Keeping up with the latest laws, litigation, carbon, taxes, declarations, voluntary transparency and other sustainability requirements and trends seems to have become a kind of 'Whack a Mole' sport at a new side show. The thing is that climate change is not a side shoe and increasingly, it's the main show. If you feel like you have somehow woken to find yourself on another planet, with a whole different set of rules you don't understand, you're not alone.
Company and community leaders, especially those who haven't thought about climate impacts much, now seem to need a PhD in all things planet to protect both themselves and their companies. And the shift has happened faster than the rise of the Wilsons River in Lismore in early 2022.
Along with physical omnipresent climate events, the upward pressure for climate action from company staff, customers and the broader community is intensifying. At home in families, the face of staff pressure is our children and the broader community our schools, community and special interest groups.
There are now approximately 2,766 climate change laws listed under Laws and Policies of the World on Grantham Institute's Climate Laws. Laws covering emissions, transport, chemicals, fossil fuels, critical minerals, energy, environmental harm, pollutions, adaptions, declarations and so on.
And you have probably noticed the mood change. As the climate conversation moves from Denial, Doubt, Delay; and the slow dawning realisation that we are in a fucking mess, our position will become a whole lot more personal. And personal is coming for all of us. Ready or not. The BBC's latest offering, Big Oil vs The World tells the 40 year story of how the oil industry delayed action on climate change. It isn't the first exposé film about climate actors, but what is shifting is the size of the audience and the number of Citizens reaching for a line of sight to a perp.
Those who perpetrated the mess we are in, will increasingly find themselves in the firing line - countries, companies and specific people. As climate science has improved, and with it, the physical evidence of how certain activity contributes to the small shift in the mean temperature, which leads to very large changes in weather extremes, it's not so easy to write off wildfires and floods.
According to Winston Chow, associate professor at the College of Integrative Studies, Singapore Management University:
"THE EXTREME WEATHER THAT WE HAVE SEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO SEE IS GOING TO MAKE THIS CONVERSATION MUCH MORE HEATED AND MUCH MORE TOPICAL."
And one very clear example is the fallout from historical behaviour not impacting those who created the problem. The impacts of global warming on weather extremes is feeding calls by developing countries like the islands in the Pacific, for the richer countries to pay for their historical emissions.
Climate related court cases are rising. There are also more than 2,000 climate cases before courts. In 2019, environmental group Milieudefensie sued Shell for not taking adequate action to reduce its contributions to climate change. The Hague District Court called for Shell to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, citing how studies have shown the increase in frequency and severity of weather disasters due to climate change.
Governments and citizens around the world are mobilising to get businesses that are massive emitters and polluters to take action. For those not taking action, their social licence to operate begins to be questioned. And there is already name calling. Obscene wealth. Avaricious intent. Unempathetic.
PR companies and marketers are abandoning fossil fuel companies, and taking with them the narratives that influence consumers and citizens to look past poor corporate behaviour - or dress it up as sustainable.
Activists are pushing for ecocide to become the fifth crime against humanity. This would make ecocide a crime that can be prosecuted in court alongside war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. This would mean that damage to the oceans caused by industrial overfishing, oil spills, pollution from plastics, deforestation in certain circumstances, water and soil pollution from chemicals, mining related activities and fracking - all crimes.
WITH MORE INTENSE CLIMATE EVENTS HAPPENING, STAKEHOLDERS ARE A LOT MORE CRITICAL WHEN SCRUTINISING A COMPANY'S SUSTAINABILITY CREDENTIALS, SO WHAT EXACTLY IS A LEADER EXPECTED TO DO?
ALL LEADERS - FROM HOME BASED PARENTS TO CHAIRS OF BOARDS, ARE GOING TO BE EXPECTED TO LEAD. PERIOD.
We live in a world where Nespresso got BCorp accreditation for an urecyclable product that has more packaging than the coffee it contains. Nespresso capsules are a great example of a product that should never have been made, using resources that should never have been wasted and creating pollution that is destroying our people and planet - and it is a great example of how the letter of the law defies the spirit.
BUT PATIENCE FOR DOUBLE ECO SPEAK IS DISSIPATING FASTER THAN THE MULTI PORTFOLIO PRIME MINISTER WHO TOOK THE MINING COMPANY TO COP26.
We need all manner of fancy metrics to score a company's ESG, a product's supply chain provenence, chemical toxicity and so on; in order to legally and clearly communicate the product or company's sustainability credentials. But decisions aren't made by products are they? Nothing happens on our planet without a person deciding to do something. Good or evil. Big or small. Useful or destructive. People decide. Citizens.
IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW IT IS DRESSED UP AND MARKETED, EVERY HOME, EVERY BUSINESS, EVERY CORPORATION IS RUN BY CITIZENS. CITIZENS WHO DECIDE, CHOOSE, INFLUENCE AND DEFER. AND EVERY CHOICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE SOMEWHERE.
It is the awareness of the impact of the choices each of us takes, that creates conscious difference. In the 10 years we have been in existence, and with the insights now of thousands of sustainable businesses, NFPs, accreditors, raters and advocates; we have come to realise a simple fact: that is Citizens who enable or disable a sustainable planet. Only Citizens. People.
Everyone counts. No matter what we do, every choice we make counts somewhere and that makes the question simple. "How accountable are you personally?" When things get personal, people get, well, personal. As the physical evidence of rising tides, burning lands and destructive winds blow up around us, we are entering an exciting and very dangerous stage of the climate crisis. It isn't just that we now know the precise cause of worsening floods, droughts, tornadoes and heatwaves. We now also know whose activity is creating them.
WHETHER YOU ARE MAKING DECISIONS THAT FUCK THE PLANET OR ARE BUYING OR USING SOMETHING MADE BY SOMEONE WHO IS FUCKING THE PLANET, YOU HAVE A REAL IMPACT RESPONSBILITY AND THE CHANCE TO CHOOSE.
SOME PEOPLE ARE BIGGER PLANET FUCKERS THAN OTHERS, BUT THAT FACT EXONERATES NO ONE.BIG FUCKERS AND LITTLE FUCKERS ARE BOTH FUCKERS.
While thinking about the previous point, there is one other human oddity. Whether you are the Chair of a Board, CEO, Teacher, Parent, Politician, Landowner, Farmer, Storekeeper, Influencer, Friend - or all those roles at once, we sometimes act like we are different people in different roles. Why do so many of us make decisions in our different roles with a different conscience?
Importance plays a part in changing characters and responsibility. One of the big problems with being important is just that. Being important. Speaking your own important language. Making important decisions. Maybe in the name of the company. Ironically, most times a person makes a decision on behalf of a company, it has an even bigger impact than it has if the decision was made for them alone. We need to be way more personal about the systemic impact our big company and country decisions have on others and our planet.
Anyone who runs a Company, a Country, or a Community can make the best ESG decisions by looking into the eyes of their children, to whom we all owe a long term, livable home - and making a decision with that conscience. Remembering that we aren't just deciding for our own children, but children everywhere.