Young people are passionate about driving change on the climate issues that stand to impact their future. This sentiment was especially evident at this year’s Sustain conference, where youth climate activists conveyed their focus on climate change and mitigating its effects. Evelyn Acham, the national coordinator of the Rise Up Movement, and Ester Galende-Sánchez, a climate policy researcher for the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), discussed the current severity of the climate crisis and the steps we must take in their session.
Their concerns are warranted.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even two degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.” According to Carbon Trust research, Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions occurring in a company’s supply chain) represent from 65 percent to 95 percent of a company’s broader carbon impact. While 14 percent of companies rated in the inaugural Carbon Maturity Report 2022 have a publicly available GHG emissions report, only 3.7 percent engage their suppliers on climate action.
Although ambition to improve is evident, there is more to be done. The United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe account for just 12 percent of today’s global population yet are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years. Additionally, these operations are causing more harm to those living beyond their borders. Countries like South Africa, Chile and Brazil produce only a tiny share of the total greenhouse gases, but they will suffer more from climate change as they tend to have hotter temperatures.
Young people are becoming more aware of the material impacts businesses have on climate disaster. Particularly, Gen Z and millennials believe that cancel culture (i.e., boycotting individuals or companies deemed to act in an unacceptable manner) is necessary to take down unethical businesses.
But there is a more positive and impactful way to take action. Young activists have a tremendous opportunity to work with businesses to influence greater change rather than shunning these businesses altogether. The current cancel culture mantra simply doesn’t cut it.
Massive amounts of people - especially younger generations - refuse to support companies that are either not doing enough to positively impact the environment or simply ignoring how their operations are worsening the effects of climate change. Now more than ever, activists need to engage with these companies to drive real impact. Otherwise, decisions will just continue to be made by the same boardroom demographic, void of the diverse viewpoints needed to make change.
This is where activists’ voices need to be heard by using platforms to help amplify their message. This involves engaging with local government through social media, as youth activist Greta Thunberg has done, to strengthen her credibility in influencing business leaders. Another option is to join youth-led organizations that help fight climate change (e.g. U.N. Act Now, Earth Uprising, Sunrise Movement). Youth can also attend company and sustainability-driven events like EcoVadis Sustain to share insights and ideas with business leaders. Lastly, they can found or join a startup in the sustainability space, like the young team at Ecotrek that is providing cutting-edge technology to accelerate sustainable impact in supply chains.
Companies can heed the call from youth activists by moving beyond the bare minimum of simply complying with industry regulations and sustainability standards and proving they are working to minimize unseen risk, build resilience and improve sustainability performance across their supply chains.
For example, companies can accelerate investment in supply chain sustainability monitoring - including carbon reduction efforts - as a foundational element for building long-term viability.
Companies can also create frameworks and carbon action targets across the entire value chain to set goals in areas like ensuring suppliers are setting carbon reduction targets; substituting purchased products or materials with lower-emission alternatives; focusing on significant supply chain and emissions hotspots; and developing guidelines to standardize internal carbon pricing methodology and defining minimum pricing levels for achieving the required reductions.
At the industry level, collaboration is one of the most effective mechanisms for companies striving to make progress toward real change. Far greater impact can be achieved by working together to define standards and processes for engaging supply partners to improve environmental, social, and ethical practices.
The future of climate action is collaboration and teamwork to drive real impact on a global scale. Businesses and youth activists can move the needle on climate change with the right blend of teamwork, shift to action and a sustainable framework. Research has shown that Gen Z and millennials are more active than older generations at addressing climate change on and offline - now’s the time to make their voices heard. As Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, said at Sustain, "give the youth a seat at the table... give them the table."
Image credit: Katie Rodriguez/Unsplash
Julia Salant is the Carbon Solution Director at EcoVadis, the leading provider of globally trusted business sustainability ratings. She is recognized as an Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) expert and is focused on helping businesses maximize positive impact and create value through sustainability.