The Purpose Imperative

Natalie Simmons
August 8, 2023

Understanding the latest trends is crucial for informed discussions and policymaking.

Truer words were never spoken. So here’s a ‘trend’ for you: The era of global warming is over. “The era of global boiling has arrived.” UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said  in July of this year. Powerful stuff. Scary even. What he’s referring to, is the long list of extreme weather events that seem to have besieged millions of people: the fires in Greece, Spain, Canada and North America these last few weeks; the devastating floods in China, Pakistan, Germany; NSW was smashed by floods too remember; and a little further back, our own catastrophic bushfires that laid waste to tens of millions of square kilometres and wiped out billions of native animals and livestock. Add to this list the disappearing glaciers in Europe, New Zealand, and at the poles. 

Just listing these incidents is depressing and frightening. And there are many more, very clear examples of the sudden and violent impacts of climate change. In the face of all of this you’d be confident thinking that the number of climate deniers and sceptics would be trending down, right?

Cough. Er, no. Sort of.

According to this article in The Conversation Australia’s number of deniers and sceptics was more than twice the global average, in 2020. At that time we placed third in the world for climate deniers behind Sweden in 2nd and the USA in top spot. The authors, Caroline Fisher and Sora Park, referencing The Digital News Report of 2020, make a startling connection between exposure to misinformation and the prevalence of denialism.

In their rather hefty paper on climate and Covid-19 audience segments, RIchardson, Thaker and Holmes posit that scepticism and denialism of the human influences on climate change are higher when there is a “prevalence of misinformation and denialism in a ‘post truth’ era.”

“Misinformation and denialism have a long history in the context of communication of climate change*, and have also appeared in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic*.”

We’re not about to point any fingers in this article by naming those sources of misinformation. No thanks, only solutions here. And notwithstanding, a lot can happen in 3 years and it’s far from bad news. That same Digital News Report 2 years later has this to say;

”Trusted traditional and public service broadcasters remain the most popular sources of news and there continues to be a strong audience appreciation for journalistic values of impartiality and independence.”

In his blistering and entertaining opinion piece for the Guardian, Michael Mann puts it better than anyone when he writes that while “denial was not dead”;

“... the battle lines on climate have retreated so far now that the real fight isn’t over whether climate change is real or human caused, or even whether we should act. It’s now about what form action should take.”

The momentum for change towards a more sustainable world, in the face of it boiling to death, is reflected in government policy, business practice, community movements, and individual efforts. These policies, actions, and strategies focused on sustainability and climate change are widely accepted as essential for our survival.

For example, the current Australian Government environmental policy includes a review of the carbon credits system, possibly a good idea. Introducing mandatory climate reporting by 2024 is also on the table. This is for no small reason, as companies resorting to the purchasing of too many climate credits poses its own problems.

Adam Morton writes in his article for the Guardian;

“...a tonne of carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels has “a very long tail” in the atmosphere. About 40% of each tonne released is still there after a century, and 20% remains after 10,000 years. Storing more carbon in trees and across the landscape is vital, but it cannot be guaranteed to last as long, or measured with the same precision.”

Where does that leave business? There’s no single answer, and that could very well be the reason why we’ve seen the number of companies with chief sustainability officers in executive positions triple from 9% to 28% between 2016 and 2021. The concept of Purpose is no longer just a concept. It’s a multifaceted imperative, for the extreme weather event reasons above, sure, but also because brands realise they are a much stronger proposition for their customers, employees and stakeholders when they have one and live by it. Brands also realise it’s not simple to do. There is a very real need for concrete advice on action, measurement and reporting of ESG-related activity.

At Barefoot Citizens Consulting we tie company purpose back to the UN SDGs. (If you read our articles regularly, you would know that.) We do this because the 17 sustainable development goals are focussed on a global response - alignment, action, cooperation. Through them we’re witnessing sustainability and environmental initiatives gain momentum. And boy, don’t we need it to continue.

Company Purpose is something to rally around in the boardroom, the lunchroom, and the back patio on the weekend when chatting around the Weber. The rise of Sustainability departments, ESG policy and strategies, Diversity and Inclusion, emissions target setting, tracking and reporting of energy and waste… all this and more means that everyone’s not just talking about purpose as an integral part of business, they’re doing something about it too. 

Now. Every blog post worth its salt needs a nice succinct list. And if we’re going to reduce the global boiling Guterres was referring to, governments and businesses need to start with these 5 things. 

I know this is by no means the complete list, but they are the big ones:

  1. Transition to renewable energy
  2. Reduce energy use
  3. Restore forests
  4. Sustainable practices, especially agriculture
  5. Adaption/resilience

I’ve highlighted the 5th point because this is the one that can help with the other four. The more adaptable and resilient we are, the more inclined we are to speak up when it matters, to innovate when required, and to push on when the going gets tough.

A parting thought about this list: People will be doing the heavy lifting. Behaviour change takes work - strategy, communication, collaboration platforms and feedback structures, learning and development programmes, and measurement and reporting tools. Behaviour change to focus on ESG needs nurturing and support throughout your organisation. Partnering with Barefoot Citizens Consulting is the best way to start. Get in touch and let’s start a conversation.