Suston reaches out to UN High Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping, who says that if business leaders want to see their companies survive, they must decarbonize now or retire and make way for the willing.

In an exclusive interview conducted together with The Sustainability Speakers Agency, Suston Magazine heard from the UK’s High Level Climate Action Champion and fellow Tarfala Think Tank alumni member Nigel Topping. Here, Nigel Topping reveals what he perceives to be the biggest hurdles in sustainability, why “greenwashing” is ultimately self-sabotage and why teamwork is crucial in the fight against climate change.

What will be the biggest hurdle to overcome in our fight against climate change?

Our belief in ourselves, our ability to imagine what we can do differently, radically differently. We find it very difficult to imagine that the future could be very different from the past. I think it’s unimaginative to decide that it’s too late, we failed, or it’s impossible to transform as fast as we need to. I have huge faith in the innovative capability of humans when we decide to do extraordinary things.

So, a failure of imagination is the biggest threat we face.

#RaceToZero is committed to halving emissions by 2030, why is it important for businesses, investors, and governments to work together to tackle climate change?

No one can do this on their own, everything’s interconnected. Businesses respond to investors and customers and governments and vice versa. So it’s important that we act with the appropriate urgency because this is an inevitable transition. We know that not dealing with it is going to be disastrous in terms of economics and human suffering, that’s inevitable.

It will only happen in a controlled way if we get on with it together. We often talk about radical collaboration – you can’t win this race on your own.

What is the biggest change businesses can make to become more environmentally friendly?

Well, I reject the idea that this is about being environmentally friendly, I think that’s a 1990s framing. This is not about being environmentally friendly, front and center, this is about survival and thriving as a business. This is an inevitable change. If you don’t embrace it, you’re going to lose because you’ll suddenly find all your competitors are running away from you so fast that you can’t catch up.

Yes, the consequence at the end will be that we’re not destroying the environment that we rely on. So the consequences will be environmentally friendly. But if you’re thinking that this is whether or not to do something environmentally friendly, you’ve already lost because you’re framing it wrong.

People want to trust brands. The brands that aren’t delivering a zero carbon future won’t be trusted, so they’ll die. And the ones that are, will be trusted and they’ll grow. You just can’t fight this anymore. The consequence will be environmental friendliness, but you can make these decisions with a very hard-headed business head on. You don’t have to be a tree hugger!

What are your thoughts on greenwashing and how can brands be authentically sustainable?

Greenwashing is basically lying, and it’s assuming that your customers are stupid – it’s a pretty bad strategy. You might get away with it in the short term, but you won’t get away in the long term. Greenwashing would be pretending to do something and knowing you’re not actually going to or using clever words to give the impression that you’re doing something when you’re not. So good luck with that as a strategy for wealth creation because your customers will find you out and then reject you; they’ll be angry when they find out.

So, the way you can avoid that is by being honest, bold and using acknowledged standards. That’s why we created the #RaceToZero. If you join the race to zero, you can only do it in a robust way! It’s about setting targets and delivering on them. So if you’re not up for the fight, then retire because this is going to be disruptive. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s also exciting.


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