Business Declares: "We all felt if not now - when?"

By Fiona Ellis

Introduction

Fiona Ellis is one of the directors of Business Declares, an activist movement for businesses. She talks to REAL about why it was set up and what businesses can do.

What’s the purpose of Business Declares?

Our aim is to help and work with businesses to accelerate change. It’s a campaign, until the end of 2020, to galvanise bold leadership from business to transition to zero carbon at an accelerated rate.

Our strategy is to be a driving and insistent force that works with other climate networks and industry bodies such as Chambers of Commerce and the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI). We encourage and help businesses large and small to make public declarations of the changes they are making in recognition of the climate emergency and to act accordingly with meaningful action.

We have declarations from the Body Shop, Ecotricity, Bio Pak, On Purpose, Bates Wells LLP, Pukka and Tribe Capital to name just a few. At our launch several leaders spoke about their reasons for declaring and what they have done.

Although they haven’t declared an emergency, we also recognise the climate leadership of companies like JLL plc, Unilever, Aviva, Triodos, Ecover and Legal and General.

Why set up Business Declares?

After 30 years of knowing about the climate science and trying to live up to my own principles in my corporate life as a leadership and change consultant, I reached the point earlier this year where I felt I had to act. I was influenced by the school strikes, and Extinction Rebellion but also by meeting other business leaders who wanted to act also.

We all felt ‘if not now, when?’.

Over a hectic Easter weekend in 2019 John Elkington and I wrote a letter to the Times with 20 signatories in support of the need for urgent action.

This evolved into the organisation Business Declares a Climate Emergency and in doing so joined other sectors, like the arts, and professions, such as engineers and architects, who have also declared an emergency.

It’s been a fun and exhilarating ride, over last six months and we’ve had great supporters, like Safia Minney. It’s also often meant putting normal work on hold!

What happens when a business declares an emergency?

When a business declares they must make an Climate Emergency Plan and need to focus on not just reducing carbon emissions at an accelerated rate, but also on staff engagement. What can leaders do to help their staff in areas of energy saving, travel, eating less meat, and working with suppliers? This is an area people are passionate about and many companies are finding real success by engaging their teams to come up with ideas.

How is the financial sector responding to the emergency?

We are working with Aviva as part of an emerging broad coalition of NGOs, civil, society and business, around climate finance. This has the ambitious aim of addressing global finance flows, linked to the UN process, with aim of influencing legislation at COP 26 in 2020.

Investors understand the need for massive investment to meet the climate emergency but are also recognising the financial risks of climate change and the impact on assets. Many are now actively identifying those which will become stranded [ie assets that cannot be made carbon neutral or will be too expensive to do so]. Voices such as Bob Eccles are leading the way as well as leading investment firms.

How can businesses sign up and learn more?

The first step is understanding what it means to declare or recognise the climate emergency and then it’s taking real action. To help we also offer climate emergency workshops for companies who want to understand the realities of the climate emergency and start planning what to do. We are in the process of developing more tools with partners and collaborators but in the meantime we do recommend the B Lab playbook and we try to keep everyone up to date via our newsletter.