The corporate world requires better comms and better leadership to hit a 1.5°C future, says Salterbaxter's Kathleen Enright

As COP 26 progresses, and the world’s leaders endlessly talk about what needs to be done to achieve a 1.5°C future, let’s not be too distracted by what is happening in Glasgow to forget about business’s own behaviour. And let us not lose an all-important point of perspective; that in response to consumer, employee and investor pressure, but in the absence of government structure, businesses are making big promises without any guarantee of success.

Sadly, much of what we’ve seen from the business world are generic sustainability commitments and self-congratulatory achievements made to capitalise on the marketing opportunities brought by COP 26.

Accountability is key

Remember this: the only way that the goals being set by the nations’ leaders at COP 26 will be achieved is with the accountability, transparency and investment of business leaders to drive real progress, show leadership and communicate it in a way to inspire the right kind of behaviour change up and down their supply chain.

But there continues to be a failure to engage the levers of action, communications and leadership in unison. By failing to achieve all three, and failing to understand which of the three is the priority to drive progress for each individual business, we cannot drive meaningful behaviour change and business transformation.

This needs to be backed by the accountability to set the climate commitments that the world needs, not the ones businesses want.

Business is failing

Research we’ve developed with the World Benchmarking Alliance proves that the majority of business is still not getting it right, and as a result, despite effort and investment, are not driving the progress the world needs. Over two-thirds (76%) of blue chip businesses in high-emissions industries that perform well on their climate actions fall short in their use of communications to enable sustainable behaviour change. That is on the one hand a fear of greenwashing, on the other a lack of commitment to cracking the difficult job of communicating complex issues.

This is a serious failing because the right kind of communications and CEO leadership play a pivotal role in driving the progress needed to achieve COP 26’s goals.

Immediate action

A further half of businesses that scored high on climate action scored low or medium on CEO leadership that enhances sustainability progress. The findings also revealed that all but one of the companies are falling short on either action, communications or leadership, and are not making the changes necessary for COP 26’s goal of a 1.5°C future to be a success.

Too many businesses continue to trade in promises when the planet needs action. If COP 26 is to be a tipping point, we need to see our business leaders benchmarking themselves against the future, measuring their success against the change they need to make in order to go beyond net zero - ensuring that generations to come have a planet worth inhabiting.

Tools to help

They also need the tools that can enable them to immediately activate the commitments that world leaders are making. That is why we are creating ProgressPoint - a tool that comes in alliance with the World Benchmarking Alliance, which pinpoints the levers (strategy - communications - leadership) that individual businesses can action in order to drive the progress the world needs, and unlock growth and ROI as a result.

We developed this multi-dimensional framework to drive the right level of action on the most material issues, alongside the right kind of communications and leadership.

Instead of focusing on arbitrary corporate commitments, it focuses on adherence to globally-agreed requirements to ensure the future of our planet. In other words, it benchmarks companies against a future where shared value is created for all.

Methodology

The insights were developed using a precursor to ProgressPoint, the first active tool that evaluates and analyses the multiple factors across corporate performance, leadership and engagement that need to come together to create the tipping point towards progress. This methodology, supported by a data-fuelled platform powered by advanced machine learning, allows companies to speed up the pace at which they drive behaviour change.

Written by Kathleen Enright, managing director at creative sustainability consultancy Salterbaxter