Climate mitigation is a multi-lateral issue. There is no one-size fits all band-aid solution to solve Earth’s problems. But corporations in particular wield considerable influence over the state of global affairs. Can companies lead the charge on climate?
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There is no simple answer. Everyone is blaming everyone, but the truth is that as a society, we’ve all contributed to the problem.
Governments and politicians have collectively ignored climate scientists for years, reluctant to develop and enforce climate policies. Geopolitical tensions limit collaborative revision of how we live with our environment.
Giant tech companies, the energy sector in particular, reject taking responsibility for unprecedented emission levels while being the main source of it. They release regular sustainability reports and donate to charities, but most of their pledges remain such on paper only.
Media reports only on trending news, rating them by reading potential rather than coverage necessity. Everyone heard about the recent tragedy in Germany but few are aware of the Hunza Valley, Pakistan, suffering from the melting Himalayan glaciers for years.
Retailers produce more goods than ever. To justify aggressive marketing, brands shift responsibility to users, encouraging them to “make better environmental choices,” like select disposable packaging or reusable shopping bags. While a good move in general, it’s a drop in the ocean when it comes to taking on a global cause.
Eco-conscious marketers also forget that making such choices is often a privilege. You need to have time, money and emotional resources to think over big issues.
Climate talk is complicated
With the high level of unemployment and hunger spreading, people are occupied with day-to-day survival rather than environmental causes.
The privileged individuals with the time and resources rarely prioritize activism over other things. It’s fair to note though that activism itself is partially responsible for such neglect.
Many perceive activists today as hard-to-communicate with, aggressive, unreasonable and impossible to debate.
These factors lead to mixed communication and confusion. And the longer we’re addressing the issue with the wrong perspective, the harder it gets to find a solution. And it will never be an easy solution.
How Companies Can Prompt a Climate-Positive Shift
Securing a livable future requires bold climate goals and a collective effort to meet them. And corporations should be the first to step in: they already have power, money, public influence and resources to devote.
Instead of waiting for the proper legislation from the government, they need to start taking action today: small steps can eventually generate a significant effect.
Digitize where possible
Processes within the company that can be digitized should be digitized, documentary turnover first.
Paper accounts for 50% of total waste produced by businesses. Production of one kilo of paper requires 324 liters of water and 6,950 to 13,900 watt-hours. Over 53 billion tons of paper have been produced in 2021 alone.
The amount of resources spent on it is a luxury we can no longer afford, with the carbon crisis and 1.42 billion people worldwide suffering from water scarcity.
As with any other foundational step, digitalization requires big commitment, the more, the bigger the company. But big doesn’t mean impossible especially with modern technologies offering solutions for a smooth transition.
An example, the world’s largest renewable energy provider and recyclable wind turbine blade pioneer Siemens Gamesa started the digitalization of their onsite document management almost 10 years ago.
Now, they successfully use digital documents to run projects in 90 countries.
Using Fluix for digital documentary management, they replaced paper-based forms with digital equivalents at all stages, from contract to field inspection.
Apart from saving trees, digital documentation reduces business and inspection commute, decreasing emission levels.
The impact is proportional to the company size but small businesses should adapt paper substitution as well. Joint labor is what will make a shift to sustainability.
Prioritize Remote Work
More than a year of full or partial remote work has unveiled numerous challenges of such an agenda. Brands faced extra load on HR, performance management issues, employee burnout to name a few.
Now, many are trying to push people back to offices. Most workers though don’t welcome this initiative and not having to commute is the root reason.
People would agree to accept pay cuts, and give up days off so as not to return to the office. Even quitting is considered.
Personal convenience of the flexible hours put aside, remote work can bring environmental benefits. The math is simple: the less people commute by gas-operated vehicles, the lower the carbon footprint.
Instead of attempting to chain employees back to office desks, companies need to create a healthy hybrid environment, encouraging people to opt for it.
Healthy means providing support at all stages, offering mental assistance when needed, home-delivering all the necessary equipment and keeping corporate perks like child care or sports coverage available for remote workers.
Tools like Slack, Zoom, Krisp, TeamViewer, Trello, TimeDoctor, etc., make it possible to optimize working from home without harming personal and corporate KPIs. Senior employees who typically aren’t tech-savvy may need little help with them but it’s a quick investment that will pay off soon.
