Young people are passionate about driving change on climate issues that are likely to impact their future. This sentiment was particularly evident at this year’s Sustain conference, where young climate activists expressed their interest in climate change and mitigating its effects. Evelyn Acham, national coordinator of the Rise Up movement, and Ester Galende-Sánchez, climate policy researcher for the Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3), discussed the current severity of the climate crisis and the measures we must take during of their session. .
Their concerns are justified.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that “unless there are immediate, rapid, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius or even two degrees Celsius will be out of reach”. According to Carbon Trust research, scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions occurring in a company’s supply chain) account for 65-95% of a company’s broader carbon impact. While 14% of companies rated in the first 2022 Carbon Maturity Report have a publicly available report on GHG emissions, only 3.7% commit their suppliers to climate action.
Although the ambition for improvement is evident, there is still much to be done. The United States, Canada, Japan and much of Western Europe make up only 12% of the world’s population today, but are responsible for 50% of all global warming greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years. Moreover, these operations cause more harm to those who live beyond their borders. Countries like South Africa, Chile and Brazil only produce a tiny fraction of the total greenhouse gases, but they will suffer more from climate change as they tend to have higher temperatures.
Young people are increasingly aware of the material impacts of business on climate disasters. In particular, Gen Z and Millennials believe that canceling culture (i.e. boycotting individuals or companies deemed to be acting in unacceptable ways) is necessary to weed out companies that are against the culture. ‘ethics.
But there is a more positive and impactful way to do it. Young activists have a tremendous opportunity to work with corporations to influence greater change rather than running away from them altogether. The current cancel culture mantra is simply not enough.
Cancellation of the cancellation culture
Massive amounts of people – especially younger generations – refuse to support companies that are not doing enough to positively impact the environment or are simply ignoring how their operations are worsening the effects of climate change. Now more than ever, activists need to engage with these companies to have real impact. Otherwise, decisions will continue to be made by the same demographic in the boardroom, lacking the diverse perspectives needed to effect change.
This is where the voices of activists need to be heard using platforms to help amplify their message. This involves engaging with local government through social media, as a youth activist Greta Thunberg did, to build credibility by influencing business leaders. Another option is to join youth-led organizations that help fight climate change (eg UN Act Now, Earth Uprising, Sunrise Movement). Young people can also attend corporate and sustainability-focused events like EcoVadis Sustain to share insights and ideas with business leaders. Finally, they can found or join a startup in the field of sustainability, such as the young team at Ecotrek which provides cutting-edge technology to accelerate sustainable impact in supply chains.
Create real impact
Businesses can answer the call of young activists by going beyond the bare minimum of simply complying with industry regulations and sustainability standards and demonstrating that they are working to minimize invisible risks, build resilience and improve sustainability performance in their supply chains.
For example, companies can accelerate investments in monitoring supply chain sustainability – including efforts to reduce carbon emissions – as a fundamental part of building long-term viability.
Companies can also create carbon action frameworks and targets across the value chain to set targets in areas such as ensuring suppliers set carbon reduction targets; replace purchased products or materials with low-emission alternatives; focus on significant supply chain and emissions hotspots; and develop guidelines to standardize internal carbon pricing methodology and set minimum pricing levels to achieve required reductions.
At an industry level, collaboration is one of the most effective mechanisms for companies striving to move towards real change. Much greater impact can be achieved by working together to define standards and processes to engage supplier partners to improve environmental, social and ethical practices.
The future of climate action is collaboration and teamwork to generate real impact on a global scale. Businesses and young activists can make a difference on climate change with the right mix of teamwork, taking action and a sustainable framework. Research has shown that Gen Z and Millennials are more active than older generations in tackling climate change online and offline – now is the time to make their voices heard. As former Unilever CEO Paul Polman told Sustain, “give the young people a seat at the table…give them the table.”
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