Alison Shaw
North East Initiative on Business Ethics (NIBE)

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The Climate Emergency - My Business or Someone Else’s?

There is little need here to rehearse the facts or provide more evidence that we are not on the brink of global disaster as a result of mass climate complacency; the disaster has begun and is growing in scale. Apart from a few notable exceptions, most of us have now accepted that it’s a real thing. It’s happening.

What is perplexing is why more of us don’t appear to be doing much about it. Perhaps we don’t know what we ought to do first; perhaps there is confusion between climate warming and air pollution; or perhaps we just feel that anything we do choose to do will be futile anyway and so probably isn’t worth the effort.

Back in the spring, I gave a talk; it wasn’t particularly good, but it grappled with this recurrent issue of our moral agency as individuals in the face of apparently insurmountable challenges. In the case of climate, can one tiny person among the 7.7 billion or so of us possibly make the least difference to the seemingly inexorable destructive course which we humans have set for our world?

I argue that each of us indeed can - but that if we are part of or lead an organisation, we have a much greater opportunity to make a difference and therefore a greater responsibility to try.

This includes business. A business is, by its nature, a purposeful organisation. Regardless of the products or services it trades in, it is bound to have expertise in persuasive communication. I can think of none which does not.

Is this, then, not a vehicle for those people within it to multiply and amplify their potentially insignificant individual impact into something more powerful, collaborative and influential? Leaders in business can empower and engage their people - indeed a driven individual can take the lead from within. Either way, collective effort, as most of us will have experienced at some time, not only has impact but is encouraging, inspiring and often, when we need it to be, comforting.

Whether your business takes action to help its people see the value in turning the heating down; in only making car journeys if they are really necessary; in limiting air-miles and rejecting the ‘frequent flier’ premium; or in examining the investment policies of pension funds, it IS worth doing. There will be a small but real impact.

However, the greater premium is on actively channelling our eco-anxiety – more often than not a ‘first world’ malaise for the worried well – into generalised behaviour change.

That the circumference of our small and beautiful planet is less than twenty-five thousand miles round jars in a shocking way with the number of carbon miles each of us generates, certainly in the northern hemisphere. For those people concerned about the number of children increasingly struggling with their breathing or the figures on pollution-related morbidity and mortality, this is equally the case.

‘Once the penny drops’, says Sir David, ‘you have to act’. Businesses can help the penny drop, so that more of us understand that we can and must change how we live and we can realise many ways of doing it, supported by the knowledge that others around us are doing it, too.

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