Remote work is definitely not a universal fit: construction, healthcare or aviation requires most of their teams on the field.
But IT, finance, marketing, and business management need to consider adopting remote work strategies for good.
Reduce Business Flights
Ask any C-level manager and they’ll say that a live 5-minute talk is often worth hours of online calls. To close a deal with a VIP client, many would take a one-day flight across countries and continents.
In say, a year, such corporate flights produce pretty much carbon emissions.
Microsoft, one the proclaimed climate justice warriors, is yet one of the world’s biggest corporate flight consumers. The company’s business trips account for emitting about 378,230 metric tons of CO2.
Bill Gates can promise to eat less meat to address climate change. But unless Microsoft limits flying volume, his dedication isn’t going to be much of a contribution.
And Microsoft isn’t the only one guilty of flight overuse: the problem applies to many corporations whose budgets afford regular air commute. But changes are needed.
Platforms for online calls, video conferences and meetings proved to be effective during the pandemic; there is no reason they can’t continue being so any further. The technologies are evolving at a great speed and now make digital communication feel as real as a talk over a coffee table.
Call quality though isn’t always the main reason corporations don’t give up on frequent flying. Status indication may be. A video call isn’t as prestigious as a VIP class ticket with a private check-in line at the airport.
It’s not something one shows off in front of the partners. But for the sake of a livable future, companies need to find other ways to display their authority.
Support Green Initiatives
Sustainability was a big 2021 trend across all industries. Urban architecture tends to floating parks and green public spaces. Multiple brands, from Volvo Cars UK to Audemars Piguet, turn to rewilding and restoration projects.
Microsoft and Google claim to be developing carbon-neutral data centers. Sony adds an energy-saving mode to its PlayStation 5. Renewable energy consortium Norsk e-Fuel promises to create Europe’s first plant for hydrogen-based renewable aviation fuel.
Although it’s too early to conclude which of them will prove to be effective or even implemented, the tendency should prevail.
From reducing greenhouse gasses of food production to designing eco-friendly air conditioning in buildings, any brand can find a way to commit, depending on its budget and capabilities.
Those who for any reason can’t go green with their own operations, can choose between plenty of green start-ups to support.
One of the new ones, Omani startup 44.01 promises to turn CO2 into rock, lowering its level already in the atmosphere. It has closed a $5 million round and even partnered with another carbon-capturing company Climeworks to develop large-scale solutions for carbon dioxide removal.
Such projects are marathons that will require time and financial investments over years rather than months. No all companies can afford such long-term expenditures but those who can should make it an investment priority.
If you take a peek inside offices of any major corporation, you’ll find there multiple sorting bins labeled Paper, Plastic, Glass and more. Office recycling is a new trend. Any brand proclaiming a focus on sustainability inhabits its places with sorting containers of all kinds.
But at the end of the day, most of these recyclables end up at the city dump. Offices make contracts with dumpster services rather than processing facilities and few track whether the garbage is actually delivered to the finish point.
When implementing a recycling strategy, the company needs to research the full trash cycle: where it’s shipped after the office, what plant processes it, where the reprocessed material goes after.
The not-so-old cases with H&M and Burberry burning old clothes instead of repurposing demonstrate that many recycling programs are mismanaged.
Simply separating cans from tea bags is not enough as long as the final result isn’t secured. Companies need to make sure the waste their employees sort so dedicatedly doesn’t terminate at the nearest landfill.
Promote Internal Climate Education
The sixth-assessment report by the IPCC vividly exemplifies why scientists feel unheard and misconceptions about climate change breed.
Even the most diligent climate activist probably hasn’t read through thousands of pages stuffed with numbers, concepts and perspectives. Because they aren’t scientists…
To raise climate awareness to the masses, messaging should be easy to perceive and digest. Instead of forcefully making everyone give up on plastic packaging, it’s better to provide workers with diverse options to get involved.
Many people are seeking for solutions beyond waste sorting. A good corporation’s duty is to provide opportunities for their employees to contribute to a healthier planet.
Iuliia Nesterenko is Ukraine-born, Berlin-based writer and rookie journalist. After getting a MA in English Literature, she has focused on writing about modern design, tech ethics and sustainability. In her articles, she reflects on how high tech reshapes the environment we live in and what it means to be a society with unprecedented access to technology.