Earth Day provides an important reminder of the scale of the challenge we face. To keep warming below 1.5̊C and prevent the very worst of climate change, we must reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
This year’s Earth Day theme is “invest in our planet”, which is a call to action for all stakeholders, including the business community. Sixty-nine of the world’s largest economic entities are corporations and there are therefore vast resources and expertise among this community that can be applied to combatting climate change.
Some progress towards net zero is already underway – six hundred and ninety-six of the world’s largest 2000 publicly traded companies by revenue have now committed to reducing their emissions to net zero by 2050. But, with only eight years left to reduce emissions by 45 percent, we aren’t moving fast enough. A study published last week projects countries current pledges will keep us below 2̊C, but not 1.5̊C, which would have disastrous consequences for much of the world’s population.
At the same time, the UN Sustainable Development Goals pledge to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 – yet 10 percent of the world’s population still lives in extreme poverty. Alongside fighting climate change, businesses play a vital role in lifting communities out of poverty, enabling livelihoods and prosperity.
Decarbonisation alone will therefore not be enough to build a future where both people and planet can prosper together. Instead, we need to find ways to grow economically that aren’t at odds with the planet. That means investing in and nurturing our natural capital – nature’s substantial resources and assets – to support human wellbeing and prosperity.
At Xynteo, we call this way of doing business: planet-positive growth.
Watch our video to learn what our team said when we asked for their view on how businesses can be planet-positive.
Beyond net zero
While companies’ net zero pledges are commendable, there is still a significant gap between the commitments made and what it will take to keep warming below 1.5̊C. Although some leading companies have set out ambitious plans, only 32% of corporate targets include the entirety of their scope 3 emissions, which constitute a significant portion of companies’ carbon footprints.
Progress on decarbonisation is too slow and pledges often lack nearer-term targets. Part of the problem is that net zero goals allow businesses to delay direct action to reduce their emissions – a factor climate scientists have criticised. Many corporate net zero targets rely heavily on carbon offsetting schemes. Yet carbon offsetting is not a fool-proof path to decarbonisation. Critics underline the impact schemes such as reforestation have on local communities, and the risk that carbon stored in forests or soils leaks back into the atmosphere as extreme weather events, such as forest fires, grow in frequency.
Net zero targets also perpetuate a mindset of reduction, mitigation and risk. This mindset puts doing business directly at odds with the wellbeing of the planet. Some experts also argue that focusing on net zero targets may detract attention away from other technologies, which could open up completely new, low-carbon models of business.
In contrast, planet-positive growth is about possibility – it recognises the immense potential, value and importance of the world’s natural capital. It is about creating entirely new business models rather than making minor changes to old models that are not working anymore. For example, Mexico’s mangrove forests provide an estimated $70 billion annually to the country’s economy through storm protection, fisheries support and ecotourism. Planet-positive growth seeks models of growth that nurture and make use of this natural capital, working across economic, social and political systems as well as ecological systems. As Harvard professor Greg Norris puts it, the idea is to move from reducing a business’ ecological footprint (its negative impact), to increasing its socio-ecological handprint (its positive impact).
Momentum is growing around new models of doing business that enable planet-positive growth. For example, regenerative business models put business in harmony with the planet, focusing on creating products and services that are restorative rather than extractive, helping to rejuvenate natural, human and social capital, while at the same time creating economic capital. Norwegian startup Ogoori demonstrates how this model can lead to innovative business ideas – they supply plastic collected through coastal clean-ups to companies interested in circular business models.
Creating planet-positive growth
So, if you’re a business leader interested in planet-positive growth, where should you start? At Xynteo, we recommend business leaders focus on three key levels of transformation: leaders, organisations, and ecosystems.
At the leadership level – all transformation begins with culture. To galvanise an organisation through major transformation, it’s essential that business leaders and their teams nurture the right culture and mindset. Leaders on Xynteo’s flagship programme, the Leadership Vanguard, develop the skills to become intrapreneurs in their organisations and this year’s cohort are focusing specifically on regenerative business models.
At the organisational level – there are significant opportunities for companies to introduce new products and services that put ambition into action. Businesses need to shift the model for their products and services from one of extraction to one of regeneration. Together with our partner Mastercard, we are building environmental sustainability-based strategies, products, and services that can encourage and enable other companies to go beyond ESG and net-zero targets to grow their core business.
Finally, to have real impact, businesses need to work with the ecosystems they participate in – from collaborating with businesses, to governments and civil society. For example, our Vikaasa partnership brings together stakeholders committed to co-creating social and environmental impact by developing new growth models, enabling scale, and empowering today and tomorrow’s leaders. We have already co-curated over 40 projects across energy, waste management, sustainable livelihood, and healthcare access, positively impacting over 1.5 million people.
There’s no doubt that decarbonisation has an important role to play in planet-positive growth. But businesses need to approach the challenge of combatting climate change from a mindset of possibility, seeking out entirely new models of business growth that can benefit both people and planet.
Learn more about our Planet-Positive Growth studio.
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