Christian Arno

Prove you mean business: how big business can expand its sustainability agenda to drive global change

9 min Read
Close up of purple flowers sprouting from a snowy mountaintop

In late 2020, the Financial Times published a piece called ‘Big business is no longer the planet’s biggest problem’. It argues that blaming large corporations for the climate crisis is an outdated stance, and challenges the widely-accepted notion that big businesses are inherently on the wrong side of our fight against climate change. 

This was a plucky angle to take, considering that global attitudes toward ‘big business’ weren’t exactly favourable. Articles with titles like ‘100 businesses are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse emissions’ are constantly making the rounds on the news and social media—and understandably so. 

Multinationals are certainly not blameless, but the article’s author makes an interesting point: many of these business giants have actually shifted their attitudes towards climate change in recent years, and are committed to operating more sustainably. 

For instance, the Science-Based Targets Initiative makes it easy to see which companies are stepping up to the plate and making carbon reduction a priority. Indeed, their database shows that the likes of Walmart, IKEA, Heineken and Coca-Cola have all committed to reducing their emissions to align with 1.5 degrees Celsius targets. ‍

Engaging your supply chain

In addition to its stance on big business, another key aspect of the article jumped out at me. The author goes on to discuss the importance of engaging mid-tier suppliers and employees as part of any business’ sustainability agenda. 

In 2019, there were 5.9 million SMEs registered in the UK in 2019—accounting for over 99% of all businesses. Many of them don’t feel the pressure to adopt SDGs or CSR policies, since these can be seen as costly and complicated. 

Plenty of these SMEs, however, make up the supply chains for big multinationals. According to CDP’s 2019 Global Supply Chain Report, supply chain emissions can be up to 5.5 times more than a company's direct operations. This means even if a big business is smashing its own emissions targets for scope 1 and 2, there’s still plenty of carbon entering the atmosphere under their scope 3 emissions.

It’s my view that big business must therefore be the ones to galvanise the SMEs along their supply chain to become more sustainable—becoming a force for positive change, if you will.

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In a world where investors will only invest in, customers will only buy from, and talent will only work with businesses that are green at heart, aligning suppliers to internal sustainability goals just makes good business sense.

Making climate part of everyone’s job

As for engaging employees: well, this is one issue that’s close to my heart. Bringing employees in on their company’s journey to net zero is Pawprint’s mission. If you’re looking to embed sustainability into your company ethos, making climate part of everyone’s job is one of the most powerful ways to go about it.

By ensuring that green thinking is the order of the day, your business can unlock both profit and innovation, and get a competitive edge over peers in the industry. Moreover, helping employees reduce their work emissions will make a dent in your own scope 3 emissions, and attract some of the best and brightest talent to your side. 

None of this will be easy, but what will you have to show for it at the end? A future proofed business, and a company legacy on the right side of history. 

In summary

I urge big businesses to consider their scope 3 emissions. Think about your suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders that might have been omitted from your sustainability agenda to date. The further your reach, the closer you are to creating a future in which both your business and the planet can thrive.

Ultimately, a green revolution is needed, and it’s needed fast. Judging by the speed of the digital, internet, and mobile revolutions, this is something that big business is more than capable of.

‘The same force that powered the last period of global change can also power the next.’ — Our Planet: Our Business, 2020

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