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 It argues that blaming large corporations for the climate crisis is an outdated stance, and challenges the widely-accepted notion that big businesses are inherently on the wrong side of our fight against climate change.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.