Sustainability advocate, webinar expert, veterinary surgeon. We talk to Anthony Chadwick about his recent trip to the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Everything’s moving in the right direction, but is it moving quickly enough (and what can HR do)?
You were at COP26. How was it for you?
Historically, COP26 has been a talk shop. But I got the sense that some businesses are serious about sustainability, like SSE, Microsoft, Sainsbury’s, and then there are some smaller businesses that are doing some cool things too. And finally, governments, which are always the slowest to move.
When you try and get nearly 200 countries to sign something which is binding, some of them won’t mean it even though they’ve signed it. So, to try and get something which everybody agrees on is incredibly difficult.
But my feeling at the same time is that change happens really when people decide to make a change, when people change behavior. I think in some ways the government is probably the least important but clearly, they can help in moving in the right direction with incentives like tax breaks.
So, I’m cautiously optimistic of what was achieved at COP 26, bringing the environment front and center in the press. I think we’ve got this decade to make a real difference. And I think one of the tests will be COP 27 which will happen in Egypt.
Will we see that progress is being made, because it felt like there was a bit of a sea change at COP 26, and I’m hoping part of that will be it stops being a talk shop and it brings more action.
What are the most achievable sustainability initiatives for organizations in 2022?
The first thing is to say, we’re committed to this, and there are people in the business who are passionate about it. So find out who’s passionate in the business and set up a green team. Then, look at what’s attainable.
There are various marks out there, but I really like the ‘Investors in the Environment’ mark. There are various ISO (International Organization for Standardization) marks as well, which can be a bit more difficult for smaller businesses. I think it’s certainly worth looking at the ‘Investors…’ mark immediately and then asking, how can you reduce waste in your business printing, your electrical use, and are there other quick wins?
If you are in an office that you own yourself, then a sustainable green energy supply and low energy lighting are much more efficient.
Otherwise it obviously depends on your business; if you’re a haulage business then that’s completely different than being an accountant.
The new term is ESG – environmental, social and governance. People want to see that businesses are beginning to think about that. And of course, it’s better for that to be genuine, because [otherwise] it is just greenwashing. I think people see through it fairly quickly.
Let’s talk about greenwashing. How can you tell a genuine policy from one that’s been through the greenwasher?
It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? I think you get a sense of…does the company have visions, values, culture? Does that seem to really resonate? It’s probably difficult if you’ve got an oil company who are doing things that sound good, but then at the same time are opening up new fields in places like Alaska, then clearly that’s greenwashing.
So, words are cheap and actions are more expensive. We saw that a little bit with the UK prime minister leaving [COP26] and taking a private jet back. I understand there are all sorts of security reasons why that happens in high politics, but when you’re leaving a climate conference, you shouldn’t do it.
And there is a tendency to say, we want all of our energies to come from renewable sources, but then if the lights go off because the sun isn’t shining today, then we would be pretty annoyed about it. That could be life threatening in hospitals, for example.
So there needs to be a plan, but we should use our intellect to be able to reduce the amount we’re using year–on–year, as we bring cleaner technology into the picture.
So I think going back to greenwashing, getting a sense of whether yours is an ethical company is important. Does it look after its staff? I think people see through when somebody’s doing it for the right reasons and when somebody is doing it just to get huge amounts of publicity out of it. I’m not against a bit of publicity, I think it’s also good. But you’ve got to get the right balance with that.
What’s the role HR can play to drive the sustainability agenda?
I think for a company to be really green, you have to bring people in who are passionate, purpose centered, and who want to make a difference in the world.
Not everybody’s going to be mega-passionate about the environment, but they may be passionate about education for girls in developing countries [for example]. So there’ll be different things that touch them, but you want to see passionate people of all kinds coming into the business.
So, it isn’t just about sustainability and being more green, it’s also things like gender equality issues, poverty, and how can we start to help to alleviate that through education. Across the board education will help people to understand that we do just have this planet. We’ve got to look after it.
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