What can businesses learn from the 2019 youth climate strikes?
A lunchtime walk to Trafalgar Square on Friday 15th would likely have found you face-to-face with a mass of school children with a clear message: they want action on climate change. The strike, organised by Youth Strike 4 Climate reportedly involved an estimated 15,000 children and young people across 60 towns and cities. The atmosphere amongst the protesters made it clear that nobody was there just to bunk off school; the rabble of students held signs with smart puns and emotive statements in equal measure, blocking traffic as they descended on the square.
Despite Brexit taking up the media spotlight for the past 2 years, the public awareness of climate change has been increasing. The 2018 IPCC report outlines the mitigations required to achieve 1.5 degree warming and the impacts on human and natural systems that are expected to ensue. If we go over that threshold it hypothesises that feedback systems that serve to maintain the global temperature may be weakened sufficiently and feedback systems that accelerate warming may become dominant. What is more daunting however, is the increasing realisation that we will hit this threshold and we are far from prepared. Below you can see the key differences between a 1.5C and 2C world.
The knowledge that we may be heading towards an irreversible threshold, beyond which would cause global temperatures to be bound in a rapid pathway towards much hotter conditions has unsurprisingly captured the attentions of young people, whose lives will be the most affected by these events, far more than any current policy maker and leader.
Greta Thunberg is greatly responsible for sparking a wave of engagement amongst schoolchildren and gained worldwide attention and inspired school students around the world when she took it upon herself to sit outside the Riksdag every Friday instead of going to school. Having a leader to initiate, channel and coordinate the efforts of a group of individuals enables them to become more than a sum of their parts and induce real change.
Opportunity for Businesses
There is a brilliant opportunity for business leaders to have a big impact with regards to sustainability: directly by setting targets, and the influence this can have on employees and their every-day behaviours at work and at home.
Our research as shown in The Carbon Commitment Report showed that only 10 % of companies have set carbon reduction targets. However employees at the junior level surveyed showed to be already taking some actions including 71 % taking personal action in the last 6 months. This indicates that companies may not struggle to engage employees on sustainability issues if approached in a strategic way, but conversely that there is a demand for this.
If businesses want to ensure their customers will be there in decades to come, the years where all these children will have grown up, then implementing an ambitious sustainability strategy will be key to their success.