13
Oct
Kate Roche

In the race to net zero, let’s not waste time picking sides

Posted by Kate RocheTagged , , ,

When we talk about the journey to net zero emissions, the scale of the problem looms so large it can start to block out the view of the path ahead. The IEA estimates that global investment in clean energy needs to swell by more than double its current rate to reach the $5trn needed annually to keep us on track by 2030, which is alarmingly close and getting closer every day.

It’s easy to be daunted by figures of such magnitude but achieving our collective goal of carbon neutrality requires a cool head and a rational approach. This becomes critically important in sectors like transport, heavy industry, and energy, where the shift needed to decarbonise is less a step and more a total paradigm shift. Some have argued for immediate divestment from industries like these, but the best gains for carbon reduction are to be made in precisely these spaces. Should we not be encouraging them to transform their business models rather than starve them of the ongoing investment they need to take the leap?

In the last few days, the International Council on Mining and Metals, which represents the world’s leading mining companies, agreed to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. The Global Cement and Concrete Association quickly followed suit, and in one fell swoop the two groups made a significant step towards accelerating our journey to net zero. Together, cement and mining are responsible for between 11- 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and there are few other industries able to make such a significant impact so quickly. This illustrates just how important it is to bring everyone along on the journey towards a clean energy future, and how easily we might hamstring ourselves if we unilaterally cut off support from the most challenging parts of the energy landscape.

Of course, throwing arms open to corporates and blindly trusting their reports of progress on emission reduction is no guaranteed recipe for success. ‘Greenwashing’ has become a commonly cited barrier to progress in sustainable investment, and businesses are rightly being expected to demonstrate the validity of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials in a space that until recently was largely lacking in any standardised regulation. Calls for science-based climate targets are getting louder as investors and consumers alike demand that major companies set independently verifiable emission reduction goals or risk both reputational damage and competitive advantage. Soon it may well be these metrics, rather than the sector an organisation is situated within, that counts for the most when it comes to climate credibility.

In terms of both infrastructure and capital investment, much of the legwork necessary to get us where we need to be by 2050 will need to be put in over the next decade, so the message is clear: there’s no time to delay. If we’re to get the job done in the limited time available, not only do we need to continue pushing for rigorous regulation and global standardisation of metrics across the entire sustainability system, but we need to couple it with an open-minded approach that welcomes progress regardless of where it originates from. Only by pursuing these twin goals will we be able to harness the high impact, large-scale transformative change of the hardest-to-reach sectors whilst giving consumers, corporates, and investors the confidence they need to drive the clean energy revolution.

Now more than ever, it’s time to keep eyes firmly planted on the big picture and focus on constructive action. The next few years are certain to be full of innovation and progress, and we’ll achieve much more, much quicker, if we make room at the table for everyone.

29
Sep
Chloe Roberts

Is it time to challenge our perceptions of nuclear power?

Posted by Chloe RobertsTagged , , , , ,

The UK has a long civil nuclear heritage dating back to the 1950s. But reputationally speaking, the industry has a tricky past. In the court of public opinion, it has proven unpopular. Despite being stringently regulated, it is viewed as high-risk thanks to the incredibly steep upfront costs of building power sites – take Sizewell C at £22 billion – and sites are slow to build and decommission.

When we hear the word nuclear, we almost instantly think of the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. HBO’s drama Chernobyl also reminded us of the volatility of nuclear plants. Some believe there were a million fatalities from a toxic plume that spread across Europe in April 1986, although the UN directly attributes only 43 deaths to the disaster.

In our more recent history, a catastrophic chain of natural events resulted in a back-up power supply failure to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. A tsunami caused by an earthquake led to a radiation leak from the plant, forcing more than 150,000 people to evacuate from the area. There are a lot of mixed views about the impact of this leak, but the dominant reaction to it has been that of fear and uncertainty about the real human impact of such an event.

A slow shift in public discourse

It is hard to forget the past, and the words ‘nuclear’ and ‘disaster’ may be linked in public perception, in no small part because of disasters of the past and reporting in the media. But the tide is turning. According to billionaire philanthropist, technologist and climate change evangelist Bill Gates, nuclear energy is “absolutely” becoming politically palatable.

In a plan put forward last year, Boris Johnson’s government backed the development of “small and advanced reactors which would also lead to the creation of ten thousand jobs. The language around nuclear in the plan is noticeably cautious. What many may not know is that the UK currently generates 20 per cent of its electricity from nuclear – although almost half of current capacity is to be retired by 2025. There’s been a consistent decline in the amount of nuclear energy the UK generates since the 90s, mostly because of ageing plants. But things might swing the other way, or might need to, to manage the ongoing energy crisis.

Read more “Is it time to challenge our perceptions of nuclear power?”

