Although the business community has made progress towards climate targets since the 2015 Paris Agreement, less than a fifth of the net zero targets set by national and subnational governments and only a third of the largest public companies with net zero goals meet reality. aligned criteria. Furthermore, the anti-climate lobby has had devastating effects on the planet and cost years of meaningful action. Inaction is not an option. Businesses committed to being on the right side of history must support policies, regulations and laws to achieve systemic change across the economy at the pace and scale needed to meet climate goals. Based on their cross-organizational work in three B Corps, the authors identified five critical elements for advocacy strategies that will help businesses use their power and influence to push for the system change needed to meet climate goals.
“We had the opportunity to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a radical transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate catastrophe,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP). The facts are clear: Global emissions are rising. Voluntary commitments to prevent new fossil fuel projects and limit destructive practices such as mass deforestation are failing to prevent the destruction of nature and the increase in global inequality.
Inaction is not an option. Businesses committed to being on the right side of history must support policies, regulations and laws to achieve systemic change across the economy at the pace and scale needed to meet climate goals. This means working on their own transformative approaches as well as joining forces with others to create the critical mass needed for large-scale change.
Based on our cross-organizational work across three B Corps — Natura & Co (Charmian), Patagonia (Beth) and Ecosia (Sophie) — we’ve identified five critical elements for advocacy strategies that will help businesses use their power and influence to push for the system change needed to meet climate goals.
Advocating for system change
Although the business community has made progress towards climate targets since the 2015 Paris Agreement, less than a fifth of the net zero targets set by national and subnational governments and only a third of the largest public companies with net zero goals meet reality. aligned criteria. Furthermore, the anti-climate lobby has had devastating effects on the planet and cost years of meaningful action.
The non-profit B Lab UK divides system change into two parts:
- Regulatory change. Companies can work with policymakers, trade associations and NGOs to shape changes in legislation. For example, ahead of the UN General Assembly in 2022, the Climate Champions Group worked with experts from across the voluntary, standards and regulatory landscape to publish the Pivot Point report, which proposed a series of policy interventions that would build in the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience global campaigns.
- Culture change. Even with the right policies in place, we know that the culture needs to change for them to be effective. Businesses can participate in culture change by using tools such as media and advertising to promote and reinforce the new rules, raise awareness of key issues, educate consumers about why policy change is important and show them how to work with others to make change happen. For example, the recent move toward repairing outdoor gear rather than replacing it—started in the 1970s by Patagonia but now common among outdoor manufacturers and retailers—encourages consumers to think about their spending habits.
By thinking about the regulatory and cultural elements of system change, avoid limiting advocacy to only external corporate initiatives and programs. Internal advocacy programming plays a critical role in mobilizing people within the business, inspiring the desire in employees to get involved and empowering them to take action.
Recent research by political scientist Erica Chenoweth shows just how much of an impact people “on the inside” can have when it comes to driving change at the government level. The “3.5% Rule,” developed by Chenoweth in 2012, provided evidence that governments are generally unable to withstand the power of 3.5% of the population engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. A decade later, revisiting this research shows the importance of securing support from powerful brokers from institutions that benefit from the status quo, such as companies and shareholders.
Strategic Advocacy Planning
GlobeScan’s 2022 Sustainability Leaders survey gathered the views of more than 700 sustainability experts around the world and found that advocacy is increasingly seen as a leadership practice in business. Now is the time for business leaders to create advocacy strategies for their companies.
A comprehensive, meaningful advocacy strategy should be based on a core set of principles. Through our cross-organizational work, we have identified these 5 Advocacy to work as an institution:
Center your advocacy around your company’s story, including where, why and how it started, and what problem it was trying to solve. Transparency is critical – even if the story isn’t always perfect. For example, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard started the business based on his love for the mountains. Over time, being close to nature has helped reaffirm Patagonia’s commitment to protecting our “genitor.”
Not every business has purpose built into its story in this way—and that’s okay. It is not a prerequisite, but what is required is transparency to build trust and meaningful engagement in advocacy work focused on long-term system change. Take for example Interface, a carpet tile company founded in 1973 by Ray Anderson. In 1994, Anderson had an “interface” and launched the company’s Mission Zero initiative, with the goal of eliminating Interface’s negative impact on the environment by 2020. The company celebrated the achievement of this goal in 2019 and continues to develop initiatives to climate change, including engaging other businesses.
Rely on science-based goals to set stretch goals instead of limiting yourself to what seems possible. For example, Ecosia has become one of the largest reforestation movements in the world using 100% of its profits for climate action. In addition, Ecosia’s green search engine runs on 200% renewable energy.
Empower employees to take action and become advocates for system change. The full power of a business comes when every employee feels supported and empowered to use their own voice to take a stand on the issues they care about — both within the business through the decisions they make at work and externally through their the social and community circles.
For example, Natura’s “The future is in your hands” campaign was launched on World Amazon Day, a critical period before the Brazilian elections in 2022. This campaign mobilized workers as well as the general public to take action for the protection of the Amazon. The business also developed a “conscious vote” campaign for its network of approximately 2 million advisers and representatives of the Natura and Avon brands, most of whom are women. João Paulo Ferreira, CEO of Natura &Co Latin America, explained: “Our research shows that women voters are more reluctant to participate in elections. On the other hand, they want to be better informed to make their own decisions, and we know the power of women to influence their families and communities.”
While many corporate leaders may feel uncomfortable engaging with or supporting social movements, bringing a business voice to the table can make a big difference in protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized in society.
For example, Ecosia sponsors ‘Climate Cafes’, where young people can turn ecological anxiety into action organized by the youth-led Force of Nature movement. As part of its global activism strategy, Natura &Co The Body Shop brand takes a long-term view and supports policy and legislative change that enables greater participation of young people in politics and public life. And Patagonia runs regular “Tools” conferences to teach campaigning, social media, publicity and fundraising skills to strengthen small grassroots NGOs.
Governments around the world are falling short in protecting the most vulnerable. Business must play a critical role in correcting the current trajectory by putting people, justice and human rights at the center of climate action – civil society and youth movements alone cannot and must not do this.
All three of our companies have dedicated strategies focused on listening to, supporting and amplifying the voices of indigenous communities, whether in the Amazon, where Natura works with 40 local and traditional communities, or in the Atlantic Forest, where Ecosia works with PACTO Mata Atlântica, an umbrella organization with more than 300 tree planting projects.
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As you develop your defense strategy, be aware of the obstacles you are likely to encounter. Some people will question the role of business in engaging in the democratic systems that guide policymaking. This is true, but with governments struggling to meet climate targets, progressive business leaders committed to net zero and beyond need to hold governments and major polluters accountable and ensure net zero targets are secured in strong policies, regulations and laws.