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Toby Howell BA PGDip

The Environment vs Business: A Story About Achieving a Greener Future

May 2022

SUMMARY:  

1. There is a vast corporate responsibility to combat climate change pro-actively. However, there have been accusations of greenwashing against some of the biggest companies in the world.  

2. There is growing consumer discontent towards reactive rather than proactive corporate attitudes in combatting climate change.  

3.  Carbon offsetting is the most efficient and widespread action for big businesses to combat emissions.  

4. If companies don't do enough, expenditure costs could rise exponentially due to climate change.  


How do you measure right from wrong when your divine mission is to make money at any cost? In today's modern age, we continue to be appalled by examples of corporate greed. How does big business contribute to the all-important environmental mission today? In this blog, we will analyse how companies have begun to tread the line of profit and environmental responsibility and their reasoning.  

The somewhat one-sided relationship between big business and sustainability has been heavily investigated in recent years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that big money corporations worldwide have been manipulating their carbon emissions to look on course to meet their net-zero pledges. Fresh accusations against several major oil companies are only some of the latest damning revelations which have muddied more corporate water.  

Climate change is one of the most prevalent topics today, with international outcry meeting companies with high emission rates. Such pressure has blurred corporate intention. Climate change is widely regarded as a double-edged sword for big business. If companies can successfully follow through on emission cutback pledges, their reputation has the potential to skyrocket. However, failing to make pledges could be perceived as failing to adapt to progressive, environmentally-friendly practices.  

As of 2017, before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer attitudes were heavily behind companies that supported sustainability. A report published by CONE found that 73% of Americans would stop purchasing from a company that doesn’t care about climate change. It has become necessary for companies trying to avoid a direct public relations disaster to have a noticeable, proactive approach to climate change or risk backlash. 

This backlash has stemmed a new level of Corporate Social Responsibility, a form of giving back to the local community. Do companies give back because it's the right thing to do or for public relations? It could be subjective from company to company, but we will never honestly know. The demand for a more environmentally friendly business is good; however, it can draw out problematic characteristics from organisations whose priority is the bottom line.   

Pressure to adhere to more environmentally friendly practices has also come from the government. Notably, the UK Government have pledged to reach Net-Zero by 2050. If the UK is to accomplish Net Zero, UK big business will need to play its part. According to the Climate Accountability Institute, "four global businesses have been behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965". 

As explored previously, one of the most popular ways businesses reduce their environmental impact is by offsetting their carbon footprint. All that is required is for companies to calculate their emissions and then match the number to a myriad of environmentally friendly projects that detract from their emissions.  

Why is it only now companies worldwide are offsetting? Why are companies (allegedly) not meeting their Net-Zero targets? One simple reason could be cost. Offsetting can be extremely expensive depending on the amount required to offset. Integrating greener mechanisms, such as renewable energies, is costly in the short term. Justifying potential losses can be met with negativity from shareholders and stakeholders looking to receive maximum return on their investment. There is, however, a slow, gradual understanding being reached in boardrooms around the world; adapt or receive environmental notoriety.  

There is one other potential reason for a recent surge in activity; climate change could cost more than corporates might imagine. One report suggests businesses could face paying "$1 trillion in costs related to climate change in the decades ahead" unless they become greener. Companies are now beginning to incorporate the effect of climate change in their expenditure costs. One of the most notable examples is Hitachi Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer. They claim increased flooding in Southeast Asia could potentially knock out suppliers and that it was taking defensive measures as a result.  

Businesses are beginning to understand it is now or never. So, what next?  

The momentum will only push more and more companies to become proactive. Companies that fail to understand the urgency required could face vilification from media outlets and consumer groups. World leaders are promoting unification in the fight against climate change through events such as COP26. It would seem to be very much in the interests of businesses not to get left behind and face the potential wrath of a public relations disaster. Therefore we remain encouraged that corporate attitudes are firmly behind the progressive environmental agenda helping to establish a greener future. 

Final Takeaways: 

1. Consumer power holding big business to account for years of inactivity and false pledges.  

2. The Cost of inactivity could be far greater than that of carbon offsetting, which could intimidate more companies to increase their environmental efforts.  

3. Businesses that fail to adapt could face a substantial outcry from the media and public. The risk is not worth not being proactive. 

 

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