Businesses are waking up to the risks of a warming, polluted planet. Under increasing pressure from investors, customers, and NGOs, CEOs are realizing they will have to pay as much attention to climate change as to traditional business risks like political turbulence or competition.
Food and beverage companies are particularly in the spotlight for their contribution to growing plastic waste. Greenpeace activists disrupted Nestle’s Annual General Meeting this month saying Nestle’s single-use plastics are polluting landfills and oceans, driving home the point with a video showing a fictional “Nestle Chief Plastics Officer” sprayed with dead fish and slimy waste.
Climate change is even on the agenda of online retailers. In the largest employee-driven movement on climate change in the tech industry, this month more than 4,000 employees of online retail giant Amazon demanded the company make clear commitments to reduce its carbon footprint across its vast operations. They also insisted the company stop custom cloud computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels.
Growing alarm over environmental issues has inspired an accelerating movement of global student protests, building pressure on both government and business leaders. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, WWF reported recently. Scientists say we are in the midst of the Sixth Mass extinction, the first to be caused by humans. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in October that the planet’s temperature increase will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius by as early as 2030, boosting the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people. It urged governments and companies to act faster to address these threats.
Governments and business react
This increasing pressure is already reflected in changing legislation. The European Parliament last month approved a law banning a range of single-use plastic products by 2021. The UK government announced a tax on any plastic packaging with less than 30 percent recycled content, beginning in April 2022.
Business leaders are also working on comprehensive strategies to address environmental risks and impacts. Slick sustainability reports with broad commitments to lowering carbon footprints are no longer enough to appease stakeholders. Instead, it’s about moving from a linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy to a disruptive circular economy – using systems thinking to ensure responsible sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and recycling and reuse throughout the supply chain.