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May 31, 2019

European Sustainable Development Week

Written by Lucy Hartley
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Since May 30, Europeans have been honoring European Sustainable Development Week (ESDW), an annual event that continues until June 5. During ESDW, everyone from businesses to individuals promote sustainability and raise awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through events, activities, and projects.

The SDGs consist of 17 focus areas for ending poverty and protecting the planet, and this year, some 2,041 events during ESDW address the same one area: climate action. Broadly speaking, the focus is on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Following high-profile protests such as Extinction Rebellion and the School Climate Strikes and urgent calls to action from the likes of David Attenborough, it’s no surprise the climate is the top of many people’s minds. But are we really doing enough?

Consider what American television scientist Bill Nye said about sustainability recently. Responding to American Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s claim that the threat of climate change is “50 to 75 years out,” Nye said, ““It’s not 50 to 75 years away — it’s 10 or 15.” Or consider what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: we have about 12 years to contain global warming or face catastrophic results.

These are difficult things to hear, but we all need to listen. And respond. Across Europe, businesses are taking action, as witnessed by the companies figuring out how to create sustainable products using no fossil fuels. Or the European companies such as Unilever participating in the global Loop initiative to make consumer packaged goods less wasteful. But we can always do better – consumers demand that we do -- and businesses need to be held accountable.

That accountability begins with us – businesses. By sharing our efforts to embrace sustainability – by developing communications programs to tell the world what we’re doing and how we’re doing it -- businesses:

  • Challenge each other to raise the bar for protecting the earth.
  • Hold themselves accountable by making a public statement. It’s one thing to try to live a better life – but when you tell the world the specific steps you’re taking to live a better life, you hold yourself to a public standard. There is no going back.

Over the past few months on this blog, we’ve been talking about some of the pressures for businesses to be more sustainable, such as responding to consumers, shareholders, and employees who want more from businesses than an exchange of goods and services. They want businesses to be more responsible, and they are willing to reward them. As Edelman reported in its 2018 Earned Brand study, 64 percent of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, an increase of 13 percent over 2017. Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, said, “It is a new relationship between company and consumer, where purchase is premised on the brand’s willingness to live its value, act with purpose, and if necessary, make the leap into activism.”

But more importantly, businesses need to be sustainable for the simple fact that if we fail to do so, we won’t have a future. So be sustainable. Embed sustainability in everything you do. Shout your story from the highest mountaintops. Participate in events such as ESDW. All these things matter. The stakes are too high to stay silent.

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