business climate change corporate responsibility growth

Businesses call for a low-carbon economy

There was an interesting advert placed in some newspapers yesterday. It’s a call for the government to take its climate change promises seriously and stop ignoring the need to create a low-carbon economy. But it’s not from the green lobbying group or environmental charity you might expect. It’s from a coalition of  businesses and NGOs that includes companies like Sainsburys, Ikea, Sky, Nestle and Pepsico.

its-time-adThere are a couple of interesting things here. A lot of people have suggested that it will be business that ends up leading action against climate change, rather than government. That seems to be the case here, and the ad gives us some reasons why – maintaining energy security, and the need for certainty when investing.

That’s very positive. What’s a little tricker from my perspective is that the ad makes a case for a low carbon economy because it will be good for growth. They’re right that it would create jobs and opportunities in a low carbon sector, but no country has managed to decouple economic growth and carbon emissions at the speed required for a safe climate. As I’ve explored in detail before, it’s really not possible to reconcile a growing economy with falling emissions and still prevent dangerous climate destabilisation.

That’s a minority view, and I’m not surprised that business would want to pursue decarbonisation as a growth strategy. But until we realise that growth in rich countries is impossible in an age of climate change, we’re really no closer to a solution.


  1. This is an interesting development, possibly a first step (or simply PR?) in the right direction from an unexpected source that has the ear of the government more than the environmentalists or marginalised no-growth economists. You rightly imply that steady state, circular, no- or minimal growth is a further required goal. There is a strong case that the bulk of fossil fuels must be left underground if GHG emissions are to be curbed in time.
    (See for a discussion with one of the authors of “The Burning Question: We can’t burn half the world’s oil, coal and gas. So how do we quit?” 2013). The fossil fuel industry and lobbyists in particular are unlikely to add themselves to an advert of this type. And for the business signatories, it is easier to place and ad than to forego profits that enrich the shareholders. The five industries that you mention are certainly oil dependent to varying degrees for their supply chain and delivery systems and we are all deeply embedded in this high carbon corporate run global economy. All the more reason for making wealth history and your continuing trenchant observations of our converging predicaments! Thanks once again.

    1. Hopefully not PR – many of these companies have already taken big steps in the right direction. Ikea for example aims to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2020. Sky is zero-carbon through offsetting while it lowers its emissions.

      Many businesses know that it makes sense financially to take responsibility for your own energy, as well as doing the right thing on the climate. Now they need government to back them in that. As things stand, government actions are holding back the transition to a postcarbon economy by moving the goalposts on renewable energy and undermining carbon targets.

      This is a hopeful development though, and it shows a new opportunity for green groups. Lobbying government is one approach, and one that is getting nowhere with this particular coalition. Another approach is to work alongside businesses, and then let the businesses do the lobbying.

      1. That some businesses are motivated by economic factors as well as environmental concerns (and PR appeal to customers’ altruism for the planet) to move to renewable energy is indeed a welcome development, given the intransigence of the present government. But it would be hard to see the hugely powerful fossil fuel and automotive industries, for example, putting at risk their main avenues to profitability and shareholder enrichment by similar moves! It would be interesting to analyse how the giant non-renewable energy multi-national corporations are using advertising to project a “green” image that they are concerned for the planet, the oxymoron of ‘clean coal’ being one example. As always, the line between altruism and self-interest is often blurred.

        1. That’s true, although there are at least two big energy companies in the list – SSE and Dong. (Dong isn’t well known as they don’t deal with the public, but they’re a big player in North Sea gas) It would be in the interests of energy companies to sign this, as they need a more stable political climate for renewable energy.

          Oil companies, perhaps not so much, although even there some of them get it more than others. A few years ago the oil companies were diversifying into renewable energy, but that’s all gone out the window. A futile retreat to fossil fuels has been one of the many consequences of the financial crisis.

          1. Thanks for pointing out SSE and Dong, as you say, not widely familiar names. But there are different levels at which corporate commercial organisations and the rest of us can ‘get it’. The ‘it’ of a stable political climate or complying with the Climate Change Act is a long way from leaving 50% of known fossil fuel reserves under the ground. This particular ‘it’ to get one’s mind round as a CO2 stabilising goal is set out by Burners-Lee and Clark in “The Burning Question”. Are you convinced by their analysis? If valid, it would be a hard call for humanity, given our present desires for affluence and dependence on fossil energy to bring it about.

  2. That’s really good news. I totally agree with you about the inherent unsustainability of further growth in the industrialized nations. However, the public at large is absolutely nowhere near even questioning growth at the moment, so focusing on ‘growth in the low carbon’ sector (as opposed to growth elsewhere) is probably as good as we’ll get at the moment. I think it’s a step in the right direction, and a pretty big one for companies like Nestle and Pepsico!

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