Perspectives

The climate race is not a competition

In conversation with Sharon Thorne from Deloitte

Climate change has been on Sharon’s mind for years, but she wasn’t sure how exactly she could contribute.

The climate race is not a competition

Then she became the Global Chair at Deloitte and decided to make taking action on climate change part of her legacy.

As Global Chair, she works with teams around the world to drive our sustainability strategy. While the scale of this challenge can seem overwhelming at times, she’s encouraged by the progress that’s being made and feels optimistic about what businesses can achieve if we work together.

“I’ve been conscious of the climate crisis for many years and have wanted to do something impactful, but if I’m really honest I probably put my head in the sand. The challenge is so huge it can feel overwhelming and I always had the excuse of being too busy with work... But with the increasing amount of devastating climate events, and the many documentaries and books that set out the science so clearly, it’s clear that there is nothing else that is more important.”

A quote I hear increasingly that really got me thinking is: ‘there are no jobs on a dead planet’. It made me worry about my stepdaughters, nephews and nieces, and the kind of future they’d have. Speaking with colleagues, I recognised I wasn’t alone – there was a wave of people who wanted to do far more because of their concerns for future generations. We realised we must act now if we are going to reverse the trajectory we are on.

When I took on the role of the Deloitte Global Chair in 2019, I felt I had a platform to make a difference in a way I hadn’t had in my previous roles. I could use my voice to have a dialogue with our partners, our people and our clients so we could leverage our unique position in the many sectors that we work in.”

“In my role, I want part of my legacy to be about helping the planet.”

“At Deloitte, we put climate on the agenda years ago. We committed to reducing our emissions across the globe. We have made progress over the past few years, for example with our office buildings – our headquarters in Amsterdam and London are some of the most sustainable offices in the world.

But our targets in other areas weren’t ambitious enough, and as a result we made limited progress. Meanwhile, we witnessed the increasingly serious and frequent weather events, and the heightened concerns of investors, consumers, and of course our own people. Our Millennial Survey shows climate is a top concern for Millennials and Gen Zs, who make up over 80% of our people globally. It was clear we needed to do something more impactful.

Our global team worked with climate experts around the world to create WorldClimate, our sustainability strategy to drive responsible climate choices both within our organisation and beyond. We recognised that change starts within, and so we set higher standards for ourselves, including a pledge to reach net zero by 2030.

I am very proud to say that we have been accredited by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and we have committed to three core initiatives that support renewable electricity (RE100), electric vehicles adoption (EV100) and energy efficiency (EP100).

Our people play a key role in the strategy too. We often talk about the ‘superpower’ of our 330,000 people, and it couldn’t be truer when it comes to climate. We’re encouraging everyone to make sustainable decisions both at work and at home, and in doing so we hope they’ll influence the people they come in contact with – we need millions of small actions which will add up to something really significant.”

“Climate change is absolutely a global issue and it’s critical for businesses to play to their strengths – thinking about what they can do to transform and what skills and resources they can contribute. One thing is clear: no single company, industry, or individual can address this alone. We need collaboration – it’s imperative for governments and businesses to work together if we want to succeed.

As a global organisation, we’re privileged to be in a position where we can engage with clients, partner organisations, NGOs, industry groups, suppliers and governments to act beyond our own firm. Importantly, it means we jointly come up with solutions that will facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. For example, we recently signed a deal with Delta and American Airlines to purchase sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to cover part of our business travel.

That said, it’s important to recognise that different countries are at different places on their sustainability journey. For example, not all countries yet have the infrastructure to make the switch to renewable energy or electric vehicles – this is where the power of a connected global organisation comes in. We can look across our global network to share ideas and best practice that will help each other to overcome challenges and make progress.

Chairs and boards can act as catalysts to prompt organisations to take action. As part of our long-term stewardship role, we must ensure climate is a regular item on the agenda and that we fully understand the impact of climate on our business model. Climate literacy is crucial in setting a clear strategy for climate mitigation and net zero emissions.

“Boards can help shape the future of businesses and the future of the planet.”

“Having a global presence also comes with environmental challenges. Before the pandemic, travel contributed the largest proportion of our emissions, excluding purchased goods and services, with our people frequently flying to support our clients and meet in person. That obviously needs to change if we’re to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. We are lucky to have access to technology that makes it easy to stay connected, although video calls can never replace spending time together and we have seen energy levels and creativity suffer.

Personally, I’m committing to cutting my flights dramatically. The Deloitte Global Board used to meet in person six times a year. Going forward, we’ll reduce that to three times. As Global Chair I still need to do some travelling, and I get a huge amount of value from interacting with people in-person. However, I’ll make sure I take more direct flights and combine more activities into each trip so they can be less frequent.

We’ve recently launched a global campaign called #iAct, which includes a quiz to help you learn more about your personal impact on the environment and keep you accountable. It’s been really inspiring to see people sharing their commitments on social media, and it helps you have an open discussion with colleagues, family and friends.

“We can all commit to doing something, no matter how small.”

Another change I have made is in my purchasing decisions. When I buy things now, I’m taking more time to understand the environmental impact of the product, like where it has been sourced and how far it will travel to reach me. I’m also more conscious about my dairy and meat consumption. Fashion is another key area for me. Before lockdown, I would buy new clothes quite often given I had a lot of formal events to attend. A year of barely buying anything new has certainly made me think about how much I really need! We can all make changes like this by paying more attention to what we buy, consume and importantly, what we throw away.”

“A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Anna Marsden, the CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. She shared a very strong message of hope, which really resonated with and inspired me. Some days, the climate challenges we face can feel overwhelming – all doom and gloom – and there is a lot of bad news out there. But there is also hope.

Innovations in technology make me feel positive about the future. Al Gore has always been a strong voice around climate, and he’s shared how the advances in tech will end our dependency on fossil fuels much sooner than we had thought. Solar is now the cheapest electricity available and the cost of solar panels has fallen 90% in the last decade.

It’s encouraging to see so many businesses starting to take meaningful action. Our latest Climate Check survey conducted with 750 executives globally showed that 60% see the world at a tipping point on climate change. It’s now a basic expectation for many stakeholders – being ‘less bad’ is no longer good enough. And despite the economic downturn of the pandemic, nearly 25% of executives are planning to accelerate their climate actions.

“The climate challenges we face can feel overwhelming at times. But there is hope.”

I’m hopeful we’ll continue to see governments come together to take long-term action on climate, and I’m passionate about the difference business can make. Summits like COP26 are critical to driving action. Every person – including me and you – and every organisation – including Deloitte – has a role to play. The only way the world can successfully respond is by working together and taking meaningful action.”

Thanks for reading

We hope you feel inspired by Sharon’s words on the role business can play in tackling the climate challenge. If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that every single one of us can do something positive, and if we work together we can make an even bigger difference.

WorldClimate

Our strategy to drive responsible climate choices within our organisation and beyond.

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