Author’s note: portions of this post also appeared this week as an Op-Ed in the Boston Business Journal.
I am writing this week’s Spark on the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day. It’s easy for me to remember how old Earth Day is because I was born a mere two months before it. At that time, companies could pollute at will and often did, dumping toxic smoke into the atmosphere and chemicals into waterways. There was no EPA. No Clear Air Act. No Clean Water Act. On the one hand, we’ve made incredible progress. On the other hand, things couldn’t be more dire.
Last week, the IPCC, a body not known for strong language, put it in the simplest terms possible. It’s now or never. We are moving too slow. We need emissions to peak in three years and then tumble by 50% in five years. Even with current commitments, we are on track for a 3 degrees centigrade rise. That sort of temperature rise would see our planet hit by “unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, and widespread water shortages”. Just ask the people of the lovely resort town of Durban, South Africa what the current “unprecedented storms” felt like, when at least 448 people died in floods this week that destroyed homes, highways and bridges. The citizens of Mozambique and Madagascar have already had three cyclones hit in three months. We are just at 1 degree right now.
So Earth Day celebrations are awesome, but we need everyday to be Earth Day. Businesses, communities and yes, you and me need to be doing something, every day, to reduce our emissions. But here’s the good news gained after spending 12 years working to engage people in sustainability efforts. For businesses and communities, we’ve learned that when done well, the return from these efforts can be transformational. Not only can they save money, they improve customer loyalty, attract new talent, and drive employee retention and performance. And for you and me at home? It saves money, improves our health, and brings a sense of empowerment against a situation that sometimes feels overwhelming and helpless.
So what should you do? At home, it’s actually quite simple and our friends at Sustainable Brands did the research to show the 9 behaviors that matter. I would suggest setting your own 50% target. Eat more plants. Be energy smart, especially with how you power your home (the fastest way to 50%+ is to switch to renewable energy). Drive less and go electric, especially if you have clean power. Reduce food and water waste by meal planning, composting, using low flow fixtures, and drip systems. Choose durable products that last a long time. Keep things out of the trash by recycling, selling, and donating. If you want to get more specific, measure your carbon footprint. Once you get it down, consider offsetting what remains by funding climate reduction projects around the world.
What should every employer be doing? Best in class sustainability programs start with a materiality assessment that includes Scope 3 emissions (those from employees, suppliers and the usage of your products or services). Then they set Science Based Targets, something only 13% of companies have done. The best companies then engage every employee in their efforts, which is like giving them a new set of sustainability glasses to see their world through. How?
It starts with education and awareness, increasing everyone’s ability to take action and propose new ideas, and continues with motivation. That could mean tying a component of every employee’s compensation to their sustainability goals, offering specific rewards, or increasing manager and peer recognition for great work on sustainability. Business leaders then need to nudge people, consistently, to keep making strides, to keep thinking, and keep sharing, taking a similar approach with other stakeholders, including customers and partners. When companies unleash their entire network onto your sustainability challenges, more, and better, opportunities emerge.
A transformational sustainability journey towards audacious goals, whether at home or at work, can take years. But you, and we, will be significantly better and stronger because you took it.
Quote of the Week: “All we have to do is to wake up and change.”Greta Thunberg
Published April 22, 2022 as part of Saturday Spark by Susan Hunt Stevens