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January 07, 2019

A call to action for sustainability

Written by Lucy Hartley

Sustainability is important because it's no longer a choice for businesses – it’s a mandate. The reality of this was recently underscored in a Harvard Business Review article from author and consultant Andrew Winston, “The Story of Sustainability in 2019: ‘We Have about 12 Years Left.’” In the article, Winston examines the themes in sustainability that will have a lasting impact, as well as the hard questions we all need to be asking of ourselves, business, and leaders.

The Bad News

Winston reminds us of an important study issued in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that the world has only 12 years to contain global warming or else face catastrophic results. As he writes:

We have about 12 years left. That’s the clear message from a monumental study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avoid some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, the world must slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and completely decarbonize by 2050 (while, in the meantime, emissions are still rising).

The IPCC looked at the difference between the world “only” warming two degrees Celsius (3.8°F) — the agreed upon goal at global climate summits in Copenhagen and Paris — or holding warming to just 1.5 degrees. Even the latter, they say, will require a monumental effort “unprecedented in terms of scale.” We face serious problems either way, but every half degree matters a great deal in human, planetary, and economic losses.

And we’re not just talking about environmental impacts – climate change is also a major economic threat. As Winston observes in the piece, “Thirteen U.S. government agencies issued the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which concluded that climate change could knock at least 10% off of GDP.” Indeed, he notes that the cost of climate related damage to the U.S. in 2017 alone was $306 billion.

The Good News

These words hit home for me especially because I recently blogged about the need for corporations to embrace sustainability in order for their businesses to survive. Winston raises the stakes by urging corporations to practice sustainability in order for entire societies to survive. But his article also reports good news. For example:

  • Clean technology is getting less expensive and more affordable. Corporate buying of clean energy is rising.
  • Investors continue to pressure corporations to be sustainable (an issue I discussed in my blog).
  • Businesses such as Apple are working with their suppliers to be more sustainable.

French consumer products company Danone has become the world’s largest B Corporation (i.e., businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose). Danone has put 30 percent of its brands and businesses through the certification process.

He predicts that in 2019, “ . . . companies will continue to feel pressure, internally and externally, to do more on social and environmental issues.”

I agree. It’s clear that being a sustainable business is not a political gesture. Being sustainable is the only way to be – and remain – a business that is in business. There is no alternative approach.

What You Should Do

As I noted in my own post, not only do businesses need to be more sustainable, they also need to effectively communicate their commitment. That’s because investors, customers, and employees demand transparency and are actively seeking out companies that align with their values. They will penalize companies that fail to show how sustainable they are and reward the ones that have put a public stake in the ground. For example, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association, 68 million adult Americans base purchasing decisions on their values (personal, social, and environmental) and will spend up to 20 percent more on environmentally sound products. And according to Morgan Stanley, millennials are 2X as likely as the overall investor population to invest in companies targeting social or environmental goals.

At Investis Digital, we often work with companies to create strategies and marketing/communications programs that communicate their sustainability commitment to investors, customers, and employees. As a next step, we suggest assessing your corporate brand to better understand gaps and opportunities around leveraging your story to drive business impact. Contact us to learn more.

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