19
Aug
Stand Agency

Reframing annual leave – a win for mental health, the environment and local businesses

Posted by Stand AgencyTagged , , , , , ,

Whether it’s our environmental conscience, Brexit-fuelled visa uncertainty or – yes, you guessed it – the pandemic, the way we are thinking about holidays has changed.

Firstly, we’ve been forced to reconsider how we approach annual leave. In the past taking days off from work almost invariably meant travel, often travel overseas. Over the past year of course things have been different, and the pandemic forced us to rethink how we use our annual leave entitlement. There’s a reason the Government makes it compulsory for employers to give their staff annual leave – and it isn’t because they want us to be catching flights to exotic locales! It’s because working continuously without any breaks is bad for productivity, results in poor mental health, and the risk of burnout.

The mental health benefits of taking time off are well-documented and understood. In 2020 many employers reported their staff weren’t using up annual leave, hoping to save it up for when international travel resumed. Sadly, for many, this wait wasn’t fruitful and just resulted in unclaimed holiday being lost, and months of break-free work. With this came the realisation that annual leave is more about a break from work than it is about travel.

Read more “Reframing annual leave – a win for mental health, the environment and local businesses”

07
Jun
Jevan Watson

World Environment Day; a farce or a timely reminder?

Posted by Jevan WatsonTagged , , , ,

World Environment Day took place this past Saturday, and in the run-up, many companies around the world plastered their social media accounts with posts about their drive towards net-zero or a reduction of single-use plastic. This is a small, but significant win – the fact that companies feel they need to be seen and heard in the green environmental space highlights a shift in mindset, not only by consumers but some of the largest corporations in the world.

We all know that we need to do more as a society – there isn’t an onus on one organisation or a set of individuals. This year, World Environment Day focused on our ecosystems to Reimagine, Recreate and Restore. This call to action comes as we are reminded of our situation, such as every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch.

Fundamentally, healing our environment and driving towards a net-zero future is a multifaceted task that requires more than just pretty pictures, flowing social media copy and pledges. It requires tangible action, and this is coming from someone that has a career in crafting this external messaging.

Read more “World Environment Day; a farce or a timely reminder?”

25
May
Georgie Howlett

Can fashion change its ways?

Posted by Georgie HowlettTagged , , , , ,

Clothes are wrapped up in our identity. What we wear says something about us – whether we care about that or not. Over the centuries, clothes have symbolised status. Our outfit can affect our mood. We have special clothes for special occasions. Clothes can be a socio-political statement. And some people can’t afford clothes.

For quite some time, second-hand clothing has been broadly seen as second-rate. There have always been those creative individuals with a flair for unearthing vintage gems in a charity shop, but now society is reaching a tipping point. As someone who is fascinated by human behaviour and how to encourage habits that help the planet, I have been watching this gather momentum over the last few years.

Motivated by ‘voting with their wallet’ and reducing their carbon footprint, individuals have already been pushing change within other sectors e.g. single-use plastics, organic or local food, fairtrade supply chains. But we’ve been a little slower on the clothing front because it’s a hard habit to kick. As I said, clothes are deeply connected to our identity. And the fashion cycle is strong.

But the impact of the clothing industry is becoming harder to ignore: 350,000 tonnes of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill each year in the UK, and it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans. Depressingly, the fashion industry is actually responsible for a huge chunk of global water pollution – it consumes more energy than shipping and aviation combined, and by 2050 is anticipated to be responsible for 25% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

Better late than never, second-hand is experiencing a much-needed makeover. Driven by early adopters and influencers like Michaela Coel and Maquita Oliver, demand is sky-rocketing, with Gen Z at the helm of social norming pre-loved. Brands are having to adapt to put sustainability at the top of the agenda. (The significance of purpose / ESG / sustainability in the boardroom is something that we’ve seen grow steadily with clients across all sectors.)

I’d like to offer some proof points that show businesses need to go beyond organic fabrics and ethical supply chains and embrace a truly circular approach:

  • While brands like Mud Jeans have pioneered circular thinking for some time, mainstream brands are now joining the movement. Cos, owned by H&M, has launched a resale service on its website, Asos has seen vintage sales rise by 92% and Asda announced recently that it will sell second hand clothing in 50 supermarkets
  • Trend-setting teens have been trading clothes on Depop, Vinted, and Nuw, and renting through apps like Hurr and ByRotation in rising numbers – younger generations are taking their thrift hacks and tutorials to TikTok
  • Websites and apps that sell used clothing, such as Loopster and Kidclo, are growing fast, and eBay has sold over 60 million used items in the last year

We’re not there yet, though. The global apparel market is worth $1.5 trillion and is growing. A recent article on Bloomberg highlights that “while #thrifthaul and #knitting have a not-insignificant 456 million and 478 million views respectively on TikTok, #Sheinhaul — in which users showcase purchases from the ultra-cheap, ultra-fast fashion store SHEIN — has 2.3 billion”. And despite Boohoo being exposed for serious ethical failings, it’s still trading and successfully.

