Patagonia’s plucky octogenarian founder, Yvon Chouinard, has shared many wise quotes since he launched his eco-conscious brand in 1973, fourteen years before the term sustainability was first mentioned in the 1987 Brundtland Report (UN’s Our Common Future).
“If consumers have to tell companies to be green, they’re too late!”
“I used to think that if we could show that being a responsible business is good business, then others would follow. And some do, but they’re tiny little companies. But the public companies, they’re all green-washing. I have no hope that they’re going to change. ”
“Politicians are pawns of corporations. Our best hope for change lies with consumers. You’ve got to change the consumers first and then the corporations will follow, and then the government will follow the corporations. They [governments] are last in line.”
“Instead of ‘sustainable’, I prefer the term ‘responsible’, which starts with companies treating nature not as a resource to be exploited but as a unique, life-giving entity on which we all – not least business – depend.”
“It’s time for brands to become more vocally political. Consumers, especially among the young, increasingly expect their favourite brands to speak out.”
The world has done too little to tackle climate change. In the recent World Economic Forum survey for its Global Risks Report (17th edition), climate change was seen as the number one danger by respondents, while social cohesion erosion, livelihood crises, climate change failure, mental health deterioration and extreme weather were identified as the top 5 risks which had increased the most since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, rigorous sustainability with accountability and transparency and its far-reaching goals are a challenge to most companies since many still have the economic mindset where short-term benefits are priorities at an ultimate cost to people and planet, resulting in overconsumption, sustainability underinvestment, and depletion of resources.
Can the coronavirus change the travel industry for the better? Most travel and tourism brands and destinations are struggling to be purpose-led, embed sustainability as an SOP in their operations and drive the culture of regenerative sustainability and innovation needed to deliver on its goals. Two years with Covid-19 has been tough and disruptive to many businesses, but it has also become a convenient excuse.
“What do conscious traveller want today?” Most brands already know the answer, but the bigger question … “Is 2022 the year to be bold?”
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE 2020s DECADE
The disruption of COVID-19 has not been enough to prompt polluting sectors to reconsider the harm they inflict on the planet and nowhere is this clearer than in the global tourism sector.
For decades, sustainability has focused on doing less harm to the planet and lessening the irresponsible consumption of resources. It’s definition has been subject to different interpretations and its three pillars lacked a clear and consistent definition.
NOW defines sustainability as development and actions that take responsibility for its total impacts, to build economies and communities that thrive, so that the planet can too. Sustainability must be regenerative and must result in greater benefits than damage in the destination and its ultimate goal is to support the Sustainable Development Goals, Clean Growth, and to be Carbon Positive before our planet reaches 1.5°C (34.7°F). The best available science tells us that we have only ten years or less given the current trend of global CO2 emissions and the level of human-induced warming, when we will enter a one-way road to “irreversible destruction”.
Clean Growth (SDG 7) aims to reduce, minimize, or where possible, eliminate the potential negative side effects that economic and income growth can have on the environment.
The term sustainability is now mainstream and expanding into better work and health, but its ultimate goals will need a deeper commitment with tangible plans and delivery timelines, regulations with penalties, and bolder actions with accountability and transparency.
More tourism companies (hotels, resorts, retreats, conventions, cruise liners and destinations) are working towards more responsible business, but the deliverables vary from symbolic initiatives to more vigorous actions that scrutinize sustainability practices in an effort to measure their impacts with accountability and provide transparency to investors, customers, employees and companies. More are scrutinising the sustainability programmes offered by certification bodies which range from programmes with cheap-and-easy checklists and self audits, to the more rigorous ‘accredited’ rigorous programmes with independent 3rd party audits and scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon measurements and reductions.
CLARITY AND ACTIONS
The impacts of climate change, the science, the economics, the public sentiment and the solutions are now clear.
At COP26 in Glasgow, the altruistic ‘we all have to be in this together’ approach resulted in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ signed by 197 parties from around the world. The conference served an accountability purpose and brought about discussions around ways in which countries might use financial incentives and trade to influence others. It moved the needle, but the situation is dire and our planet will surpass 1.5°C (34.7°F) and higher. The world needs to do more. It was not ‘blah, blah, blah’.
– The US-China agreement to put aside differences to address climate change.
– GFANZ – the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero committed to finding ways to get to net zero.
– The First Movers Coalition partnership between the World Economic Forum and the US State Department will galvanize clean energy technology by getting companies to commit to buying it and thereby creating that demand signal.
– The European Commission is rolling out the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to create a border levy on products in a certain subset of high-carbon industries, so if products are imported from a place that has high emissions, there will be penalties. The USA and UK may follow.
