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Assessing Sustainability Leadership On Climate Action


The next eight years are critical if we are to prevent irreversible damage from climate change and create opportunities for a more just transition’, says an assessment report

By Salam Rajesh

It is a better known concern that business professionals tend to view the natural environment, in specific pristine nature reserves, as resources for feeding their enterprises and companies to a level where disregard of environmental issues and human rights violations become a norm and a heated, contested issue.

In tune with this thinking, the State of the Profession 2022 report interestingly looks at the evolution of the role of the sustainability leader in today’s business world. This speaks volume on the proactive role of business leaders especially in addressing climate issues.

The present context setting is in involving business leaders, more specifically the richer, powerful company leadership who have the capacity to bulldoze through policies and public ‘protests’ to edge into controversial locations and circumstances to carry on with their businesses, regardless of the impacts they make along the way.

The SoP 2022 report goes on to say that the ‘Great Expansionism’ is reflective of a mounting climate crisis that requires increasingly bold action and wherewith company CEOs are ‘more engaged, more companies are expanding their sustainability efforts and the size of their teams, and more commitments are being made to reduce GHG emissions’. Whereas, at the same time, it profiles that recent reports from the IPCC, CDP and others indicate that these increased efforts are still not enough and there is still a long way to go to achieve stated goals.

On a more affirmative note, the report points out that a positive change over during the past 12 years has been an increase in gender diversity in the profession. The number of women in sustainability leadership roles has expanded by close to 20 percentage points in every category since GreenBiz’s first survey in 2010, the report stated.

This broadly looks at the gender sensitive issues in climate talks where for instance in many of the developing, and under-developed, countries women who manage homes and families are facing extreme forms of hardships from factors like water and food insecurity, and concerns on livelihood as climate extremes induce unprecedented droughts, floods, wildfires, cyclonic storms, and many more that negatively impact lives and livelihoods.

An increase in the women leadership would hopefully look deeper into the sustainability concerns as millions of families in hard-hit countries continue to reel under conditions of extreme weather phenomena that are being said to be influenced by climate change in recorded time scale.

Looking at the concept of ‘Just Transition’, the report stresses that ‘until recently, environmental justice was a phrase most likely associated with activists, but the past few years have seen the movement grow in prominence when it comes to climate change and the clean energy transition. It is rapidly becoming an issue for mainstream companies’.

This comes in line with recent international level observations such as the latest IPCC assessment that stresses on a greater focus on equity and justice “because the effects of climate change are exacerbating inequality and hitting especially hard for low-income people, and marginalized developing countries”.

In looking closer to environmental concerns, the report highlights that the concept of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues ‘originated in the financial sector, and the moniker was designed to provide investors a clearer division among what are actually intersectional issues. ESG gives all stakeholders a shortcut as to how to assess, address, communicate and measure progress in the three areas of most critical importance’.

In short, the inter-linkage between the three areas of environmental, social and governance issues is intricately intertwined where the one cannot be addressed in isolation of the other two. Environmental issues are intricately linked to social and economic issues, coupled with the nexus on politics and governance at both grassroots and state platforms.

In many parts of the world, environmental issues are seen from the perspective of politics and the intervention of governments where the decisions taken at the government level often than not intrude into the ‘territories of life’ governed and managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, over-riding their interests for individual and companies’ pursuits. The result is often an open-ended conflict of interest that can persist for years on end.

As per the GreenBiz’s assessment, in 2022 up to 52 percent of sustainability leaders worldwide at the rank of Vice-President or Senior Vice-President are dedicated to sustainability issues, as compared to just 38 percent in 2012. The report further stated that 6 percent of large organizations lack a full-time sustainability leader while 10 percent of smaller firms reported no one dedicated full-time, which is a significant decrease from a reported 27 percent two years ago. Thirty-seven percent of small firms have a vice president focused on sustainability, up from 24 percent two years ago.

The information is indicative of the fact that there is an increase in the number of sustainability leadership across the globe, with more focused agendas on climate issues and the need for addressing livelihoods and rights of people who are directly impacted by business leaders’ decisions on extractive industries, explorations and commercial venture into nature reserves.

The report in its conclusive remark has an urgent message for the world community, stating that, “The next eight years are critical if we are to prevent irreversible damage from climate change and create opportunities for a more just transition”.

It further calls on sustainability leaders stating that, “Corporate commitments and efforts have increased, but there’s a need to go further faster – by investing in the people who can make them happen. The sustainability profession is expanding more than any other time in history. Companies are beginning to embed sustainable practices throughout the organization. Now is the time for boards and senior management to reward their sustainability professionals with the backing and the budgets to create even greater impact”.

This basically is a call for leaders at the top to sustain and encourage their juniors and subordinates to pack up their gears for a wholesome support to edge forward their teams to achieve the goals set by the United Nations under its Sustainable Development Goals, that is, the seventeen targeted SDG goals.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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