B Lab Forces for Good Podcast — Episode 3: How can businesses take on the climate crisis?

What role do businesses play in driving the climate crisis? What tactical steps can businesses take to be a part of climate solutions? Why should social justice be at the center of climate action?
By B Lab Global
November 18, 2022

Climate crisis is not a looming threat — it’s already here. Catastrophic extreme weather events are on the rise, and they’re taking a devastating toll around the world. Businesses need to collaborate to find both immediate and long-term solutions to the crisis and advocate for climate justice to reduce the negative impact on the most vulnerable communities globally.

In this episode, we dive into the science-based targets that business leaders should commit to achieving as early as 2030, and share the evidence-based actions and tools to get there.This episode aims to answer the following questions: 

  • What role do businesses play as contributors and the solution to the climate crisis?

  • What tactical steps can businesses take to be a part of the solution?

  • Why should social justice be at the center of climate action?

Guests include: 

  • Kubasu Agapeters, Operations Manager, Fairtrade Africa

  • Veena Harbaugh, Director of Sustainability at Sendle

  • Brigitta Nemes, Senior Manager of Environmental Standards at B Lab

Listen to the episode now across all major platforms: https://link.chtbl.com/Forces-for-Good-Climate-Crisis

TRANSCRIPT: Episode Three — How can business take on the climate crisis?

Brigitta Nemes, Senior Manager of Environmental Standards at B Lab:That would mean a disaster for for for our planet. Much more serious issues with food. Water shortages, with disconcerting droughts, extreme weather patterns. 

Kubasu Agapeters, Operations Manager, Fairtrade Africa: Unfortunately when you look at the approach that has been taken. Those that are not contributing the effects of climate change and the ones that are feeling the impact of climate change. 

Veena Harbaugh, Director of Sustainability, Sendle: We don't have another decade to wait for transformative transformational business change, right? Like 2040 to late, 2050s, too late.

This is Forces for Good, a podcast from B Lab, the nonprofit network powering the global B Corp movement. Forces for Good takes a hard look at how businesses are helping to solve the biggest social and environmental challenges of our time. I’m your host Irving Chan-Gomez, joining from the Philadelphia offices of B Lab Global. 

On our podcast, you’ll hear from B Corp leaders, industry experts, and changemakers. We’ll tell you about what companies are doing to move beyond buzzwords--and change destructive practices across industries. We’ll ask tough questions to uncover how we can truly drive positive impact for people and the planet.

The climate crisis is not a looming threat — it’s already here. In the past few years deadly heat waves, wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events have devastated communities worldwide. Too often these disasters impact the lives of people who have done the least to drive climate change.    Meanwhile, businesses are one of the biggest contributors to the crisis — and too often they’re not held accountable.  

But the power businesses hold in determining the direction of the climate crisis makes them key players in finding climate solutions. All companies have the responsibility  to address the harm done and make changes before it’s too late.  

In this episode, we dive into the science-backed targets that a growing community of business leaders are committed to achieving as early as 2030.  We’ll hear about tools that can help businesses adhere to higher standards of environmental responsibility and hold themselves accountable. We’ll also be joined by an advocate for farmers and workers around the globe who, like the rest of us, are already impacted by the climate crisis. 

Brigitta, Senior Manager of Environmental Standards at B Lab: So by 2025, we should actually peak greenhouse gas emissions and we should half the emissions within this decade. So we basically have eight years left to make sure that we half the emissions in order to have a chance to just stay within the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase. 

That’s my colleague, Brigitta Nemes, Senior Manager of Environmental Standards at B Lab. She says businesses have to act immediately to prevent climate change from getting worse. Without action, by the year 2 thousand 1 hundred scientistS say the earth could warm by up to 3 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Brigitta: That would mean a disaster for our planet. Much more serious issues with food. Water shortages, with disconcerting droughts, extreme weather patterns.

