Tackling climate action – what can you do as a business executive?

I recently chanced upon an article that put Taylor Swift under the spotlight—not for her music this time, but for her carbon footprint. It claimed that her 12-hour, 5,500-mile flight from Tokyo to Las Vegas to catch the Super Bowl emitted about 40 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Another article also alleged that her jet-setting lifestyle has pumped out 138 tonnes of CO2 in only three months

But let’s zoom out for a moment, shall we?

It’s easy to get caught up in celebrity drama, but we must keep our eye on the big picture. Consider this staggering fact, for instance: 71% of all global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 are at the hands of just 100 companies.

What are we doing as business executives to combat emissions and address the climate crisis? Individual actions matter, no doubt, but we urgently need systemic change at the corporate level. We can no longer afford to ignore the impact of corporate accountability in addressing the climate crisis.

In this article, I explore how corporate decision-makers like us can play a crucial role by reducing plastic reliance and embracing sustainable alternatives at an organisational level. We have the power to change the narrative and take action for the collective good. 

Who is responsible?

When analysing an issue as widespread and pervasive as climate change, it can be tempting to point fingers elsewhere.  While individual action matters, it’s not enough to combat the crisis we find ourselves in. Over 99% of plastic is produced from fossil fuels, and shockingly – it spews out greenhouse gases at every stage of its life: from extraction to manufacturing to disposal.

If plastic production doesn’t slow down, emissions could hit 1.34 gigatonnes annually by 2030 – equivalent to about 295 new coal-fired power plants. By 2050, these emissions could skyrocket to over 56 gigatons.

It’s clear: the situation is dire.

Despite the fossil fuel industry’s role in worsening the climate crisis (or perhaps, because of it) it has continued to evade accountability by deflecting blame onto consumers. It’s been established that scientists at Exxon predicted the climate risks linked to fossil fuels with shocking accuracy as far back as the 1970s, but the company paid no heed to their revelations. Instead, they intensified lobbying efforts and rehauled their PR strategy to shift the blame onto consumers, instead of the producers. 

Simply put, individual consumers have been tricked into thinking that they are not doing enough.

At the same time, we cannot trust the industry to change overnight, especially given their long-dated awareness of the dangers associated with fossil fuels.

In fact, oil companies are doing very little of what they need to do to align with the 1.5° Celsius target. According to the nonprofit OCI, the world’s eight largest oil and gas firms lack adequate measures to meet even the 10 minimum guidelines for the 1.5°C target, highlighting significant shortcomings across the board.

As business executives, we have a crucial role in calling for large-scale, systemic action on the corporate and B2B side. We must advocate for widespread changes within our industries and hold businesses accountable for reducing their carbon footprints.

Corporate responsibility to initiate climate action

With climate change already triggering extreme weather events around the world and plastic pollution reaching dangerous levels, it can’t be business as usual anymore. Businesses must be aware of their environmental impact and take corrective measures to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Thankfully, some organisations are already setting the standard. Patagonia, in particular, is renowned for integrating sustainability into everything they do. With the clothing industry accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions, Patagonia takes direct action by embracing circularity. 98% of styles in their Spring 2024 line is made from recycled materials, which emit drastically less emissions compared to virgin materials.

Beauty giant Lush is also leading the way by using 90% of recyclable or compostable materials in their packaging. Moreover, they encourage minimal packaging in their stores – almost half of their products can be taken home without packaging, saving millions of plastic bottles annually. 

It’s also important to note that, soon, an environmentally-focused strategy may no longer be an option. With new climate disclosure regulations on the horizon worldwide, companies will face mandatory reporting. Draft regulations such as the Climate-related Financial Disclosure aim to standardise climate disclosure requirements, signalling to companies the importance of recognising and mitigating climate risks.

Your power as a business executive

Facing global challenges like climate change can often make us feel helpless as individuals. But there’s so much that we can do! As a decision-maker in your organisation, you hold the power and resources to adopt concrete strategies to align goals with emissions reduction. Now is not the time to shy away from responsibility. It’s time for companies to take action, safeguard against climate risks, and integrate sustainability into their business strategies.

Set clear emissions targets

Relying on vague, amorphous goals won’t get us anywhere. We must set specific and measurable emissions reduction targets. Ensure your company sets milestones on the path to achieving these goals and rigorously tracks progress. We should also avoid falling into the trap of relying on futuristic technologies like carbon removal and go for proven solutions we can implement today. No amount of carbon credits can substitute the real impact you can make by actually reducing your carbon emissions. 

Another key step you can take is to assess your supply chain’s climate exposure. Identify areas where sustainable alternatives can be implemented, such as sourcing materials, optimising packaging, enhancing transportation efficiency, and implementing responsible end-of-life practices. By analysing each link in the supply chain, companies can identify hidden opportunities to adopt sustainable policies. 

Advocate for policy change

Don’t underestimate the power of your voice, whether offline or online. By engaging in advocacy, you can help drive policy reforms that support climate action and environmentally responsible business practices. Don’t hesitate to reach out and collaborate with industry peers and policymakers to amplify your efforts. Collective action can make a significant impact at the local, national, and international levels in encouraging sustainability initiatives. 

Lead by example

It only takes a spark to ignite the fire of change. Your actions to address climate change at a corporate level can inspire other companies in your industry to follow suit. This can be done by educating and engaging stakeholders about the importance of climate action, encouraging transparency and accountability within your organisation, and ensuring that sustainability goals are embedded into corporate values and practices. 

Could collaboration be the answer?

To effectively combat climate change, we must push for close collaboration among businesses, governments, and NGOs. However, such partnerships come with their own set of challenges, including but not limited to coordination issues, ineffective delegation, and misaligned priorities. 

Often, climate policies are in direct conflict with international trade treaties, which can make execution difficult. There are also several countries under the Coalition of Rainforest Nations that house the majority of the world’s rainforests, grappling with their own economic struggles while facing the responsibility of preserving global biodiversity. In order to preserve these invaluable resources, we must recognise and address the complex realities.

Despite these challenges, we are witnessing success stories from around the world. The Katingan Mentaya Project in Indonesia is a great example of the power of public-private partnerships in fighting climate change. By partnering with local communities, this initiative uses carbon revenues to restore natural forests, protecting endangered species and peatland habitats. This has helped combat deforestation, attract climate finance, and make a significant impact on emissions reduction. As the largest program of its kind, it generates 7.5 million carbon credits annually – equal to removing 2 million cars from the road each year. 

Final Thoughts

Fellow executives, this is a call to action. I believe we can make a huge impact by embracing sustainability at a corporate level. Our mission at Planet Protector is to help businesses cut their Scope 3 emissions through our circular packaging WOOLPACK — a sustainable thermal solution made from 100% waste wool. I am proud to share that WOOLPACK has already replaced over 15 million polystyrene boxes and diverted 7220 tonnes of wool from landfills! 

I’d love to know your perspective. What are your thoughts on individual vs. corporate responsibility?