Earth Day 2017:  making environmental and climate literacy a priority for businesses, too

Summary

April 22nd is Earth Day: every year since 1970, this day aims to “lift environmental issues onto the world stage” and empower citizens, governments, businesses and other organisations to tackle them together.

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In 2017, the Earth Day theme is “Environmental and Climate Literacy”. And while the Earth Day Network’s approach focuses mainly on high school education, there is a lot to be said for the benefice of raising environmental and climate literacy in companies and businesses.

Build a citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change by 2020

“Education is the foundation for progress. We need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet. We need to empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection,” writes the Earth Day Network, who is launching a campaign to achieve global environmental and climate literacy by 2020. More specifically, the campaign focuses on high school students around the world, with the ambition that by 2020 they all graduate as “environmental and climate literate citizen, ready to take action and be a voice for change.”

To achieve that, the Earth Day Network has conducted and released research on the status of environmental literacy policies in the United States, and has joined the collective efforts of a network of nonprofits, government organizations and business leaders in the campaign. Right now, in the United States, 48 states are in the process of developing Environmental Literacy Plans (ELP) that will include environmental education in the curricula, propose funding and support policies. The hope is that the initiative will inspire others elsewhere in the world to help educate the citizens of tomorrow to the challenges posed by climate change.

But, as writes the Earth Day Network, “environmental and climate literacy is the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws and policies but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs.” And, as a matter of fact, companies do have an important role to play to empower everyone to do their bit against climate change.

Businesses cannot afford to ignore climate change

“I would encourage every single business in the world, if they haven’t done it already, to become climate change literate. There is not a business in the world that can afford to ignore climate change,” declared Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, to Al Jazeera in 2015. The stakes are high: according to a White House projection quoted by The Guardian, the incremental costs of an additional degree of warming will reach $700bn per year by 2030. And it is likely that companies will have to absorb a significant part of this expense.

As of today, there are no internationally coordinated efforts to raise climate change literacy in the business world: it falls upon each and every company to take these steps internally. There are available resources, though. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed a guide, Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science, to provide teachers, companies, individuals and communities with essential knowledge on “Earth’s climate, impacts of climate change, and approaches to adaptation or mitigation.” According to the Climate Literacy Network, created in 2007 to work towards greater climate literacy in the general population, this guide is a good starting point, as it “provides a common set of learning goals that are scientifically accurate and pedagogically sound.” Giving the employees access to resources like that is a good start.

But it is only brick one. The next step is helping employees understand how climate change affects their company’s activity, specifically. In an article entitled “How to help your company prepare for climate change in 2016”, The Guardian stated : “It will become vital for workers to understand the links between planetary boundaries and a company’s product portfolio, between their decisions and the company’s future, and between consumer behavior and the company’s pipeline (…). They will need to understand how every element of their work can impact the natural environment and resulting social conditions.” To achieve that, companies will have to provide training, develop outreach programmes, favour formal and informal conversations on these matters — and, eventually, if they haven’t done so already, embed climate change mitigation in the heart of their activity. For instance, they will need to be able to reflect on the impact of climate change on available resources and on where their suppliers live and operate, says The Guardian, or on how customer behaviour may shift because of changing weather conditions and resource availability. In short, they will need to be able to reassess the whole of their value creation chain as it is impacted by environmental change.

Environmental and climate literacy is a crucial and indispensable step to building the companies of tomorrow, companies that will be aware of how they impact the ecosystem and how they can mitigate that impact — and the costs associated to it.