Sustainable Business Leadership Survey, which should give heart to all those who look increasingly to business not just to promote rapid decarbonisation in individual companies, but to encourage governments to do what they now so urgently need to do – and do it with a lot less of the half-hearted equivocation that has been so painfully on display over the past 10 years. B2G: ‘Step up – and stop standing by!’

Anyone reading this insightful report will know just how urgent this still is – and getting more urgent as we witness more and more extreme weather events around the world. In December last year, UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report revealed the stark truth that we’re currently on track to an average temperature increase of 3.2C by 2100 – more than double the ‘safe threshold’ of staying below 1.5C.

And at the end of February, the latest update from the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (as part of its preparation for the all-important Conference of the Parties in Glasgow – COP26 – at the end of the year) told us that the revised national plans for emission reductions that they’ve received so far, from 48 countries, will only reduce emissions by just 1% by the end of the decade. Set that against the headline conclusion of the 2018 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: to ensure that average temperatures increase by no more than 1.5oC by the end of the century, we have to halve emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030. That’s the gap: 1% versus 50%

It’s all too easy to get downhearted when faced with that kind of reckoning. But we shouldn’t. There’s a real quickening in the pace of change: renewables will provide around 50% of the UK’s electricity by the end of this year. Sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned from 2030 onwards. The Government’s Active Travel Fund is already having a big impact in towns and cities around the country. More and more people are changing their diets to reduce meat consumption. There’s real interest in addressing the so-called ‘hard to abate’ sectors – steel, aluminium, cement, chemicals, shipping and so on. And significant additional sums of money are being ploughed into green innovation, with interest surging in things like green hydrogen and improved storage technologies. Things are undoubtedly on the move!

For me, comparing this year’s Sustainable Business Leadership Survey with last year’s makes that very clear – one year on, there’s a lot more ‘stepping up’ in the UK’s business community. All we need to do now is pick up the pace.

The 2021 Sustainable Business Leadership Report

edie’s annual survey reveals what “business leadership” looks like for sustainability, CSR and energy professionals across the UK, following our first two reports in 2019 and 2020. With businesses responding to the pandemic in different ways, leadership is being redefined.

The report looks at key questions such as: Was 2020 a successful year from a sustainable business perspective? How did CSR fare as the coronavirus pandemic emerged and continues to derail economic stability? How optimistic do sustainability and energy professionals feel about the year ahead? How important will COP26 be? And what are the business traits and personal skills required to turn those commitments into actions in 2021?

edie’s 2021 Sustainable Business Leadership Survey, produced in association with Centrica Business Solutions, answers all these question and more. The report is based on the findings of an extensive survey of more than 200 sustainability, energy and resource professionals about the various challenges, drivers and opportunities related to sustainable business leadership.

Click here to download the report.

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