All the political indecision about who – if anyone – will represent the UK at the COP27 climate summit starting this weekend in Egypt is somewhat disappointing. Especially since COP26 was held in Glasgow only 12 months ago and is considered a success. Newly-elected Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has now found time in his diary for his attendance, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but unfortunately the way he has decided speaks volumes for the politicians way – because they tend to deal with all the tough issues – to defer any concrete action on climate change in favor of more pressing issues. To be sure, Sunak’s challenge is quite daunting. But even these arguably pale in comparison to climate change.
Notably, Earthday.org, an organization that grew from the first campaigns in 1970 to demonstrate the importance of protecting the environment, announced last month that for the first time since the campaign began, next year’s Earth Day will continue . This year’s theme – Investing in our planet. Kathleen Rogers, president of Earthday.org, said in a statement: “In 2023, we must once again come together to work together for the planet. Businesses, governments and civil society equally have a responsibility to act on the climate crisis and ignite the spark, Accelerate the transition to a green, prosperous and equitable future. We must all work together to fight for the green revolution and the health of future generations. Now is the time to invest in our planet.”
Fortunately, some business people—though clearly not enough—are ready to take a longer view than politicians. Yvon Chouinard’s recent announcement that he and his family will abandon the company he founded, Patagonia, in order to use all of its future profits to fight climate change and protect undeveloped lands around the world is clearly an extreme example. This is in keeping with the maverick approach of Chouinard, who has always described himself as a reluctant businessman. In an interview at the time of the relocation, Chouinard expressed hope that it might “influence a new form of capitalism”. But in fact, he and his colleagues have encouraged many other businesses to take the environment seriously.
Twenty years ago, Chouinard and Blue-Ribbon Flies outdoor partner Craig Mathews launched 1% for the Planet to encourage businesses to donate at least that percentage of their income to efforts to protect the environment. What started as an initiative by a handful of like-minded outdoor businesses has grown into a large organization of 5,500 corporate members spanning some 65 different industries. More than half of its members are now located outside the United States, up from 20% in 2015. In the two decades since its inception, it has overseen $435 million in support of sanctioned environmental projects.
CEO Kate Williams explained in an interview that a key part of the organization’s activities is accreditation. It does not directly fund projects. Instead, it encourages businesses to connect with the appropriate recipients of funding and ensure businesses are actually delivering on their 1% commitments and checking that projects are doing what they say they do. In this way, it says it’s helping fight “greenwashing,” where businesses claim to be doing more than they actually are.
But Williams also believes that policies that encourage companies to provide funding in the countries in which they operate could foster greater engagement with environmental groups by involving employees. She hopes the group’s success – with a growing number of service businesses as well as manufacturers and retailers proudly displaying the 1% mark on their websites – will encourage greater philanthropy in the industry. She noted that charitable giving to environmental causes is relatively rare, although research suggests there is a need.
As with many issues today, business appears to be ahead of politicians when it comes to climate change. It is said that one of the problems with politics today is that political parties put voting above principle. That might explain some policy, but when it comes to the environment, the public seems to care more than politicians think. So when the hapless Liz Truss announced that it would ease the ban on shale gas fracturing, there was an uproar, and her successor reversed another policy. But businesses — even those heavily involved in fossil fuels — know how their customers feel. Not all claims about their activities come under scrutiny, but they make them because they know what the public expects of them. For many politicians, this is more than can be said.