In addition to seeing the effects of climate change in nature, people will start seeing them on grocery store shelves and in their wallets. Experts say that the climate crisis will lead to an economic crisis as well — affecting livelihoods, supply chains, and the costs of products and services. In many parts of the world, this is already an everyday reality. So, what can businesses do to address climate change — and prevent it from getting worse? 

Brigitta: I think first and foremost, each company needs to understand their impact to do a thorough analysis of what are the hotspots and and not just looking at their operations, but their entire value chain as well. So up and downstream do they understand where do they contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions? And the current crisis the most, because that will also define where they need to put their efforts in. 

Any business, no matter the size, can do a self examination of how their actions contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. They also have to evaluate other drivers of climate change including deforestation, biodiversity loss, resource scarcity, waste, and overconsumption. Once they do they can put the results into action. Brigitta says if they find issues elsewhere in their value chain, they can engage with suppliers and customers to decrease waste and emissions. If the hotspots are in their own operations or manufacturing, it’s on them to change their production processes.

Brigitta: I think transparency is key. We need to see what does the company disclose about this? And for instance, do they share an analysis of their carbon footprint? Do they know and do they share where the hotspots are in terms of emissions in their entire value chain? Did they make any commitment? And if so, is that commitment about their own operations only or also including emissions that that come from their value chain upstream and downstream. 

Two key commitments organizations should make are // achieving net zero emissions or becoming carbon neutral. These are ways of limiting or lessening greenhouse gas outputs. 

Brigitta: Of course, companies that have have also a key role and contribution to the current crisis that they face here. We know a hundred energy companies in the world today, they contributed about 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions.

If a company has net zero emissions, that means they’re balancing the greenhouse gas emissions they put out with the amount they remove.  We’ll get into how they can remove greenhouse gases later in the show. Carbon neutral is a similar concept where carbon output and removal are balanced. Net zero takes it a step further by taking all greenhouse gasses into account. 

Brigitta: We also need to see actions as well. Do they disclose what their plans are and how they are making progress on it?

Brigitta says commitments are great, but consumers also need to demand accountability from businesses and ask them to demonstrate real action.

Brigitta: Because we can't afford to just postpone the action, right? So it's not enough that the company commits to reduce their emissions to what it would call net zero by 2050. But we also want to make sure that there is also a short term or near term target as well that they are working towards and that they are regularly disclosing their progress. 

Sometimes limiting emissions can be costly, and that’s where a business's values, and long term vision, come into play.

Brigitta: It's really about prioritizing the shareholders before any other stakeholders, which would also include the planet and future generations as well. 

In previous episodes, we’ve discussed shareholder versus stakeholder primacy. It’s the idea of whether a business operates to create maximum profit for its shareholders, or if it considers all of its stakeholders including workers, communities, customers, and the environment. By changing the fundamentals of how a business operates and who it takes into account, companies can prioritize people-and-the-planet over profit.

So, apart from changing their corporate governance, what can businesses do now? 

Brigitta: Since we know that we have limited time, reduce, reduce, reduce. So basically immediately start with the decarbonization. If companies haven't started yet and focus especially on the key areas where they can make the biggest impact. And it's also very, very important to actually have some targets in place. 

Changing systems and meeting targets take time, but businesses can put their money where their mouth is by investing in climate mitigation projects. 

Brigitta: So they can invest, for instance, in a reforestation project or in a project that's about improved soil management, for instance, in order to make sure that we can capture that if we talk about soil that we can capture and sequester carbon in the healthy soil. 

Brigitta is talking about carbon offsets. Those are investments companies can make in other carbon reduction efforts to balance the emissions they aren’t yet reducing in their own processes. But of course, there’s still more business CAN do.

Brigitta: It's not just about mitigating and reducing emissions, but also helping prepare countries and economies that are already under threat to deal with the climate crisis. 

