Earth Day – The responsibility for business to impact culture change

With a growing interest in recent years in the environment and climate change, I recently signed up and completed Scotland CAN B’s Impact Economy Advisors Training.  This programme aims to influence Scottish businesses and organisations to adopt an “impact driven” business model.  This involves business advisors working with organisations to own and address their environmental impact and ensure they have a positive social impact within their communities.  This highly engaging and informative 1-month programme has connected me to some inspiring individuals and stirred a lot of thought around decarbonization, circular economy and the need (and method) for a just transition.

The SCANB course not only sets the strategic context around sustainability and case for change but gives practical tools to support businesses to assess and address their impact on environmental and social issues.  Much of the case for change is widely known and understood – there are plenty of David Attenborough documentaries on Netflix only a click away that highlight the climate crisis.   So, what made this programme so profound for me, changing the way I think about the climate challenge? It took the crisis from a macro-level concern to a personal level, relevant to me and the businesses I work with. The participants were challenged to use various tools and models including impact business models, the three horizons model, and theory of change to assess their native businesses (or businesses they advise) and put appropriate plans and KPIs in place.  This brought all of the learning to life and made it meaningful.  The excellent delivery from the SCANB team and the contribution from highly engaged peers on the cohort made the messaging really resonate. Even a few months later, it continues to percolate in my mind.  Perhaps because the programme coincided with the addition of a new member to my family, I have been thinking a lot about how I must act now and do things differently to create a better future for my sons.  

The work at SCANB targets a tipping point for Scotland where a positive social and environmental culture becomes embedded in our society to the point where not only businesses are responsible and impact driven, but individuals adopt different behaviours at work and at home as well.

I am fully behind SCANB on its mission to influence Scottish businesses and individual advisors but I can’t help wondering what is stopping more companies and organisations from improving their culture and making better environmental and social decisions now? Of course, there are huge pressures in a post-pandemic world full of instability but that hasn’t stopped everyone.  At AAB Consulting, we support many start-ups through various stages of growth and it's truly inspiring to see the number of young companies who take environmental and social impact so seriously.   Many to the point of making it a core purpose of their business model by seeking B Corp certification.  To me, the greater challenge is with large businesses and organisations.  There is some great work being done by big-business – particularly in sectors such as energy and transport - but this simply isn’t occurring as quickly or widely enough for the challenges we now face.

Many organisations are simply greenwashing or waiting for new markets to open up based on incentives / disincentives to adopt circular models.  Others are pledging to become Net Zero but many are basing their strategy on carbon offsetting – essentially planting trees in order to continue their operations as is. There are, however, new businesses, like Protium, that offer renewable energy and decarbonisation as a service via hydrogen which is providing disruption to the climate challenge.  I love this type of business model and think it can play a huge part in accelerating our Net Zero ambitions, but until businesses take the responsibility to influence the behaviours of their employees both within and beyond work, I don’t think they’re doing enough. 

Such change is not impossible. We have seen seismic shifts in culture that have permeated beyond the revolving door at reception.  However, most of these have been sparked by catastrophic events – for example, the Oil and Gas sector took health and safety more seriously following Piper Alpha.  This resulted in a very deep health and safety culture within the industry which is now at the forefront of everything they do – including reverse parking and holding the handrail on the stairs – habits I for one still hold on to (excuse the pun) having only had a brief stint in the sector some years ago! Financial Services was hugely influenced by September 11, bringing massive scrutiny over money laundering and cyber security – things that all modern banking app users are used to, understand and are diligent towards.  And we have just shown through the pandemic that action and culture change is possible at a level that permeates across business and personal ways of life.  

This may sound like there hasn’t yet been a disaster around climate change – but it is already here.  Perhaps a slowly unfolding disaster is easier to ignore or perhaps it’s too comfortable to focus on the more manageable elements of our day-to-day lives? But we must not become the proverbial boiled frogs!

My question to contacts in leadership roles at large firms and organisations is – what are you doing to put environmental and social impact on your priority list for employees?  If you understand and believe in the climate challenge enough, you’ll know that you shouldn’t stop with policies that only affect your supply chain and are left at the front door by your team members as they go home – your challenge is to influence the whole person and their behaviours in all walks of their life. I encourage you to consider adoption of impact-driven business models, use theory of change to develop a strategy to improve your company’s sustainability initiatives, develop KPIs that will help you measure your progress aligned with SDGs, and bring employees along on the journey making it personal to them so that they might adopt different behaviours both at work and home. If you do, we may be astonished by the progress we can create together by the next Earth Day.

Photo by Drew Brown on Unsplash

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Glenn Hogg

Managing Consultant

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