Welcome to a new decade! I trust you made some time over the break to ‘note your own learnings, set your own intentions, and define your own next steps’ as my business partner Mike Rowlands put it in his post closing off the old year. We need to dream boldly and let our imaginations run…
As well as enjoying some rest and time with friends and family, I came back feeling clearer about my hopes and aspirations for Junxion and how we can build a thriving business that accelerates the shift to a healthier, more equitable economy.
One interesting side-effect of a year ending in a zero is that it encourages thinking over longer timeframes than normal. People are asking ‘what do we hope for this decade?’ rather than what do we hope for this year. It’s a tough question: as part of our strategic planning service, we deliberately ask people to think ahead by a decade, because rare is the person who thinks they will be in the same role that far into the future. It’s liberating. And objective. So perhaps the conditions are set this new year for disruptive rather than incremental thinking.
Let’s hope we do better this decade than last. I think I’m on safe ground when I say that business hasn’t delivered on those “Vision 2020” sustainability strategies that were all the rage a few years back. Easy to say, harder to deliver on.
Bringing the vision to life
Smart companies know that to grapple with the scale of changes that are needed, they will need to work together.
Launched at the start of last year the B Corp Climate Collective is a group of more than 500 Certified B Corporations working together to take action on the climate emergency. As purpose-driven businesses, they’re identifying concrete steps to accelerate climate mitigation in three ways: as individual companies, through cross-sector collaboration, and through public advocacy. All the companies have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to reach a 1.5 degree trajectory leading to net zero by the year 2030—20 years ahead of the 2050 targets set in the Paris Agreement.
Collaborating to reach a bold target is an entirely deliberate effort: it intends to show leadership and to demonstrate that the change we need will only happen if we commit and follow through.
If you always do what you always did…
And there’s the rub: we need to see the follow-through. Back in August last year the US-based Business Roundtable was rightly lauded for calling for a rethink of the purpose of a corporation. They said it should now be to ‘promote an economy that serves all Americans.’ They mean one that does not put shareholders’ interests first, but considers all stakeholders—employees, the community, and the environment.
It’s a good start but of course those words need to be matched by actions. Are leading Business Roundtable members such as Chevron taking bold steps to match the rhetoric? Of course not. As recently as 2018, ‘Big Oil’ including Business Roundtable members ensured the defeat of a bill in Washington State to impose a low carbon tax of $15 per tonne emitted. Will they change their lobbying practices now they are committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders and managing for the long term? We remain skeptical.
It is up to us to keep the pressure on these businesses to demand change that moves towards a regenerative economy.
And there is evidence this week that pressure works. Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, writes an open letter to CEOs each year and has called for companies to adopt a social purpose. But in the meantime, Blackrock has continued to be one of the top three asset managers investing in fossil fuels. And they have increasingly come under pressure for their position not to vote for climate-related shareholder motions. But they have this week (January 9, 2020) become signatories to Climate Action 100+, a group of investors that calls for companies to show how they will reduce carbon emissions. So, it seems that pressure for change has compelled Blackrock to shift its position and demand more action from the companies it invests in.
As Greta Thunberg said at the recent climate discussions in Madrid (COP25): “”Without pressure from the people, our leaders can get away with not doing anything!”
And indeed, we all need reminding. Just this week my colleague challenged me on how we could make an audacious suggestion to one of our clients––to prompt them to go further and do what might be difficult but is necessary.
Being audacious starts with setting a bold vision but it is also about having the courage to follow through and make significant changes to your product mix. It is about being bold in changing policy and practice. And it means making investment decisions with the long-term in mind.
For us it means speaking truth to power and being willing to have the courageous conversations––among ourselves and with our clients––that will ensure we are playing our part and being the change we seek in the world.
As we enter this decade of delivery, courageous action is more important than ever. What is your bold vision of a world made better by your work? Will you grapple with the challenges of turning those fine words into a plan for real impact? It’s not easy but it’s on all of us to try.
Let’s Be Audacious Together….
Adam Garfunkel has been calling for companies to match their rhetoric with their actions over a 30-year career in campaigning and consultancy. Reach him at [email protected]