It's easy to despair at the climate crisis and doubt the importance of individual action. Do recycling, reduced meat intake, and personal carbon footprint reductions really make a difference? Yes, they do. Our Sustainable Action Index shows how behavior change creates new cultural norms that transcend into company actions.
Reducing your carbon footprint via more climate-friendly lifestyle choices won't stop the climate crisis. However, what might seem like one small step for (wo)mankind, can become a giant leap for our planet. Just as companies and governments need to integrate climate considerations into every facet of their operations, so can we as individuals bring sustainability into multiple aspects of our lives to create the climate change we need.
Recycling, composting household trash, choosing sustainable products, and reducing energy at home are ways for individuals to make an impact and join local groups to push for change on a larger scale.
We've recently asked 23.000 respondents in 23 countries about their climate actions, and the survey revealed several interesting hands-on insights you can use as a company. These new numbers might cheer you up if you think the future seems gloomy. I'll focus on the Danish numbers. If you want to take a look at the global numbers, check them out here at the Sustainable Action Index.
Men in Denmark are less likely to change their personal choices towards more sustainable actions than women, just like older people are more set in their ways than younger generations.
Younger age groups prioritize climate activism, such as demonstrations and influencing policymakers to tackle the climate crisis in everyday life. They want action and regulation at the political level. They think the seriousness of the subject is in a different league than the individual lifestyle choice of taking the bike instead of the four-wheel drive. Therefore, they demand that politicians take responsibility.
Interestingly, the figures show that when it comes to personal choices, e.g., sorting waste and eating less meat, the 55-64-year-olds take the lead.
Climate concern translates into action.
Another interesting conclusion in the study is the connection between concern for the climate and readiness for action. Eight out of ten people in Denmark who score high on climate action in everyday life describe themselves as concerned about the environment.
According to the study, those who score highest on shopping and prioritizing sustainability in everyday life share the following characteristics:
These shifting societal norms and actions can feed into the efforts of companies and governments. More demand for climate-friendly products can increase in the quantity produced and their quality, and drive prices downwards – in turn fueling more demand. The Sustainable Action Index offers considerations for leaders across domains who seek to encourage sustainable behaviors. To mention a few:
Encourage change and, if you're a retailer or produce consumer goods, make sure you have a sustainable go-to option that doesn't sacrifice performance or price.
The world as we know it is changing. As individuals, companies, organizations, and politicians, it is up to us all to make that a climate constructive change. It can feel a little futile to be planting a tree or fiddling with paper straws instead of plastic ones while sea levels are rising. However, the climate movement has had an enormous impact. If there ever was a time to join, it is now.
Helena Barton is a Partner and anthropologist with 20 years’ international experience in helping organizations make good strategic decisions with complex environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in mind. She has helped a range of global companies and financial institutions build out and integrate their governance, measurement and disclosure of risks and impacts related to climate change, human rights, labour rights, diversity and inclusion, supply chain compliance and other Sustainability / ESG issues. She is a recognized expert in non-financial reporting, serving on several advisory councils within the sustainability accounting profession, and she is the current Chair of GRI's Independent Appointments Committee. Helena is a member of Deloitte's global and regional Sustainability Services leadership teams. She is a regular speaker on e.g. climate risk and private capital finance for the Sustainable Development Goals, incl. at the World Economic Forum in 2018-2019. Visit Helena's blog on Climate & Sustainability here.