95% of youth say firms are not doing enough to fight climate change

Put down the gloom porn and put up a fight in the boardroom: The next generation of leaders wants businesses to step up and take action against climate change, according to a survey.

When it comes to climate change, the next generation of business leaders have three words for those currently at the top of the corporate ladders: Be more ambitious.

According to a recent survey by carpet manufacturer Interface, 95 per cent of young people globally feel that companies are not doing enough to reverse the effects of climate change, but are clear on the action that businesses should take.

More than half of those polled, between 18 and 35 years of age, said they want business leaders to raise the ambition of their organisations, whether that is thinking about closed loop cycles of production or ensuring there is zero carbon footprint in a firm’s value chain.

The private sector has to come up with new ways of doing business, said 19 per cent of the 300-plus young respondents. This includes committing to business models that take into account a company’s social and environmental impact as well as its financial performance.

Another 16 per cent said they would like to see companies “Influence policy and regulation” by, for example, championing a carbon tax, while 7 per cent talked about the importance of companies in the private sector forming coalitions to amplify their impact or developing solutions through collaboration.

The Climate Take Back survey—the results of which were released in May— was a broad study of attitudes and opinions about the possibility of reversing climate change rather than simply slowing it down.

Besides polling what the survey called “the next generation of business leaders”, the study sought answers from 404 climate experts drawn from the private sector, civil society and governments in 26 countries.

Conducted in partnership with Net Impact, a non-profit that teaches students and professionals to use their skills to drive social and environmental change, the survey is part of Interface’s Climate Take Back mission that was announced last year.

It follows the carpet maker’s previous Mission Zero initiative, which was launched with the intention of neutralising its environmental footprint by 2020.

The survey found that both climate experts and the younger generation were very optimistic about the possibility of a climate change reversal, at 95 per cent and 91 per cent respectively, though their reasons differed significantly.

Fifty-seven per cent of climate experts believe the glass is half full because “We have everything we need [to reverse climate change]”, and pointed to the falling costs of renewable energy and availability of technologies to move towards a zero-carbon economy.

The top reason for optimism among the younger respondents, however, was a belief in the “will power, ingenuity and creativity” of mankind, according to the survey.

But 34 per cent of climate experts believed continuing business-as-usual was the one factor that could choke progress on climate change. In answer to the question of ‘What would make Climate Take Back impossible?’, one respondent said: “When companies talk about the need to tackle the climate issue, yet still focus on selling more stuff to generate more profits and create more waste, without seeing the need to change to more sustainable business models.”

Other barriers to climate change action included a lack of will and leadership for change in politics and business, human mindsets and attitudes that cannot adapt, and climate feedback loops that push the biosphere beyond its ability to recover.

Another key reason cited by climate experts in the survey was: “We will never take back the climate unless we believe we can.” A lack of faith in the possibility of change, negativity or apathy will mean that people fail to change their actions, said respondents.

These include, “the disengagement of people to take actions and believing they can’t make a difference”, or even “Gloom porn - focusing on how awful life could be, [and] on how bad we are.”

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