– While more than 100 countries signed the agreement on ending deforestation, and reducing methane emissions globally by 30% between 2020 and 2030, it is ineffective and lacking in means of enforcement.
– The good news for the pursuit of corporate Carbon Zero goals are the more stringent rules on the carbon markets. This will result in higher quality credits and boost confidence in the carbon market’s future, reduce the risk of double counting, and improve the transparency, reliability and liquidity of voluntary carbon markets. 5% of proceeds raised from offsets will be put into a fund for climate change adaptation in developing countries.
INCREASED CONSUMER & INVESTOR INFLUENCE
Informed and conscious consumers worldwide are using the power of knowledge, their voice, their vote and their wallet to demand massive change, accountable actions and transparency, and will have zero tolerance for greenwash.
Even if most consumers/travelers are struggling to make it a lifestyle, more already have a sustainability mindset and increasing the pressure on brands to make it easier for them to do so. An Eco-wakening 2021 Report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by WWF, tells us that brands that deliver on pursuit of purpose, that drive a culture of sustainable innovation, are front runners in consumers’ eyes – and they are watching.
Today, smart business executives and investors are understanding that sustainability saves money and needs to be accountable and transparent to be better for business. More are listening and responding to market pressures, and making an effort to understand sustainability trends to make sound decisions about how to allocate capital and resources to create value. More are embedding sustainability across their business in pursuit of their purpose, and some are confronting climate change by divesting from fossil fuel. More companies will acquire sustainability labels with preference for accredited certifications with independent audits, and seek partnerships that provide sustainability solutions towards Carbon Positive goals.
More shareholder-centric companies will have to become stakeholder-sensitive as customers’ demand for sustainable services and deliveries of products drive change in the production and servicing processes.
Regulators will have to ‘walk the talk’ towards more climate actions, be more stringent on regulations around sustainability and enforce stricter reporting and compliance on emission measurement, reduction and offsetting. They will not tolerate ‘greenwashing’ on sustainability and zero-carbon pledges.
After COP26 in Glasgow and a year full of pledges in 2021, more scrutiny is expected on plans made by member countries and companies in 2022. Most have insufficient incentives to achieve optimal outcomes and intangible plans. Climate policies, where returns come decades after the cost, and collective action on standards, regulations, taxation and public infrastructure will need to be in place to assure ‘clean growth’ and for sustainable products and services to become financially sustainable.
CLIMATE ACTION, REGENERATIVE & SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION
2022 will have more scrutiny, more focus on outcomes, more call-outs on greenwash.
The shift to regenerative and sustainable tourism, consumption and production will continue. The average consumption of renewable energy will rise, and more companies will install renewable energy technology. More companies will measure their carbon footprint, and awareness of energy consumption will lead to reduction and offsetting of carbon emissions.
Companies, consumers, investors and governments will focus on Clean Growth to help reduce, minimize, or where possible, eliminate the potential negative side effects that economic and income growth can have on the environment.
Companies will create more sustainable supply chains and support the circular economy to separate economic growth from the use of resources and avoid unnecessary waste, reduce emissions and combat climate change.
COP 27 and the UNFCCC will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022 and this should focus Africa on climate action.
Companies, sectors and countries will shift emphasis towards Carbon Positive (Net Negative) targets which removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits, as the only viable way to ensure a safe future for humanity . Drawing upon findings recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) published a report on 26 August 2021 titled ‘The Final Warning Bell’. The report warns that reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is now “too little too late”, that current global emissions targets are inadequate, and that net negative (Carbon Positive) – rather than net zero – strategies are urgently required. If not, it is likely that global temperatures will exceed 1.5°C as soon as 2030, taking the world into a zone of dangerous climate change.
Stakeholders will support this trend knowing that we need to do more and Carbon Positive/Climate Positive is needed to reverse degradation and enrich the environment.
CARBON OFFSETTING DEMAND & PRICING INCREASES
There are more stringent rules on the carbon markets and improved transparency, reliability and liquidity of the voluntary carbon market after COP26. This will increase confidence on carbon credits, reduce the risk of double counting and support the fund for climate change adaptation in developing countries.
Prices are set to increase ten-fold this decade as excess supply are used up and there is more demand for carbon credits and more companies adopt a Carbon Positive climate commitment.
Companies will need to measure so they can manage! Companies will need to understand and track their Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions with accountability and transparency before they can reduce and offset them.
Net Zero or better – Carbon Positive – is not a trend, it is a business need demanded by investors, and must be adopted and actioned by companies, and regulated by governments.