In the new era of Trump-ism, it’s up to businesses to save us from climate crisis

As Trump’s transition period progresses, so does the evidence that he intends to reverse years of progress on climate crisis. First he claimed climate change is a Chinese hoax, then came the announcement about pulling funding from Nasa’s Earth Science Division. For anyone in any doubt, the appointment of climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, to lead America’s Environmental Protection Agency confirms we can’t rely on the world’s primary super power to help legislate against climate crisis.

 

The cry of many recycling refuseniks is: “don’t worry, the government will solve climate change”. But now that we’re living in a new world order where leaders with short-termist, self-interested views are being appointed, this mantra simply doesn’t hold weight anymore. When political power goes to those who can’t see beyond their own noses, governments can no longer be trusted to protect the planet. 

This means the climate crisis baton has unwittingly been passed to the business world. And, despite what shareholders may misguidedly think, it’s time to embrace that baton with open arms. Why? Because aside from the moral imperative, there’s an incredibly attractive commercial imperative too. 

Unilever, under the leadership of Paul Polman and Keith Weed, is on a mission to make sustainable living commonplace. Sustainability has permeated the entire business, from boardroom through to supply chain and shop floor. This is why the company is regularly credited for having pioneering ‘purpose’ initiatives. But Unilever isn’t a charity; it’s a business. And a very successful one at that: Unilever is a global company that’s doing incredibly well on the stock market. So there’s a commercial incentive at play here. 

Sustainability has become a fully paid-up member of the zeitgeist. People want to take action, especially at a time when governments aren’t. So if businesses can provide customers with sustainable options, they make it easier for people to feel they’re doing their bit. Perhaps this explains why Unilever’s ‘brands with purpose’ are growing at twice the speed of others in its portfolio. Here, finally, is solid proof that purpose pays off. 

Fortunately, Unilever is not alone in recognising the importance of having a social purpose. The B Team is an initiative calling for net-zero emissions by 2050. Alongside Unilever’s Paul Polmon, The B Team also features globally admired business leaders like Virgin’s Richard Branson and Tata’s Ratan Tata. 

You could be forgiven for thinking these titans of global commerce are in the enviable position of using their immense revenues to offset emissions. But you’d be wrong. The B Team also features a Chinese construction company, an African telecommunications group and a Brazilian cosmetics manufacturer. 

These lesser-known players could have opted for the Trump-style, short-term, quick buck view of make ‘em cheap and stack ‘em high. But they seem to have taken the wiser, longer-term view by hitting upon a crucial insight: not only does a lack of purpose endanger consumer relationships, it also limits the shelf life of a business. Why? Because there will eventually be no customers left in the world to support a business if we can’t protect the planet against the ravages of climate crisis. For the corporate world, the ultimate inconvenient truth is a simple but stark case of ‘no planet, no profit’.

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