Leading consumers to carbon neutrality

December 07, 2006

The onus is very much on business to lead consumers to carbon neutrality, argues Chris Perceval of Earthwatch. Let 2007 be remembered as the year your company showed the world how to act.

2006 was the year when scientific (An Inconvenient Truth), political (Nairobi Conference of the Parties) and economic (Nicholas Stern’s report) aspects came into relief with the sense that individuals are now morally responsible to do something about climate change.

It was the year when if you – as a company or as an individual – were asked: “What’s your carbon footprint? What are you doing about it?” and you turned the other way, you were branded ignorant and out of touch.

2006 was also the year when the mean UK temperature was 12.6 degrees C, nearly one whole degree higher than the previous highest figure recorded in 1730 (Met office provisional results).

A new moral order is being set and it’s your business responsibility that it is set in time (and in budget). Consider this:

  1. Individual consumers aren’t changing their behaviour enough to stem rising global temperatures. People’s understanding does not always lead to action. For example, while 80% of the public are concerned about climate change and 65 % claim that they would buy energy efficient light bulbs as a way of responding to the problem, 10% actually do ( Co-operative Bank). Even in schemes held up as fine examples of consumer choice, the uptake of climate-friendly options seems pitifully low. For example, only 10% of Lastminute.com customers who are forced to make the choice on whether to offset their flight emissions choose to do so (Climate Care).
  2. Government regulation does not ensure the most climate-friendly consumer choices are always made. Driving energy efficiency remains the cleanest, easiest and safest way to begin combating climate change and has been a high priority for the UK government. However, according to the Energy Savings Trust, sales of top rated refrigerators (A+) still only account for 4% of total sales. Friends of the Earth publicly celebrated the announcement by the Queen of the UK Climate Change Bill, which will be debated in the current session of Parliament. Most obvious, however, is the failure of government to curb consumer spending on aviation and carbon intensive production in China, India and Canada.
  3. In 2007, business has a responsibility to further change the moral landscape in promoting action amongst consumers to combat climate change. Niche markets that are climate-friendly are growing at an encouraging rate. For example, consumer spending on energy efficient technologies increased by over 20% in 2005. Over the same period, micro-generation products increased by 360% (Co-operative Bank).

A response commensurate with the challenge of climate change will require wholesale changes in strategy from all sectors. We recommend that business at least starts to:

  • Analyse, review and exclusively select low carbon intensive suppliers even where there may be an associated cost. This is important in order to lead the market towards climate-friendly products across all lines.
  • Integrate obligatory offsetting into the purchasing decisions of customers, wherever possible. Being upfront and clear about the real importance of offsetting as a part of responsible consumption is an important stance for all business to take.
  • Assess the real contribution that development of new products and services can make towards mitigating climate change. Managing climate change impacts should be central to innovation, research and development.

2007 must be remembered as the year that your company showed the world how to act.

Otherwise, we’re all out of business.

Earthwatch Institute is an international environmental organisation whose mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. Earthwatch currently support over 130 field research projects worldwide.

Earthwatch’s Corporate Environmental Responsibility Group (CERG) is a platform for enhancing good practice amongst the business sector. CERG members benefit from: networking and shared learning with other companies committed to good environmental practice; stakeholder dialogue through report/policy feedback services and disseminating good practice through presentations at Earthwatch seminars.

Chris Perceval is Corporate Development Manager at the Earthwatch Institute. He promotes sustainability in extractive industries and other partnerships advancing biodiversity, climate change and supply chain issues. Previously, Chris worked with corporate citizenship issues for the United National Global Compact, The International Business Leaders Forum and Business in the Community. For two years before joining Earthwatch, he also worked as a risk analyst for ENI, a multinational oil company.