Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Consumer dialogue with business is key to tackling climate change

CI Director General, Joost Martens, on talking with business at Copenhagen

The actions of business are vital to any chance we have of avoiding runaway climate change. Corporations need to respond both to government legislation and consumers’ desire to take individual actions. This dynamic makes dialogue with business leaders an important undertaking at COP15 and one that drew me to an event organised by the Copenhagen Climate Council.

Working in collaboration with the UN Global Compact, the New leadership for a sustainable economy event looked at the roles and responsibilities of business in relation to climate change.

Billed as an attempt to ‘kick-start the low-carbon revolution’, there was much talk at the event about the need for establishing the business case for climate action, the market potential of green technology, and the concept of ‘corporate climate responsibility’.

Many of the multinational corporations present were quick to reel out examples of commitments to low carbon usage in their supply chains, and of alliances with WWF and Greenpeace on specific actions. There was also a great deal of discussion about the communications challenge, and about the need for businesses to reframe their messages - an issue that we have raised as a real consumer concern with our recent Bad Company Awards focus on corporate greenwashing.

'The voice of consumer is leading' and 'consumer preferences are key' are two things I heard time and again. Business believes that, while the technology is 'pushing' industry towards green options, the 'pull' of consumers is needed to move business in the right direction. A fair point, but I would argue that business must take the lead and be proactive in their adoption of low-carbon practices.

I came away from the event assured that these corporate world leaders understand the responsibilities they hold for reducing the human impact on the climate. But my fear remains that many in businesses still see this simply as a ‘communications challenge’ (or, rather, a marketing opportunity).

Pressure from the consumer movement is vital here, if we are to ensure that businesses realise that the problems are far, far deeper than messaging and marketing.

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