“…Caroline Holtum is Communications Director at We Mean Business – a coalition on a mission to support businesses who want to adopt sustainable practices. We caught up with Caroline at her desk to find out more about We Mean Business’ amazing work, her role in the organisation and what businesses should be doing to protect the environment.“
Hi Caroline! First off, can you tell us a bit about We Mean Business and its purpose?
We Mean Business is a coalition of NGOs. Our ongoing mission is to use the voice of big business to raise government ambition on climate change. Big business is very influential and has the power to influence policy makers to do better on tackling climate change. We push businesses to pledge to commitments such as using 100% renewable power or aligning their emissions reductions with the Paris Agreement. In pulling these businesses together, we’re telling governments: business is moving – so should you.
What makes you different from your “competitors”?
What’s interesting about us is that we’ve united seven different NGOs (CDP, The Climate Group, World Business Council and others) that all have programmes for working with business on climate policy. We realised that instead of facing forward and getting policy makers to move, we were competing with one another – in our messaging, airtime and in our different asks of business.
So, seven of us came together and decided on the same asks. This makes it way better for business that no longer get seven different asks from slightly different NGOs. And clearer for policy makers, as they are being asked consistently for the same things by business.
What is the main ask from business at the moment?
The climate is changing faster than we thought and scientists are saying that we need to act with much more urgency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprised of hundreds of the world’s top climate scientists reports to global governments on what climate science is now telling us. In 2015, it was recognised that temperature rises of around two degrees above pre-industrial levels would be an appropriate target to aim for.
Two degrees is still disruptive to lots of ecosystems, and many small island states would no longer exist under that temperature rise – but it was seen as a plausible aim at the time. Then in October 2018 the IPCC put out a report saying that two degrees is in fact worse than we initially thought. It’s still way better than the trajectory that we’re currently on, but 1.5 degree temperature rise is actually what we need secure to maintain at least a modicum of stability across ecosystems and our economies.
So we’re asking business to reduce emissions in line with 1.5 degrees – there’s no other option.
How do individual businesses go about achieving the 1.5 benchmark?
For a lot of businesses it’s about making fundamental changes. Big consumer facing brands don’t always necessarily have a very big climate impact, so they can fairly easily focus on energy efficiency by using 100% renewable power or switch to LEDs. But for some of the really big industries that customers and citizens don’t necessarily think about, like cement, it’s the actual chemical process involved in the production process that emits the most carbon. Instead of tinkering around the edges, these companies need to do fundamental engineering work to figure out how to get in line with 1.5 degrees.
Eight companies currently have their strategies aligned with 1.5, which doesn’t sound like very many, but no countries are aligned with 1.5 yet. There’s a big push for everyone to be more ambitious. It’s a challenge: how do you move business who have pushed as hard as they can to get to two, really quickly to 1.5?
What does your role as Comms Director involve?
My job is to shift policy makers’ perception that business doesn’t want action on climate change. There are very big forces at play in the business world that really don’t want action on climate change – the oil and gas industry, for instance. Unfortunately there’s a very powerful movement pushing governments to say it’s bad for business, the economy and jobs, and that it’s too disruptive. My job is to say that actually, a large cohort of businesses are already experiencing negative impacts in their supply chain and direct operations because of climate change, and they want to see action.
It’s about countering that really powerful fossil fuel lobby with another powerful set of business voices to show policy makers that there isn’t a vacuum. We use powerful editorial and earned media to do that and we’re harnessing the power of things like micro targeting and geo-targeting to get our message heard.
Why did you move into Creative Works – is it just you from We Mean Business?
It is. We Mean Business is a modern breed of organisation; we don’t have a HQ and we’re internationally spread. Our MD is based in New York, our CEO is in Totnes and the Ops Director lives in Lisbon so the organisation is entirely virtual. I chose Creative Works because it’s close to where I live. The social enterprise connection to Big Creative Education and the link with apprenticeships is really powerful too.
I did an industry expert talk for the apprentices recently and it was such a valuable thing in both directions. It was great to hang out with some younger people and get a sense of where they are and what their position is on climate change. Establishing a link across generations is really important.
Thanks Caroline, that was really insightful! Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers before you get back to work…?
So I’ve talked about the dynamic between businesses and governments and I think – without being overly politicised – one thing about being in the UK at the moment is that everyone feels downbeat about the Brexit process and politics in general. But Theresa May did do something amazing in June 2019, which was to make the UK the first G7 economy to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, which is absolutely in line with where we need to be to tackle climate change plausibly.
It was an incredible leadership play in terms of us being able to deal with the problem on a global level. I believe it gives us a glimmer of hope and something to be proud of as a nation. Theresa May didn’t have to make it her final move, but she did.