Uniting on the climate: the businesses working together to help the planet

Climate change is no longer an issue that smart businesses can ignore. A recent academic paper on the climate emergency, co-signed by 11,000 scientists around the world, urged businesses as well as governments to read the “vital signs” and take action. Professor William Ripple, lead author of the paper, told the Energy Advice Hub: “Action by businesses around the world is the key ingredient in our collective effort in tackling the climate crisis.”

In response to that paper, we’ve already listed some suggestions for how businesses can act to reduce their carbon footprint. Many companies have the potential to make drastic reductions, in both percentage terms and absolute terms. But the business community is showing an appetite for going further than this, with a growing trend for businesses to come together in support of climate action.

This summer the International Chamber of Commerce launched the Chambers Climate Coalition, a platform for chambers of commerce and other regional business associations around the world to demonstrate their commitment to climate action. So far, 2,100 business organisations have signed up to “add their voice to the call for world leaders to take action”.

In the United States, one catalyst for cooperation was President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. 900 companies across all 50 states formed We Are Still In, an organisation committed to upholding the terms of the agreement. Since it formed in 2017, We Are Still In has grown to include more than 2,100 investors and companies. Members share their commitments and how they’re progressing on them; for example, Apple has committed to powering its global facilities with 100% renewable energy.

At the UK level, some of the most significant climate action in the business community is happening through existing business organisations at regional level. Business West, representing 23,000 businesses across the south-west of England, is one of the many business organisations to join the Chambers Climate Coalition and commit to its goals. But this is just one step in a robust climate action plan that predates the Chambers Climate Coalition’s existence by several years.

Business West has been leading on the issue at a regional level for quite some time. For example, in 2015 it launched the Go Green scheme, which inspired a thousand businesses across the region to adopt sustainable practices. It has backed many other effective regional schemes, such as the Travel West Commuter Challenge and the Bristol Green Partnership.

Phil Smith, managing director of Business West, told the Energy Advice Hub: “As an organisation with a 200-year history in this area, the long-term sustainability of this region is our paramount concern, which is why we play an active role locally in challenging businesses to make better choices.” Schemes such as Go Green are backed up with pragmatic advice and information on how member businesses can reduce their footprint.

Of course, reducing your individual footprint doesn’t bring about systemic change – but a lobbying voice can. Phil Smith explains: “We believe that a collaborative, collective approach is key. As the trusted voice of business in the region, we engage regularly with ministers, MPs, senior civil servants, NGOs and council officials to fight for the changes businesses want to see.
In the past we have used our scale and influence to champion and lobby for a variety of green and progressive causes at a local, national and international level, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

The sheer scale of the climate change problem can be paralysing, making it seem that effective action is impossible. Phil Smith again: “Climate change is bigger than individual businesses, communities or governments. It requires a change in the mindset at every level globally, so the task is enormous! For many, the wording of the United Nations plan can seem grandiose and distant, so it’s part of our role to take and translate them into things ordinary south-west businesses might do tomorrow.”

The trend for businesses to cooperate in taking initiative on the climate crisis is growing. The successful track record of regional business organisations brings to mind the old saying: “Think global, act local.”