Businesses can also play a major role as advocates. They can influence consumers and governments and public policy. In our greenwashing episode, we talked about Patagonia’s 2011 campaign “don’t buy this jacket,” where they asked consumers to consider their purchasing habits. This campaign is often used as one of the best examples of how businesses can put planet over profits. Some companies have focused their whole business model on climate advocacy. Veena Harburgh (har-baw) is the Director of Sustainability at Sendle.

Veena: Every day I wake up and get to work on how the company can have the least harm on the people on planet and the most positive impact for people on the planet. 

Sendle is a carbon neutral shipping company, and a Certified B Corporation.

Veena: It's reducing the harm of shipping, leveling the playing field to serve small businesses, and then transforming the shipping industry from kind of a dirty, high polluting industry to the kind of clean network that our economy needs. 

Veena: So we stitch together a network of existing couriers and shipping companies to create a robust and resilient shipping network that offers small businesses better rates and services than what's out there. 

Sendle partners with couriers and works with them to lower emissions.

Veena: So we can't get to net zero just through like our own control. We have to get to net zero by working with partners. And it's interesting because, you know, should the shipping industry in some ways is, you know, this kind of magical thing where you order something online and that can arrive at your door, you know, really quickly sometimes. But it's also a pretty like inefficient, kind of stodgy. 

Veena’s job is to find the paths to net zero. Right now, Sendle purchases carbon offsets to make up for the emission caused by each package shipment. And that makes the business carbon neutral. But the ultimate goal is to lower emissions to almost zero.

Veena: We've done everything possible within our shipping network to reduce emissions, not just offset them. So what that means in a practical day to day basis for me means getting really granular with our emissions calculations to understand, Hey, what's our starting point here for the emissions? And then figuring out, okay, if our end goal is net zero and by 2030, which is not that far from now, what are the kind of transformative changes that we need to make? 

Some of those changes are pretty basic like optimizing shipping routes and using more efficient electric vehicles. But others are more major – like changing people’s attitudes and need for instant delivery.

Veena: The shipping industry is operating on this speed extreme that is really pushing ecological limits beyond what's necessary. And so obviously, like, there's some times where you, you know, you need something right away under, you know, a gift for your friend that, you know, the birthday's tomorrow, like, makes sense, right? You need that fast. But a lot of the things that we don't need right away. And so I think shifting consumers now can shift their behavior by opting for a slower shipment when that's possible. 

Change is urgently needed in our consumption pattern. The shipping industry is a huge part of this. 

Veena: Shipping, transportation and logistics accounts for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The shipping piece of that is about 3%. But it's expected due to this shift in consumer behavior for that to increase to 17% alone, just shipping. And so we really you know, shipping, it’s a kind of a dirty industry, but it's already and it's really headed in the wrong direction and will become a significant climate impact if we don't manage it now. [00:27:14][32.6]

Veena gives a good example of how your one or two online orders per week quickly add up to have a major impact on the planet.

Veena: So, you know, a simple way that you can look at that is on your street. On my street, I see five different trucks come deliver products to people's doors. And they're not these, like small, efficient vehicles. They're these big trucks with gates that can barely turn around. So to me, that is just like such a clear example of like the shipping industry is still built for a different time. That truck was built for a time where that was going to a warehouse and not being delivered to, you know, millions of people's doorsteps. 

When small businesses use Sendle, they get connected to a broader awareness of how their action drives climate advocacy. 

Veena: Those small businesses get to pick a specific project that we're investing in on their behalf so they can communicate to their customers, Hey, if your shipping was carbon neutral and we supported this habitat restoration project in Tasmania or a bird sanctuary in South Carolina. 

These are examples of the carbon offsets Sendle purchases. They’ve also engaged in some really visible advocacy projects. In one recent campaign, they partnered with artist, Laurence Valliere (val-ee-ay ) to build a sculpture out of discarded cardboard boxes. Veena says the goal was to engage with consumers and challenge their consumption habits.

