Sustainability: It's time to overcome the barriers in business

Kate Howe is chief growth officer for Dentsu Aegis Network UK, working with the group’s portfolio of 20 agency brands to enhance their reputation and drive overall growth.

Previously, she was UK chief executive of DAN’s business-to-business agency, gyro. She joined gyro as managing director in 2014 when it was still an independent network, and led the agency through the 2016 DAN acquisition, as well as a merger with media group Interprise.

Kate’s career spans senior management roles both client and agency-side.

Amidst the Brexit confusion, the UK government has sought to calm green investor nerves by backing carbon cuts. Earlier this month, Amber Rudd, UK energy and climate secretary, announced the government will set out the fifth carbon budget in line with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change. The announcement proposed a 57 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels from 2027 to 2032, one of the most ambitious targets in the world.

Rudd’s announcement gives the renewables industry and investors more long-term confidence, but will need to be backed up by supportive policies that will unlock finance in much needed new energy infrastructure.

Still, while we’ve been hearing a lot about climate change lately, only half of business leaders in the UK have COP21 on their radar, despite the huge presence of big businesses at the UN Paris Climate Change Summit last year, according to new research, commissioned recently by gyro London. The results paint an intriguing picture with implications for not just businesses, but also the future of our children and grandchildren. Climate change is real, and it’s time we start telling its story.

Less than a quarter (23 per cent) of the businesses in the UK are not familiar at all with COP21, and 27 per cent are not very familiar, according to a study commissioned by gyro London and conducted by YouGov. The historical Paris climate conference took the pledge to not just keep the rise in temperature globally below 2°C, but also to secure a just, prosperous and healthy planet for future generations. The governments of 195 countries were joined in their ambition by more than 5,000 global companies to commit to corporate action on the climate challenge.

The survey polled 716 senior business decision makers including owners, C-suite and other senior managers, and it what if found was not very encouraging. There is still a long way to go, with most businesses lacking real understanding or even awareness of the issue, suggesting a need for much better communication on the impact of climate change on businesses.

The biggest barriers to taking action are the very pragmatic fears over business costs (42 per cent), and also concerns over increased government regulation and bureaucracy (26 per cent). More than a quarter (26 per cent) also question the relevance of climate change investments, and 22 per cent see no clear reasons or guidelines as to why businesses should help tackle climate change.

Millennials: A more active agenda

It is not surprising millennials have greater awareness of COP21 and a significantly more in-depth familiarity with the issues at hand — 38 per cent compared to 16 per cent amongst the over 35.

When it comes to barriers to change, millennials are most at odds with the over-35 demographic. For them, the biggest barriers in order of ranking (from high to low) include cost to business, public scrutiny, and concerns over the ability to track climate change initiatives because of their cumbersome nature. Public scrutiny is of least importance to those older than 35. This demographic is most encumbered by cost to business, red tape, and the perception that it is the role of governments and not businesses to lead climate change programmes.

Different sectors, different challenges

Business leaders from all sectors — retail, manufacturing, finance and accounting, and construction – are broadly united by their moral and ethical beliefs when it comes to climate change.

Cost to business and red tape remain the top barriers across all sectors to implementing climate change policies. Retail business leaders also question why businesses should help tackle climate change, with almost one-fifth (19%) stating there are no clear reasons or guidelines for them to do so. Additionally, the finance and accounting sector often question the relevance of investment in climate change (16 per cent).

Men are from Mars, women from this Earth?

Women are far more engaged with climate change than men, with greater focus around moral agenda and public awareness.

Female business leaders appear far more engaged with the moral agenda (45 per cent women vs. 36 per cent men). They also lead in public awareness to drive action on climate change (32 per cent women vs. 24 per cent men). Male leaders are more likely to question the relevance of business investment in climate change (27 per cent men vs. 19 per cent women), and are also more concerned about government bureaucracy (27 per cent men vs. 23 per cent women).

All told, the research highlights the need for urgency when it comes to businesses and climate change. What would make busy business leaders (especially marketers) juggling a multitude of daily challenges prioritise their sustainability efforts over and above their short-term pressures?

The study highlights identifies a broad spectrum of emotions such as fear and hopes that trigger or inhibit decisions around climate change. The question then becomes: How do we tap into these humanly relevant emotions in businesses to create a positive action around the big ambition of climate change?

Ultimately, we will have to reimagine our businesses to confront this climate change crisis. And the challenge for us as an ideas industry is to start building a narrative and unearthing the insights that will help create new behaviour towards a healthier and a more resilient planet, and ultimately, our future.

Kate Howe is managing director at gyro London

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