Solving for Net Zero:
Inspiring Positive Behaviour Change
Yesterday morning, I woke to the news that Theresa May will commit to legislation requiring the UK to achieve a Net-Zero emissions target by 2050, making it the first G7 country to legally mandate 100% reduction. I actually leapt out of bed and there was an early morning, Boogie Wonderland feeling in the air.
Despite some uncomfortable allowances for international carbon offsets, this is a hard-won triumph made possible through years of tremendous work and collaboration in the scientific, NGO and business communities. This law will carve out a leadership role for the UK as we build a more sustainable, international economy and provide incredible opportunities for UK job creation and infrastructure development.
But just a few swipes further down my news feed, I read something that made my stomach turn:
Halfway through reading this Independent article I was already fuming.
We are better than this, people!
For decades, scientists have known about the exponential, impending dangers of climate change. It has taken an incredible amount of hard graft and lifetimes of dedication to finally get consensus around the reality and urgency of the problem. While there are still a few climate deniers firmly burying their heads in the sand, for the most part, mainstream governments and businesses are getting on with the undeniable truth…
If I’m being generous, I will allow that the authors of the report, issued by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, had the best of intentions by showing us that our future reality is likely much worse than we previously acknowledged. And, as I’m in such a big-hearted mood, I will posit that the journalist wasn’t trying to actively derail the work set in motion by thousands of experts for the last 25 years.
Yet in all of the social research I’ve reviewed in the 16 years I’ve been in the business of systems change, I’ve never once come across a study proving the best way to motivate people towards positive, sustained behaviour change involves fear tactics and Doomsday illustrations. In fact, people who tend to look at situations through the lens of the worst-case scenario often suffer from reduced ambition, lack of focus, and little to no faith in success. So in the very best case scenario, this report and subsequent article are extraordinarily irresponsible. We already know that there is a very limited amount of time to reverse the course of events, and every available resource should be invested in efforts that enable positive change.
I believe the reason that we are having a year of unprecedented progress towards a sustainable economy is because we are FINALLY starting to collectively pry our way out of the ‘Sky is Falling’ approach, and move into a more generative, opportunity-driven dialogue about solutions to the Climate Crisis.
The Net-Zero Recommendations from the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) are being advanced into law because this highly detailed, clearly-articulated plan stayed focussed in the realm of the achievable, and because it is underpinned with a faith in humanity to find creative solutions as we evolve our way out of this emergency.
But this highly celebrated new legislation presents a formidable challenge to millions of UK businesses. All too soon, there will be new regulatory measures to ensure that everyone does their part to meet the Net Zero targets. Does your organisation know what that journey looks like? How nimble is your supply chain? How might you engage, educate and inspire your team to be part of the movement of UK businesses committed to achieving Net Zero?
Start with presumed success.
Net-Zero provides an opportunity to be solution orientated and avoid spending too much time focused on the problem. I don’t think I’m the only planner who has wasted countless hours in meetings where each decision-maker felt it necessary to put their own particular spin on the challenges and barriers. With everyone in the room so bogged down in the constraints, most suggestions lead to only incremental gains (and the hardest problems rarely get tackled).
The best part of zero-sum goals is that you can start the planning process accepting that you will have to solve 100% of the problems. So, there’s no need to start with battling over where to start. Instead, take your teams on a backward-looking journey. Begin in the year 2050 and instil the inherent belief that you’ve already successfully implemented the solutions. What might they look like?
Look around corners and allow space for inspiration.
Only ten years ago most of the energy solutions presented in the Net Zero plan were not feasible. Problems with battery size, storage, and cost made the idea of global electrification of vehicles entirely laughable, but today, BloombergNEF forecasts that it will be cheaper to own and operate an electric car (vs. petrol or diesel) by 2022. And that timeline is turbocharged – in 2018, that predicted crossover date was 2026; meaning that improved technology has already shaved four years off the delivery time.
As you and your team start building your future Net Zero plans, remember to keep looking ahead and around you. What new innovations and technologies are set to influence your infrastructure? How might pre-competitive collaboration speed up systemic solutions in your industry? What success stories (inside AND outside your field) can you highlight to spark creativity and innovation in your own teams?
Connect the work to a higher purpose.
67% of employees around the world expect their employer to have a social purpose, and for their job to have a meaningful impact. Given the current trajectory, I expect that number will continue to rise. Positive societal impact will become a significant differentiator for organisations, enabling them to attract and retain the best talent.
Let’s not kid ourselves, in order to survive and thrive in the next few decades, 100% of UK businesses will need to make seismic shifts. Plenty won’t make it. So, spend your time where it counts, connecting your sustainability strategy (including Net Zero objectives) directly into your company’s raison d’être.
Set clear, measurable targets, and then have faith in people to achieve them.
For so many companies out there, the idea of navigating their teams to Net Zero in just over 30 years is entirely overwhelming. A bit like trying to get from Sao Paulo to Helsinki on foot. Without a map. Or money. Or shoes.
It’s important to remember you are not alone on this journey. There is a planet full of active collaborators, all working to solve similar problems and armed with the knowledge you need. Ask for help. Find trusted advisors to help you devise targets that are rooted in rock solid methodology. Arm your teams with education, set parameters for external collaboration, and you might be surprised to see the ground-breaking solutions that can result.
The groundswell of positive, business engagement with climate change over the past year and a half has me positively giddy. In just the last two months, I have sat in rooms with giants of industry – key decision makers at global energy providers, air and ground transport, and global banks. Each one of them leaning forward in positive anticipation of this legislation. Signing Net-Zero 2050 into law means more UK jobs, more investment capital for renewable infrastructures, and more opportunities for industrial and political leadership in the UK at a time when we desperately need to build back our strength.
We will achieve Net Zero not just because we must.
But because we can.
Photo credit: Paul Skorupskas