Veena: She chose a grizzly bear because there's only 1500 grizzly bears, mainly due to habitat loss because of human activity, to be a symbol of, you know, the kind of grizzly truth behind e-commerce that there isn't just, you know, cardboard piling up in your hallway. But there's also this really significant card carbon footprint right now. 

Sendle’s goal is to lead the way toward sustainable shipping for consumers, their partners, and their competitors.

Veena: You're not just like going on this as a solo journey, but it really is like a flock of birds headed in the same direction together. And there'll be kind of immediate benefits from that, but also all of these surprise benefits of the ways that you can support each other and work together that you might not have even thought of. 

One of their partners is fellow B corp, Better Packaging Co.

Veena: They're releasing these really incredible mailers that are made from ocean-bound plastic that then they're creating a market for people who are already collecting bottles and other things for them to collect and other materials. So they're able to increase the wages for those people who are really climate vulnerable people, people who live within, like, right on near beaches. And so we're able as a shipping company, right, to promote that material, will be releasing simple mailers that are made out of that. So there are all these ways where once you start working with a company, you can both really help further each other's journey along the way.

And they’ve also influenced competitors to be more sustainable.

Veena: In Australia, our biggest competitor is Australia Post and we did a challenge where we offset a million of their packages. So people got the stickers that they put on their Australia Post packages and through that initiative they shifted their practices and now have a segment of their business that they offer carbon neutral delivery. 

Veena says pushing other shipping companies forward is intentional. In fact,  they welcome the competition.

Veena: We offer better rates and or carbon neutral. So it's possible for any of our competitors to make that change tomorrow. And in fact, we really want them to want them to copy that aspect of our business and. Part of why we feel confident and are comfortable with that is because we're going beyond that to net zero.

She says what sets Sendle apart is the impact. 

Veena: Businesses can redesign their models so that in operating, we are restoring the ecosystems that we rely on. 

We have a whole episode coming up on business advocacy, but for now, here’s Veena’s advice for purpose driven companies. 

Veena: My biggest advice for business, that's businesses that want to take action on climate — is, one, to embed climate action into what you do, right? Like we do carbon neutral shipping. So that means that every package that we shipped is at some positive climate impact, right? Like we're now at, I think it's 21 billion miles of carbon-neutral delivery that our growth as a company is linked to the positive impact. 

Advocating to slow or reverse the future effects of climate change is necessary and important. But, in many parts of the world, the climate crisis has been a part of daily life for years. And these are often the regions that are least responsible for causing climate change. These are places that have a history of resource extraction and exploitation by colonizing nations.  While the top 100 energy companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, those most likely to feel the economic strain of climate change are people like the smallholder farmers and producers Kubasu Agapeters works with. He’s an operations manager for Fairtrade Africa. 

Kubasu: Unfortunately when you look at the approach that has been taken. Those that are not contributing to the effects of climate change and the ones that are feeling the impact of climate change. 

This is especially true for the stakeholders Kubasu works with, small farmers who grow crops like coffee, tea, cotton, and cocoa. 

Kubasu: So basically these farmers, they do subsistence-level farming. It's not commercialized farming, it’s the farming that can meet daily needs or tomorrow's need, but not on commercial scale.

Most of these farms aren’t very big so Fairtrade organizes them into groups so they can sell their products in bulk together. However, even at scale, we’re seeing significant declines in productivity, which threatens these small farms' livelihoods.  

Kubasu: One thing I'll say is that climate change is real. And. Most of the farmers and workers who we work with. Dependent on agriculture. And in what we are seeing now for most of the value chains is that because of climate change that has been there, but over the years we are seeing a decline in productivity.  

With this decline in productivity and the harsh reality of low wages, it’s no surprise that people are opting to leave their farming livelihoods behind.

Kubasu: We are also seeing producers becoming creative and creative not not in a good way, but abandoning farming altogether because they want to go to look for different opportunities. 

