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On the 29 June the CSB hosted their COP26 Business Leaders Event.
High profile speakers from business and government with support from HRH The Prince of Wales leant their weight behind the CSB launching a Decade of Difference; to build the momentum behind business and government delivering joint action for a carbon negative/nature positive future.
Speaking to more than 200 CEOs and senior representatives attending from the biggest UK companies and organisations (including more than half of the FTSE 100) Liv Garfield – CEO of the Council for Sustainable Business and CEO of Severn Trent introduced Richard Curtis to kick off the event.
Richard Curtis, most well-known for his writing and directing of such blockbusters as Notting Hill is also UN Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals and co-founder of Make My Money Matter - calling for the trillions of pounds invested in our UK pensions to build a better world.
Richard set the context for the day in considering whether after the crisis of covid-19 we can build back better. Recognising that the zoom room contained the most powerful people and those most poised to lead the change, Richard congratulated the leaders for being present and noted that businesses are already stepping up to the big challenges and that business leaders are the ‘necessary heroes’ of the next ten years; the people who will be most able to turn aspiration into action.
The Prince of Wales was unable to attend the event but his personal statement showed great support and mirrored an urgent appeal to business and government post covid-19 . He said:
“As we look to reopen and get people back to work, significant stimulus will be needed and many businesses will need to rethink their value propositions. Investing sustainably now can, in fact, be a fast and efficient way to reboot our economy. It is entirely possible to be sustainable, human-centric and profitable at the same time. With the stakes this high, we simply cannot slip back to ‘business as usual’. To move forward we need nothing short of a paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace.”
2020 has not turned out the way any of us expected when we welcomed in the new decade. As Liv noted, every single business represented at the event has had to adapt to a set of challenges which has tested businesses, leadership styles and personal values. “the virus, along with other events in the world, have brought home with great clarity the need for us to raise our game in playing our part in improving the environment and the society we are all part of.“ She noted that “we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to recover and grow in the right way – a cleaner and greener way.” And that ”we see this event as the start of that journey together.”
Emma Howard Boyd, CSB member and Chair of the Environment Agency, observed further that:
“the pandemic has shown that Governments and businesses can make fast decisions and build huge infrastructure in anticipation of approaching threats and it has also reminded everyone - businesses and citizens alike - about the value of nature and green space.”
Liv Garfield set out the objectives for the event in her opening speech.
The first and third objectives have been achieved by the significance of the delegates attending. The organisations attending employ nearly 5 million colleagues across the world and have a market cap of around £1.3 trillion. This image [add picture of CSB members with the zoom screen] of a zoom screen filled with the faces of the most senior representatives from the biggest UK companies and organisations sends a powerful message of the importance that business leaders attach to the sustainability agenda and the opportunity we have at this moment to work together to deliver a fairer, greener and more resilient economy aligning government policy and industrial scale to deliver ambitious environmental solutions. However, as Liv noted, those present were the early adopter community, largely those who have already committed to playing their part in a green future for the UK. She urged,
“everyone on the call to widen the network of businesses that have made carbon and nature commitments by five additional Chief Executives, and as such create an impressive story in every single sector for COP26.”
The second objective of the day was illustrated by two medleys of CEO case studies, the first of which showed how many companies represented at the event are already signed up to challenging commitments to reduce their carbon footprint and move towards Net Zero
CSB member Divya Seshamani (Managing Partner of Greensphere capital) explained that the approach of the CSB on working towards Net Zero has been to “show that businesses can be aspirational about tackling one of the most pressing systemic risks of our generation – climate change - while also improving the risk-return trade-off for their shareholders” and she urged businesses present to “engage with the CSB members leading the conversation in your sector” to access their leadership and problem solving capabilities and enable the UK to achieve our net zero goals.
Fellow CSB member Justin Francis (CEO Responsible travel) highlighted the significance of nature to all business and introduced the biodiversity commitments which are new to the business world.
As Justin noted, “nature and biodiversity is everybody’s business” and “every business needs biodiversity, or to put it another way, our life support system.”
A medley of CEOs talking about the work they are doing on biodiversity helped to share a glimpse of the real life examples of how businesses can improve nature.
A strong message of support came from the Environment Secretary, George Eustice who recognised the important contribution that businesses make in combatting declining biodiversity and climate change. He identified three key areas for businesses to consider their biodiversity impacts firstly by carrying out due diligence on their supply chains to reduce deforestation, secondly implementing biodiversity net gain on all new developments and thirdly in the investment decisions that they take.
The level of engagement from senior business representatives before, during and after the event has been exceptional. 94% of responding attendees said that they were willing to get involved personally and as a business in the run up to COP26 to help make it a UK success story. The urgent and important messages of the climate and nature crises, the challenges and opportunities of covid recovery and calls for commitment to support nature and combat climate change obviously struck a chord, with businesses keen to deliver joint action for a carbon negative/nature positive future.
COP 26 President and Business Secretary Alok Sharma was called away on urgent parliamentary business and recorded his message for the assembled business leaders. He presented a strong case for business, civil society and governments working together to ramp up ambition for a climate resilient, zero carbon economy in the build up to CoP26 and made 4 clear asks of business which all should be able to take action on:
The over-riding take home message of the event for business leaders was encapsulated by the closing words of the Prince of Wales statement:
“As you kick start your collaboration to COP26, I can only encourage you to think big and act now. There really is no time to waste.”