COP26 – after the party, the fallout

16 November 2021

The delegates have gone home, the headlines have been written, the media moves on to the next big story. But climate change isn’t going away; our chimneys and exhaust pipes are still belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

BPCC's green blog:

COP26 – after the party, the fallout
Car fleets, driving to work and ESG
Communicating the Green Imperative within your firm
How green is your office?
The Green Canteen

We’re left asking ourselves – whose responsibility is it to save our planet from global warming? Is It solely our governments – our legislators and regulators, who lay down the law with which businesses and consumers meekly comply?  Or should businesses go above and beyond that which is legally expected of them, for everyone’s good? And to what extent is it the responsibility of billions of individual consumers, each making daily decisions that impact the planet to a greater or lesser degree?

COP26 has spurred governments to move faster on cutting back greenhouse-gas emissions. COP27, which will be held next year in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, will see governments presenting plans to hit their emissions targets by 2030. This will be four years earlier than previously scheduled, and will focus minds of environment ministries around the globe over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, businesses must adapt to the realities of the climate crisis at a faster pace. As former head of PwC for Central Europe, Olga Grygier-Siddons said in her introduction to the BPCC Female Leadership Forum, today’s business leaders must balance between growth and profit on the one hand and sustainability on the other. Ethics has always been a compass needle that any CEO should be guided by. Today, to that basket of personal responsibility is added a sense of responsibility for our planet. Is this an additional headache – or simply calls for action that can be aligned with common-sense business practice? For example, cutting utility bills by implementing measures to reduce the usage of energy and water. The only question is – one which the finance departments can answer – what’s the payback time? Tougher decisions concern issues such as transport policy (car fleets is something I shall be writing about this in a future green blog post here) and manufacturing.

From the point of view of employee branding, any company that is not seen as actively doing its bit to fight climate change will have experience ever-increasing difficulties in recruiting and retaining younger employees. For Millennials and Gen Zers, this is an overwhelming issue in their lives. Similarly, consumers will drift away from brands they feel are harming the planet. Ignoring the climate agenda is simply not sustainable from a business point of view. The next quarter of two might still be OK, but over the long term, the effects of talent loss and foregone sales will be felt on the bottom line.

The temptation to greenwash

An easy answer that tempts many businesses is to apply the greenwash. Use of language that misleadingly suggests that the company, its products or services are environmentally friendly might fool the consumer. However, it will not fool the activist or regulator. See this BBC News article about the Seven Common Forms of Greenwashing used by businesses.

As I write these words, I’m snacking on a packet of ‘bio blueberries’, which come in a cardboard box. Fine – but the box has a cellophane window; with this attached, the box has to go to landfill rather than to paper/card recycling. I have to unpick the cellophane – a slight inconvenience – but it’s done now. The box is in the blue paper/card recycling bag, the cellophane in the black general waste bag that goes to landfill or incineration. Cellophane is non-recyclable, but will eventually biodegrade in up to three months. Question – is this form of packaging more or less environmentally damaging than plastic boxes that can easily be recycled?

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment