Founder feature: 3 simple levers to solve the climate crisis
written by Tessa Clarke, CEO and co-founder of Olio
This was first published in Business Green on 1st November 2023 here
Ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes famously said: “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I’ll move the world.” In doing so he was highlighting the power of levers and leverage.
With only a handful of years in which to take meaningful action to avert the worst effects of the climate and ecological crisis, it’s becoming increasingly pressing for humanity to identify some high impact levers, and fast.
The great news is we have several.
Sadly though they’ve been largely overlooked in the mainstream narrative to date. So here at Olio we’re keen to unite with other organisations that are amplifying these levers, as we passionately believe they hold the key to our future.
Business as a force for good
Since Milton Friedman wrote in 1970 that the “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”, the majority of companies have wholeheartedly embraced this shareholder-first maxim. The consequences for the planet have been absolutely devastating. That’s because the relentless quest to maximise shareholder returns — in a world where carbon emissions, pollution, biodiversity loss and resource depletion have not been given a price — has resulted in us breaking 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries, leaving us facing not only a climate crisis, but also a biodiversity crisis and a resource depletion crisis too.
Thankfully the Better Business Act and its 2,000+ company signatories believe that business can, and should, be a force for good — for both people, and planet.
The mind-blowingly powerful lever they’ve identified is to amend Section 172 of the Companies Act to ensure businesses are legally responsible for benefiting workers, customers, communities and the environment, all while delivering a profit. By aligning the interests of shareholders with those of wider society and the environment, and in doing so empowering company directors to exercise their judgement in weighing up and advancing the interests of all stakeholders, this simple legislative change will unleash the full force of business, but having it pointing in the right direction at last. As a result, Olio is incredibly proud to be a signatory of the Better Business Act, and would strongly recommend other businesses join the growing community.
Another equally powerful lever is the international legislation proposed by Stop Ecocide International. Ecocide means ‘unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment caused by those acts’. By calling for international recognition of the crime of ecocide, to ensure lasting legal protection for all life on Earth, we would be changing the rules of the game within which the current model of capitalism operates. Most business leaders know deep down that they won’t have a business unless there’s a healthy planet on which it can operate. However, the current absence of a stand alone crime aimed at preventing and punishing the most severe harms to nature means it can be far too profitable to turn the other way when it comes to ecocide. That’s why it’s critical for legislation that enables and empowers businesses to take the right steps forward, together. In recognition of this, Olio and thousands of other businesses have signed Stop Ecocide International’s Business Open Letter and would strongly encourage others to do the same.
A third powerful lever would be regulation that mandates for businesses to publicly report their waste data. No matter which industry you look at, waste is unfortunately endemic. Take the food industry for example: in the UK businesses throw away 2 billion meals of perfectly good food every year, meanwhile over 9 million people are experiencing food insecurity. At the moment this waste is taking place behind closed doors so it’s very much a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, meaning there’s very little incentive to address it. Mandatory food waste reporting however would bring this criminal level of food waste out into the open, and so provide businesses with a powerful catalyst for change. The UK government’s recent announcement that it’s scrapping plans to introduce mandatory food waste reporting is a massive step in the wrong direction — and only continued public pressure will put us back on track to unlock the enormous power of this lever.
The power of individual action
While I fervently hope that governments around the world will wake up and harness the power of all three of these levers — business for good, ecocide law and waste regulation — it’s clearly not happening fast enough. So with the clock ticking, and in the absence of government action, we each need to harness our power as individuals to demand the change we wish to see. The Commitment is a wonderful way to make clear to your local MP that you will be voting with climate action at the heart of your vote. This will hopefully help accelerate the adoption of these three world-moving levers in a way that would make Archimedes — and future generations — proud.