Fairtrade promotes sustainable agricultural and sustainable land management practices. They want their producers to embrace clean energy solutions but more importantly, their goal is to build resilience so people can survive even when land becomes unusAble. 

Kubasu: We always look at how best to position our farmers so that as much as we have climate change. How can we support them? To ensure that they are also overcoming challenges and that they are able to cope with climate change. 

Fairtrade has taught their communities things like beekeeping on existing land and they’ve helped them switch to more stable crops. Kubasu says they’ve also learned something in return.

Kubasu: What we discovered is that indigenous knowledge and working with producers is very important in climate change prediction. Understanding the weather patterns and also designing what would be the solutions that help producers themselves address climate crisis and create, were able to come up with a guide that defines what will be the key steps for them to take if they were to address climate change phenomenon in the Global South. 

There’s a clear social component to climate change. When we talk about the impact it has on   ecosystems, that also means human homes and livelihoods. All of our lives are interdependent with the planet. And, if farmers are suffering the consequences of climate change now, sooner or later, we all will be. 

Kubasu: The main reason why we need to to have the voices of farmers and workers in this climate change discussions that. You cannot design a solution or you cannot decide for somebody without involving them. 

The principle of listening to people most impacted by climate change to design solutions is called climate justice. Kubasu says to drive this forward, , businesses need to champion the voices of these farmers and workers.

 Kubasu: We want to see the involvement of farmers and workers. So that there is fairness in how the decisions are made and that there is equal access to financial resources for farmers and workers so that they can. Sorry. So that they can invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

For people looking to support producers in regions economically impacted by climate change,, making a difference includes looking for the Fairtrade certification.

Kubasu: The best way that you can support farmers and workers is by purchasing Fairtrade products. That means that when you purchase these products, there is market for certain products and and and farmers are able to get resources that they can invest back into into into climate change projects, but also, importantly, improve their livelihoods. 

Pushing for action not just around climate change, but for climate justice, goes back to the idea that we are all interconnected, not only to each other, but to the environment. 

Kubasu:  I always think that what will happen if you wake up one day. And you walk to a cafe just like you said, and you find there’s not that favorite cup of coffee or there's not that chocolate bar on the shelves will definitely not feel good. And that's why we are saying that climate change is no longer an ecological crisis. Climate change is an economic crisis. Climate changes is a health problem. Because when you look at the whole spectrum of how climate change affects its effect on the level of farmers and workers, it cuts across all the spheres. 

As we think about the ongoing climate crisis, I think it is important to not lose sight of our interconnectedness. When hardship comes to our ecosystems, and the people living closest to them, in one way or another, will impact us all.  But I hope this also helps us understand that, by the same reality of this interconnectedness, taking action for the climate WILL uplift us collectively in the same way. This is TRUE, not just for individuals, but for companies. As our previous guest Gail BrAdbrook mentioned already, when we think about our role in the climate crisis, both people and companies must ask themselves:  What is mine to repair? And let accountability be our motor for climate action – not dispair. 

If you'd like to learn more about B Corps and purpose driven companies visit BCorporation.net. And listen to the rest of our season! We have more episodes on how business can drive positive impact and be a Force for Good. 

Please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Your ratings and reviews help Forces for Good reach new audiences, so we thank you for your support.

For more opportunities to engage with us, follow us on social media.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the positions or opinions of the producers or any affiliated organizations.

The podcast was brought to you by B lab. Our team includes Sherri Jordan, Jude Wetherell, and Hannah Munger.  Forces for Good is produced by Hueman Group Media. 

For this episode, I’d like to thank Kubasu Agapeters, Veena Harbaugh, and Brigitta Nemes.

 I’m your host, Irving Chan-Gomez. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to catching you in the next episode! 

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If you'd like to learn more about B Corps and purpose driven business visit BCorporation.net. And listen to the rest of our season! We have more episodes on how business can drive positive impact and be a Force for Good. 

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