Business Can Play a Profitable Role in Combating Climate Change, with Andrew Winston

Environmental Strategy Consultant
Author and environmental strategist Andrew Winston explains the unique ideas espoused in his book "The Big Pivot," in which he promotes a green shift in business priorities away from short-term profits and toward long-term sustainability. Winston also discusses the mass media's unsettling reluctance to cover climate change and the environmental movement.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Andrew Winston: I believe that the challenges we’re facing globally as a business community and as a species are getting so large and so complex that the way we do business has to fundamentally change. And The Big Pivot is about a deep change in the priorities of business, kind of a flip from worrying about short term earnings first and then getting to some of these kind of shared challenges we have only when, you know, there’s pressure from outsiders or there’s maybe quick wins or kind of easy wins that companies can pursue. And flipping that so that we’re operating businesses in a way that tackles our biggest challenges and works back from there and says how do we do that using the tools of capitalism and markets and competition to do it most profitably.

Often what people call sustainability which is not, I think, always the perfect word but the things that fall under that that are environmental or social challenges – there’s this assumption in business quite often that trying to tackle these issues will be expensive, that there’s this tradeoff, this fundamental tradeoff between trying to manage these big challenges in a profitable way and just managing your bottom line in a normal way and that it’s going to be expensive. This myth was based in some reality for a long time. There were things that did cost more money and green products or green services – they weren’t very good for a long time so there’s a sense that green was somehow not good for business. It wasn’t out of nowhere but that’s really a dated view. We now have a situation where the challenges are so vast and the world is changing so fundamentally that the only path we have forward is to manage these issues. That’s the point of The Big Pivot so that we will find a profitable path to do it and we have so many options now. There’s a whole category of things that companies do that save money very quickly. All things that fall under kind of the banner of eco-efficiency or energy efficiency or using less. I mean in part green is about doing more with less. That’s just good business and so that part of the agenda has become much more normal in companies and they’re finding ways to cut costs dramatically. That’s the easy stuff.

But we’re now finding even the things that seemed very expensive for a while like say going to renewable energy – that’s one of the examples people always use of if we’re going to go green, we’re going to put solar on our roof and it’s going to cost so much. The cost of that has been dropping dramatically, 70-80 percent reduction in cost of, you know, using solar power in the last five years. So the economics have shifted. This is now very good for business. Almost all of the agenda of The Big Pivot is good for business in the long term, in the medium term and very often in the short term. So there isn’t this tradeoff. This is the path to growth. This is the path to innovation, to building your brand, to cutting costs and to cutting risk. All the value drivers that you can create in business, this pivot will help you enable.

Climate change is arguably, and I believe really, the greatest challenge we face for humanity and I’m not alone in this. There’s now voices coming to the table that are from unusual places. You know former U.S. Treasury Secretaries have put out a report called Risky Business that talks about how expensive this has become just for the economy and for all of our cities and how expensive it will be, how dangerous it is. They call it an existential threat. I mean these are aggressive statements. And so you’re seeing people starting to create a bigger social movement because we need that too. For a change this big it isn’t just business or government but citizens need to be involved. Recently in New York City there was a very large climate march. I took part with my family and me and 400,000 of my closest friends. And it got very little attention in the press. There’s a very strange thing that’s happened where, I don’t know, climate change is boring, it’s not sexy, it doesn’t seem exciting and so it doesn’t get the coverage it needs.

And it’s kind of shocking because this was one of the largest public demonstrations around anything environmental, I think, ever. And it was one of the larger marches in New York history. And yet it kind of missed the boat for the press and I think that’s the fault of the press more than of people. I think people and I find businesses are much more aware of these issues and are moving on them than anybody covering it will give them credit for. And it’s a shame. I think there’s an opportunity to highlight how far we’ve come and the opportunities we have to change our lives for the better and make business a part of the solution and make it, you know, more prosperous and more profitable. And I think we’re missing out on telling that story.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton