Is there a silver lining to all this?
I’m sure like many of you, the developments over the last week have seemed nothing short of surreal. What started as a news story on TV has quickly become something affecting friends in Europe, to now something which is hitting home with work being affected, day care and school closed and people being told to stay at home.
What it has done is shown how quickly the world can respond when it needs too. And I think thats the difference here. The perception of need vs want. We see that we need to combat this virus so measures have been brought in by individuals (self isolation), whilst companies have brought in measures such as closing offices, stores and then governments have brought in hard borders, travel bans and fines for those going outside. The big shift here could be that we see what we as a human race are capable of if we work together and turn some of our desires and wants into needs.
What If we responded to climate change in the same way we are this virus?
We could see some huge shifts and ironically this virus could be the thing that teaches us this lesson. The threat of climate change is very real with some estimates are that in future up to 250,000 people could die each year from climate change in the form of malnutrition, heat stress and malaria.
I just finished a course with Harvard Business School “Sustainable Business Strategy” and they focused throughout the course on the role of companies, individuals and government to bringing in sustainable business practices to help solve climate change. Throughout the course they challenged us to think:
“Can companies make a significant difference to climate change”
Its interesting to think through that because you think about companies like Patagonia who have led the charge against climate change, against Dams (as below) even filing a lawsuit against the President because of his reduction in the size of the national monument in Utah. They have the reach and the means to be able to campaign for change without the issues of borders stopping them. They can also create movements of people who will actively support the change.
In the course another company they highlighted were Lipton Tea who shifted to an entirely sustainable supply chain including helping local farmers develop regenerative farmer practices. It meant that they had to spend $1.2 billion to make that switch, which they didn’t benefit from fiscally for the first few years, but eventually it paid off as they are seen as the market leader not only from market share but also from an innovation stand point developing better relationships with farmers and a better quality product.
They also focused on breaking it down into easy to understand bite sized chunks. I thought this commercial from PG Tips breaks it down pretty easily.
The beauty of companies like Patagonia, Lipton, Nike shifting their supply chains is that 157 of the top 200 entities in the world are corporations so don’t have the same borders as governments, so when they want to shift their practices, the effect across the world can be huge. Lipton have up to 70,000 suppliers within their supply chain so these shifts can really make a huge change.
Hand in hand with that they also asked “what role governments should play in tackling climate change?” and whilst companies can make a huge difference, to really enact change across all of humankind, governments need to do their part. When you asses the impact a government can have, bear in mind the % of pollution for the top 5 countries.
United States 15%
Now if governments really wanted to tackle climate change, the same way and with the same speed they are tackling Corona Virus they wouldn’t be just surcharging for plastic bags there would be wholesale change especially with the worst offenders. If any of you have been to Japan you will know the individually wrap each piece of fruit in plastic before putting it on the shop floor.
The clue here could be to look at the impact of the restrictions set in place by the Chinese government has without their intention actually helped the air quality in china.“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
I also saw this week that many resorts are closing this weekend for skiing and snowboarding. I do wonder the effect that may have on the glaciers this summer. I’m very guilty of this having trudged up many a glacier in June, where in general each morning you have thousands of cars driving up a winding road to get to the top and take a picture of how sad it is to see the glacier melting away. Its likely negligible in the short term, but imagine a concerted effort across multiple resorts for a few months a year. Yes it would impact the local economy in the short term but could that be part of whats needed to help do our part for future generations. I read a thread from Neil Campbell online and someone commented that “In Whistler 9 tonnes of sodium nitrate used per week in the summer to keep a cat road access alone. Madness.”
Again to see the speed at which the governments have reacted I do wonder what a concerted effort against climate change could look like.
For that to happen it does also require individual action. I saw a particularly horrible tweet from someone yesterday. I wish I’d saved the tweet saying “I’ll sat down for a long lunch in a busy restaurant and really took my time. Nothing will stop me because I’m American!”. That to me showed me one of the biggest issues that the US has. We need to realize every action we has and its consequence. So to my last area and the role of the individual.
We recently did a body of work at Nike around waste and wanted to start close to home. The coffee cup. We estimated that with 75,000 employees if each person has 1 cup of coffee every day in a disposable Starbucks cup that equates to 864 tonnes of trash going into landfill per year. Because you know Starbucks cups aren’t recyclable right? Not sure around the world but if you live in the US take a look next time and ask as they all go in the trash instead of recycling. We spread the word and eventually on campus they are now using reusable cups thankfully but you still see so many people with their single use coffee that they just had to get in the morning on the way to work.
We all have to realize the impact that our own actions can have upon the world, no matter how small.
So is there a silver lining to all this? Well, I’m hopeful. I certainly hope it teaches us the power of working together with each of us taking the role of a leader. Be it In our country or in our home to bring about real change for continued improvement of issues that we should be seeing as needs rather than wants especially when it comes to climate change, for all of our sakes.