The new heroes of our age?

July 29, 2019

The new heroes of our age?

Fridays for Future and its influence on corporate sustainability policy

I have learned that you are never too small to make a difference.Greta Thunberg is only 16 years old, and yet she succeeds in putting her messages across simply and effectively. Environmental activists around the world have been trying to raise awareness for the effects of climate change for decades - with blockades, by chaining themselves to coal excavators, and with other spectacular campaigns. But nobody else, no other organization has ever drawn so much public attention to themselves as this Swedish girl who has practically launched a new youth movement all by herself.

Greta Thunberg is a stroke of luck for global climate policy. She manages to mobilize young people all around the world and to get the subject of climate protection to the top of the political agenda. But as successful as Greta Thunberg is at mobilizing people, she also very much divides opinion. Her sometimes dramatic choice of words (“I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday”) do not ingratiate her with everyone. The criticism voiced regarding the school strikes is also understandable. What would happen if people began imitating that idea and other interest groups suddenly started mobilizing school children to their ends? And then of course there is the question of a lack of legitimacy. Nobody elected Greta Thunberg. And nobody can unelect her. And yet she is a political authority who speaks at the UN Climate Conference and before the European Parliament.

Greta Thunberg is not saying anything that hasn’t already been known

However, it is exactly this directness, this rule-breaking, this unconventional nature which typifies the success of Greta Thunberg and the entire Fridays for Future movement. The logic there is that to even be heard amongst the crowds, you have to change the rules. Otherwise, young people’s interests will be highly underrepresented in global climate policy. You can believe that Greta means what she says. She is the first person to make it clear and understandable to everyone that we cannot just continue as we have been doing, that it is time to act. This young climate activist is not saying anything that hasn’t already been known and scientifically proven for a long time, she is simply expressing it differently. Her strength is her simplicity, her pointedness, her confrontational manner.

As a result, the Fridays for Future movement acts as a catalyst, considerably accelerating political discourse around climate protection. Her focus on “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong” may at times seem somewhat one-dimensional, but it nevertheless forces people to take a clear stance. The message is that there is no such thing as a happy medium where climate change is concerned, so you have to decide now which side you are on. And no party or interest group can afford to simply ignore the interests of the young generation.

Many companies are unsettled

Nevertheless, the force with which climate activists managed to dominate public discourse within such a short time appears to be unsettling many companies. Choosing the right way to address the Fridays for Future movement’s demands can quickly become a tightrope walk, because the danger of being publicly exposed is simply too great. On the other hand, the radical changes and turnarounds being demanded by the activists pose a threat to the foundations of many businesses.

As successful as the climate movement is in highlighting problems and shortcomings, it still lacks clear solution strategies. And Greta Thunberg cannot provide us with them, nor is it her responsibility. Rather, companies ought to use the impulse Greta Thunberg has put out there and seriously ask themselves how their own business model can be made more climate-friendly. After all, experience shows that only a minority of companies are in a position to make their processes, supply chains and business models CO2-free in the short term. Most corporate climate strategies only seek to achieve significant reductions by 2030 or later. Not due to ignorance, but because change takes time and companies are interdependent. For instance, an e-commerce business can only switch to CO2-free shipping if the right logistics providers offer that service across the board.

The elements Avoid – Reduce – Offset form the cornerstone of many successful climate protection strategies

Climate neutrality – offsetting CO2 emissions through certified carbon offset projects – has thus far proven to be the best possible alternative. The mechanism promotes the creation of high-quality carbon offset projects all over the world and enables companies to unfurl a positive climate effect today, straight away. Many experts believe that the Paris Climate Goals can only ever be achieved through a sensible combination of reduction and offsetting measures. The elements Avoid – Reduce – Offset therefore correctly form the cornerstone of many successful climate protection strategies. The positive additional benefit generated by carbon offset projects worldwide, for instance their contribution to education, combating poverty, and economic development, is also often forgotten. For example, our new carbon offset project helps to combat plastic waste in the oceans while also generating additional income for families in Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines.

It is thus far more creative drive rather than uncertainty that should be dominating companies’ climate strategies. There are countless examples of companies that have successfully embarked on a journey towards climate neutrality, coupled with clear and ambitious CO2 reduction goals. And who also pro-actively communicate that, for example with the ClimatePartner climate neutral product label. Companies usually do not do this with an ulterior business motive, but rather because they believe it to be the most expedient way to make their business model climate-friendly with the technologies currently available. Nevertheless, this commitment can also bear economic fruit in the long term, because Fridays for Future participants are of course not just activists - for many companies, they are also tomorrow’s customers.

An analysis by Dr. Christian Reisinger