Climate justice and business
Advancing climate justice is the responsibility of every company. In our recent climate justice post, we discussed the key role that businesses and their leaders play in transforming the economy in line with the planet’s ability to sustain it. Acknowledging systemic inequities and taking actions to address them are crucial to achieving this transition. This just transition to a net-zero economy is a complex, multifaceted undertaking, and you may be wondering where to even begin. Here are some key steps your company can take right away to advance climate justice.
What leading companies are doing
Leading companies acknowledge that climate change has differing social, economic, and other adverse impacts. They recognise that these adverse impacts are not created equally nor are they distributed equally; that the needs of the most marginalised and vulnerable must be prioritised; and that companies are responsible for their historic contributions to climate change and must do their part in advancing the solution.
Across industries, those companies leading on climate justice are pursuing long-term and collaborative solutions. This means sharing best practices, investing in product or process design and innovation, and providing that knowledge and technology to others in a way that grows access. It also means leveraging their influence and inspiring change within their value chains to help others reduce their social and environmental footprint.
What your company can do today
Credible and actionable guidance on climate justice is just beginning to enter the mainstream. We have reviewed frameworks and toolkits for enacting climate justice, and we especially like the B Lab’s Climate Justice Playbook for Business. It provides a sound business case for climate justice, case studies of climate justice in action, and addresses key obstacles, insights, and questions.
Building on this playbook, here are 9 steps your company can take today, to start advancing climate justice with stakeholders and rights holders:
1) Advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organisation
Begin in your own organisation. Explore your recruitment, onboarding, advancement, and compensation practices and priorities, and learn where you are in your journey to champion and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. For example, is your workforce representative of the context you operate in? From here, determine what improvements your company must make. To find out what improvement looks like, leading companies support and empower employee resource groups,¹ and take the time to listen and learn the unique climate change-related challenges and concerns of their employees.
2) Improve impacts on and relationships with communities
Setting a net-zero emissions target is crucial in addressing the climate crisis, but this is only part of the picture. Another key step is to identify and address your business activities that have the greatest impact on marginalised and vulnerable communities. Consider how you might support the skills training, education, employment opportunities, and benefits-sharing agreements that will support communities to contribute to a regenerative economy. What can you learn from climate risk and vulnerability assessments and how can your company translate this into supporting community-driven climate resilience planning and into business strategy?
3) Collaborate with your peers and partners
Amplify the pace and scale of your efforts to accelerate climate justice by collaborating with partners, competitors, and other businesses with relevant expertise, both within your sector and beyond. This can include the creation of forward-thinking standards and reskilling initiatives, and growing expectations around sustainability disclosure through transparency agreements.
4) Support and encourage value chain partners
Your company may already recognise that your value chain holds both risk and opportunity for a just transition. Global supply chains can perpetuate historic inequity and hide modern slavery, child labour, exploitation and violence, or poverty-level wages. Supporting climate justice means looking at your value chain through a human rights lens. It means pursuing relationships with like-minded suppliers and encouraging others to advance climate justice, including by sharing knowledge and building mutual accountability. And sometimes it means making difficult decisions around how to leverage your influence in your supply chain and to make changes when alignment is not possible.
5) Build your understanding of climate justice
Build relationships with experts and build awareness in your company about climate justice, including (or even especially) with specialists and activists who may not be supportive of your company’s or industry’s current approaches. This will challenge your thinking and deeply-held perspectives. Educate leadership and employees on how systemic inequity intersects with the climate crisis and ensure that any solutions you develop and implement are informed by the lived experiences of those most impacted.
6) Endorse climate justice policies
Governments have the power to set policy goals, but businesses are the single largest contributors to climate change. And corporate influence on politics – both as individual organisations and industry associations – is immense. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that you include stakeholders and rights holders in your decision-making and transparently endorse policies at all levels of government that support climate justice.
7) Engage in lobbying that aligns with your climate justice values, and avoid that which does not
There is an inextricable link between corporate money and government decision-making. Too often we hear of businesses that publicly support carbon taxes or more stringent penalties for polluters only to later learn that they were also spending millions on counteractive lobbying efforts and donations for politicians who favour fossil fuel exploration. If your company supports efforts and individuals whose values and intentions differ from your own, then you are essentially undermining your own climate strategy, falling short on your contributions to climate justice, and jeopardising long-term business continuity.
8) Pay your taxes (but actually)
Climate justice will depend, at least in part, on transformative, publicly funded efforts to enhance and preserve social support networks, and this will require your company (and others) to pay their fair share of taxes. Avoiding taxes and leveraging loopholes is the key to short-term gain and long-term pain, for your company and particularly for those most vulnerable. There is a place for community investment, but leading companies know that paying the required amount of corporate tax in a timely manner in the requisite jurisdiction(s) is the most important contribution effecting meaningful, long-term, systemic change.
9) Speak up
Businesses have a powerful voice. When they speak out, their peers, the public, and governments listen. The survival of historically under-represented communities that face systemic discrimination, alienation, and exclusion depends on companies like yours rallying at their side with representation and resources. Your company’s societal acceptance and risk profile depends on the resilience of these communities, and they are counting on you to do your part in growing and safeguarding their visibility.
These actions can help your company get started on advancing climate justice. They will enable you to be part of the solution and inspire others to join you along the way.
¹ Cordivano, Sarah. “Understanding Employee Resource Groups: A Guide for Organizations.” Medium, Sarah Cordivano, 10 May 2021, https://medium.com/sarah-cordivano/employee-resource-groups-part-1-b684aa249420.