The IPCC has been very clear. We must reduce emissions to Net Zero, and we must achieve ~50% of this target by 2030. This is a vast undertaking and one that requires the exponential* growth of Net Zero culture, research and solutions.
Many initiatives I’ve witnessed, which are based on positive intent, undershoot these targets of the climate emergency. Rather than throwing rocks at them, we should review them to better align with our Net Zero mission (and our legal mandates). Initiatives must establish how they will be assessed, and how to embed such assessments in their operations, their language and deliverables such that the clear and urgent need to quantify environmental impacts are evident in every individual and organisation engaged in the process.
We are in an era of unprecedented need and we must refactor how we are measuring value. It seems to me that we are still mostly stuck in a legacy mode of thinking: that economic growth is the only metric by which progress can be measured. I know all ‘eco’ readers will roll their eyes here (yes, you’ve been saying this for decades). Our challenge is (still) to make it real.
In the conversations I’ve had across initiatives, economic success is still the primary measure of success—a greater depth of thinking is needed on what constitutes ‘climate ready’ and ‘sustainable’.
All initiatives, products and services must (this is a science-based must) help preserve and protect the ecosystems on which we rely. They must have material metrics related to preserving and/or protecting the environment. They must have mandates to provide a benchmark of how they operate today (including their CO2e impact) and add both measures and targets of systemic impact not just ‘directionally towards’ sustainability’ but to demonstrable Net-Zero.
It is, in my opinion, a collective failure to think that applying our processes of accelerating commercialization are sufficient to drive the economic, social and cultural changes that are required to deliver Net-Zero. We need our next unicorns to be net-zero proof points, with a billion tonnes of CO2 impact next to their billion dollars.
While it is also a simple fact that businesses must accelerate change within the structure of our existing economic system, we must also embrace the fact that measuring the rate of change in one dimension is insufficient to deal with the systemic issue in our economy. It didn’t work. It didn’t work in time.
We must reflect on our Net Zero mission and act rapidly to introduce measures by which high impact on climate will be assessed. These must avoid having only economic performance (or shallow translations of environmental metrics into economic proxies) at their core, but blend the direct impact, supply-chain impact, customer impact and marketplace impact of what is being made, or done. In units that mean we measure the right outcomes.
One success metric could be to quantify the net CO2e impact of every product and service … above its financial impact. While this might sound terrifying to financial leaders, I think we can learn from history that if you create something that we can measure the rate of change of, people will monetise it.
Equally critical is the ‘unlearning’ required in ourselves. Our highly experienced people, across organisations and disciplines, have copious, material insights into how to grow businesses.
We must now unlearn —that simply growing the financial performance of a business without equal visibility and consideration of its environmental impacts, is no longer a viable business strategy.
We must work to validate this in ourselves, give confidence to the innovators who will drive this agenda across the public and private sectors, and make environmental measures a material and meaningful fact to those watching**.
The time to act is now.
*with thanks to azeem
**everyone you know, and our future generations