Thursday 24 September 2020 6:00 am

Action on climate speaks louder than words, but communicating that action is also key

Emma Cox is head of purpose and leader of sustainability & climate change at PwC.

Rather than being overshadowed by the pandemic, if anything Climate Week in New York — which began on Monday — has been amplified by the focus on building back greener and fairer.  This is mirrored by more and more businesses making Net Zero commitments — PwC being among the organisations to announce one in recent weeks.  

In fact, despite Covid-19, there’s been a three-fold increase in the number of businesses setting Net Zero goals since the end of last year, according to a report from the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the NewClimate Institute.

It’s much needed. As the Prince of Wales stressed with pathos on Monday, there is a very limited window of opportunity to “reset” for a more sustainable and inclusive future. He also highlighted that employees — especially younger ones — want businesses to play their part and are “desperate for action and not more words”.

This sentiment is echoed by new PwC research showing the public’s heightened expectations that employers take action on societal issues including climate change.  For example, 70 per cent of people we polled said they wanted to see businesses working to address climate change, and 65 per cent wanted action on racism. 

Businesses will rightly be judged on whether they deliver.  But communicating the ambition and steps being taken is also key.  Our research shows that more than one in five employees do not understand whether their employer makes a contribution to society or not. 

Read more: A CEO’s guide to reaching net zero carbon emissions

 I’m not surprised — measuring this is hard enough for experts, with a multiplicity of metrics for reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.  That’s why the World Economic Forum  has been working to identify a set of universal “stakeholder capitalism”metrics that all companies can report on,  a project we’re proud to have been involved with alongside Bank of America, Deloitte, EY and KPMG. The set of universal metrics published this week should make it much easier to compare and assess how businesses are doing, and in turn easier for businesses to explain the contribution they’re making.

There are lots of audiences who are interested in a business’s broader impact, including the investor community.  But I’d argue employees should also be high up on the list to communicate with. It’s going to be pretty hard for business to reset its role in society unless employees become advocates. But more importantly, employees are key to implementing and delivering ESG goals, whether that’s by designing new products, transforming their operations and processes to reduce their own carbon emissions, or by taking actions to create a more inclusive workplace.

Moreover, our research shows people are more likely to be motivated at work if they understand how their employer contributes to society.  At a time when pressure on business is coming from all sides, it might not always be possible to deliver on every front and hard decisions will need to be taken, but a clear sense of purpose can help ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.   

There’s never been a more important time for organisations to seize upon the current momentum to drive an inclusive and sustainable future — and ensuring employees are aligned and understand a business’s objectives and broader societal impact will be crucial to ensuring success.   

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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