The other behaviour to watch out for is that, with the pre-loved market easing the conscience, people will continue to buy new, under the premise that they will re-sell rather than throw away. Charities and leading voices in this sector need to keep the focus on starting with second-hand, rather than easing the psychological burden with ‘recycling’. In the end, recycling is the last of the three pillars around addressing our problem with waste – the first two are ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’.

But I’m optimistic. Sustainable habits are taking root, and even though this overhaul of the fashion industry will take more than one generation, it feels like a shift that is here to stay.

28
Apr
Lucy Chapple

A tale of two crises

Posted by Lucy ChappleTagged , , , ,

Introducing our new series, ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’.  

In his now famous speech to London’s insurance market in 2015, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, described catastrophic climate change as the ‘tragedy of the horizon’. Limiting global temperature increases would necessitate leaving valuable fossil fuel assets in the ground – a scenario with cascading implications for the energy sector, and investors and governments banking on future profits from those assets. Because the burden of climate change will be carried by future generations, the incentive to change felt ‘abstract’. The risks of inaction were real, he argued, but not immediate.

In the five years since Carney delivered this speech, climate change consciousness has steadily grown. 2019 was a watershed year for environmental activism. Warnings by the IPCC on the far-reaching effects of inaction, and new evidence of mass biodiversity loss, prompted the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’. Global protests led by Greta Thunberg and other young people around the world dominated the news agenda. ‘Our house is on fire’ Thunberg warned, urging international leaders to take decisive action.

In 2020, a new crisis emerged that was more urgent and more immediately catastrophic. The Covid-19 pandemic threatened to bring our healthcare system to its knees, to tank our economy, and to take the lives of society’s most vulnerable. As resources were redistributed to support international efforts to combat the deadly virus, some wondered about the impact of this new crisis on what we’d come to recognise as the moral crisis of our time – climate change. How could we sustain momentum to avoid devastating our planet, in the face of a health emergency devastating our people?

In our new series, ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’, we hope to uncover a deeper understanding of the impact of the pandemic on the road to net-zero. Exploring the nexus between sustainability and innovation, we’ll speak to business leaders to understand the role of green innovation in economic recovery efforts as we cautiously emerge from lockdown. Deep-dives into key sectors, from transport and mobility to financial services, energy and infrastructure, will reveal shifts in business strategy, attitudes and behaviour over the past year.

We look forward to sharing what we learn with you.

If you are a business leader in our network interested in contributing your thoughts, we are inviting guest submissions for this series and would love to hear from you. For those interested in checking out ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’, please subscribe to our newsletter for updates, at the bottom of our home page.

02
Mar
Georgie Howlett

Why ‘sustainability’ is falling short

Posted by Georgie HowlettTagged , , , ,

Before I get carried away, it’s pertinent to point out that this was first mooted nearly a decade ago. I am not saying anything new here. But like with any change, there are the early adopters, the pioneers, the people who have an idea almost too soon. Real change occurs a while later, at the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly put it.

Never has the welfare of our beautiful blue planet been so high on the public agenda. Maybe some businesses are talking about it because they’ve realised their customers are starting to vote with their wallets and they are only interested in the bottom line, and some consumers are choosing sustainable brands to look good among their peers, but ultimately, the tide is turning. And ultimately, do individual motivations matter if it makes an overall positive change (for the time being, anyway)?

One of the silver linings of Covid-19 is it has been a bit of a global reset of attitudes and priorities, prompting many businesses to take a long hard look at themselves and do better.  As I am in the business of language, I want to put the spotlight on the word ‘sustainability’ and ask if it’s enough.  There is a whole industry built around ‘sustainability’ and it is a vital one. The people working in sustainability, and the businesses championing it, are doing truly exciting work. They are shaking up old models, interrogating supply chains, and finding the path to net zero, or better, net positive.

But let’s look at the word. To ‘sustain’ in this context means to maintain, to keep at a particular level.  In fact, its definition is ‘to cause or allow something to continue for a period of time’. It’s passive. Haven’t we learned that this isn’t enough? Last year the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted how not being racist isn’t enough – standing by silently is not enough, and the rallying call to society was to take action for change to happen. It is very clear the action we must take now is to put things back, to rebalance, to regenerate the biodiverse soils and seas that we have ravaged. We’ve taken so much from our planet, that operating ‘sustainably’ is not enough.

Read more “Why ‘sustainability’ is falling short”