I am an investor and a citizen with a keen interest in and commitment to sustainability. It is important to me that my investments perform financially, but also that they support companies that are aligned with my values and are helping reduce unsustainability. In this respect, the UN SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals), The Stockholm Resilience Centre’s Planetary Boundaries and the Global Footprint’s Earth Overshoot reports offer some useful guidelines. Over the years, I have also sought out ESG (Environmental Social Governance) investor information and evaluations to try to better understand companies more worthy of my support, however, I have become increasingly frustrated and unimpressed by the insights they offer.
The problem is that the current dominant operating system for humanity is fundamentally unsustainable at this point in time and almost every company is operating in an unsustainable way. As such, ESG ratings comparing companies to one another are largely meaningless and simply identify the least bad offender. They are not pointing to worthy problem solving initiatives, but appear to be doing little more than applying ‘lipstick to the pig’.
The climate crisis challenge that now confronts us is large and urgent. Ready or not, the 2020s will be our decisive decade. It is our last opportunity to avert climate catastrophe and it has already begun. However, as a species, we humans can be hopeful. We are natural collaborators and have proven our collective strength as a species when we do so. Right now we have great talent, plentiful resources and sophisticated systems that we can harness and many of these are within the corporate world. We don’t have time for dramatic attempts to reinvent capitalism or bring on revolution and we don’t need to do either. We simply need urgent action to correct our planetary imbalances and this should by now be an essential part of every company’s ethos and part of its commitment to all its stakeholders: shareholders, customers, employees, community citizens and all nature.
To change the way a company operates requires the implantation of an authentic and transparent transition plan with clear targets to become more sustainable and reduce GHG emissions. As a citizen, customer and investor I want to be able to understand and support companies that are adopting such a transition plan. I want to know who is Greenworking and doing the useful work required to secure our future, rather than who is Greenwashing or Greenwishing their communications.
So, what does that look like? Well, to tackle the climate emergency the UN has specified we need to transition to net zero GHG emissions. They say the transition requires a reduction of 50% emissions during the 2020s decade, a further halving during the 2030s and complete elimination by 2050 at the latest. So, every company should now adopt and publish a Net Zero emissions transition plan which includes:
- Reduction goals for this decade of 50% and Net Zero by 2050 latest, with strategies to get there
- Accurate Real Impact measurements that recognise the scale of its contribution
- Regular transparent public reporting on its progress, including detailing both initiatives that succeed and fail to assist the acceleration of the overall transition of its industry and society as a whole
We do not have time for the luxury of simply blaming, shaming and boycotting high emitting companies. Sometimes high emitters provide current essential services and can be in the forefront of reduction initiatives. We need to be a little more sophisticated in how we evaluate company performance and look to work together more closely in collaboration to get the world out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.