Climate Change Response and Leadership

Rob Campbell’s piece on stuff this week, supported the important role of business in making changes to address climate change.  As the Chairman of some of the country’s highest profile companies, the fact that he is making the case for action and leadership on climate change is encouraging.

It’s also interesting to see him encouraging activists to keep up the pressure on businesses to do more for the environment, because businesses are balancing a range of stakeholder interests.

As long as that’s not being positioned as a valid reason not to act (‘you didn’t keep an eye on us, so we eased off’) then I’m ok with it. Fair enough to recognise real-life issues and encourage everyone to work together. And fair enough to point out that regulation is a valid tool to ensure everyone does their bit. In fact I think that’s a key point.

To me there’s no question that we all have a role to play. We are all part of the problem and all part of the solution. My interest is helping and encouraging business to do better for people and the planet.

However, it’s not the responsibility solely of businesses to drive this change. Just as Campbell encourages activists to continue to put pressure on businesses to drive climate change action, as consumers we need to do our bit too. If we align our purchasing decisions with products and services which are working with and not against the planet, it will help. Our consumer dollar plays a role in driving company behaviour. Companies that don’t win our money, don’t stay in business.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on consumer behaviour to drive the type of changes needed to address climate change.

For example, many of us support the cause of animal welfare, to one degree or another. For some that means being vegan or vegetarian. For others it means only buying skincare products that aren’t tested on animals. Maybe it means we pay a couple of extra dollars to buy free-range eggs.

Using eggs as an example, there will continue to be a trade in caged-hen eggs for as long as it’s not banned by regulation, and as long as it’s profitable. In absence of a regulated ban, it’s not realistic to expect that producers will change their practices until consumers stop buying their eggs. But with the economic advantages of large scale caged egg production, cage eggs are cheaper, and that’s attractive to many consumers. It’s been recognised that in this case regulation is required. Conventional cage systems for egg production are being phased out and will be gone by 2022.

If we can’t rely on consumers to pressure businesses into taking action to address climate change, and business leadership can only realistically be expected to go so far, constrained by responsibilities to investors and other stakeholders, then political/regulatory measures will be important in any response to address climate change.

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