C-Suite Advisory

Business And The Climate Emergency


This year, at the 2020 meeting of the World Economic Forum, the risks that the environmental crisis poses to the business were stated to have moved from ‘potentially problematic’ to ‘potentially catastrophic’.

For readers of CEOWORLD magazine, this is vital.

When put in the context of innovation, on which any organization is so reliant, I believe that this crucial area of business is therefore about to become more dynamic and challenging than ever, like those tasked with creating that innovation is confronted with this existential dilemma.

It’s one that has, in the majority of cases, effectively been ignored. Major action is needed, with businesses in every industry, including the ever-widening area of innovation, having crucial roles to play.

So, the catalytic times we live in have profound implications for businesses and organizations of all varieties. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, memorably declared a few months ago that “firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt”.

In the context of my new book, Influencers & Revolutionaries, the issues concerned have been epitomised by Greta Thunberg’s call for systematic change in her speeches at the UN, and via the global protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion movement. XR use nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.

Meanwhile, despite the warning of an array of respected public figures, backed up with solid scientific evidence, it’s been staggering to observe many in the mainstream media, and the upper echelons of “yesterday’s businesses” still attempt to dismiss XR. However, it was interesting to see The FT, an early mover in understanding the movement, noting that “the word ‘extinction’ in their title isn’t just referring to plants, insects, and animals. It means us.”

From a business-futures perspective, and standing at odds with “yesterday’s organizations and yesterday’s leaders” it’s fascinating to observe how modern management theory has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its profits.

We now see leading businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has improving society as a central aim. That is a hugely important shift, and these modernised principles reflect a very different business world than that inhabited by Mr Friedman.

This is where, for instance, the building of trust by brand’s evidencing their ongoing actions, are of such importance. (They relate to what I termed ‘reputation capital’ in my first book ‘The Post-Truth Business regarding whether a brand is ‘trustworthy, reliable and competent’).

A well-known industry saying has it that the most successful companies achieve their ongoing success by preparing for change, rather than simply attempting to adapt to that change when it appears. And movements like Extinction Rebellion have clearly acted as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ in an array of critical contexts.

The responses must be a transformation of the way in which businesses are led, strategies are developed, products are created, and of the overall approaches to be taken as we move towards a circular and more ethical economy. Which is where ‘real purpose’ as opposed to often vague notions of ‘brand purpose’ are highlighted by those like Extinction Rebellion.

I believe we need a more humanistic approach to innovation. One that promotes environmentalism, diversity, social progression and individual wellbeing as a foundation of the concepts, products, services, and experiences that organizations and businesses create. One that, frankly, delivers hope re: COP26.

In the context of the climate crisis, the issue of why we should trust ‘the organization behind the brand’ regarding their environmental credentials, is vital. For companies that are seen, by their behavior, to be meeting the challenges set by the climate emergency in an effective manner; then on purely consumer-engagement and brand differentiation levels, this will enable them to achieve greater business success.

In conclusion, I believe that hyper-relevance, ultra-personalization, ethics, collaboration, and sustainability are the crucial foundations of success. But of those issues, it is a sustainable future on which we all must focus first, where ‘people and planet’ are put far ahead of ‘profit’ as an overall aim.

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Sean Pillot de Chenecey
Sean Pillot de Chenecey has over 20 years’ experience as a brand expert, combining marketing consultancy with ethnographic activity and trend research around the world. An inspiring speaker, disruptive thinker and author of two dynamic books Influencers and Revolutionaries: How Innovative Trailblazers, Trends and Catalysts Are Transforming Business and The Post-Truth Business: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World. Follow Sean Pillot de Chenecey on Linkedin, Instagram, and Koganpage.