Quick take: New survey data shows that as climate change accelerates and calls for action to mitigate its worst impacts grow louder, individuals are looking to businesses to take bold action to reduce emissions. With dwindling trust in businesses and other entities to do the right thing, it’s incumbent on business leaders to prove not only their intent in reaching NetZero emissions, but their progress in doing so.
That’s how United Nations Secretary General António Guterres summed up a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August.
“We must act decisively now,” Guterres was quoted as saying. “Every fraction of a degree counts.”
The eyes of the world will turn to Glasgow, Scotland this November, as negotiators from around the globe convene for the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) to accelerate actions that will avert the worst threats of climate change. While attention will rightly be paid to government commitments, the urgency of the climate crisis comes at a time when the role of businesses in society is pivoting away from the notion of shareholder supremacy to one of stakeholder capitalism.
As business leaders rethink their purpose towards serving a more holistic group of stakeholders — including the environment — a natural question to ask is what private industry can — and must — do to ensure progress on the path to Net Zero emissions.
Salesforce conducted a survey of over 2,300 adults in the United States and United Kingdom to explore the relationship between the climate crisis, the changing role of business, and the path that companies and customers can take to be part of the solution. This article presents key findings of the study and what they mean for business leaders.
To do well, businesses must do good
Only 35% of survey respondents have heard of the term “stakeholder capitalism” — the notion that businesses must address the needs of all stakeholders including shareholders, customers, employees, partners, communities, and the environment.
Yet stakeholder capitalism’s tenets are alive and well in the minds of consumers. 57% of survey respondents, for example, believe businesses are responsible for considering the impact of their actions and operations on local communities, and 60% say the same for the natural environment.
This trend is particularly important for businesses because it ultimately impacts their bottom line. As digitally savvy, connected customers become more empowered to decide where they spend their money, a company’s values and the actions they take to express them increasingly influence whether or not to make a purchase.
In fact, 57% of survey respondents believe they have the power to influence change in businesses through actions such as boycotts, and 81% say a business’ values impact their spending with it.
Business is the greatest platform for change
Businesses are viewed as responsible for more than their bottom line, in fact, they’re largely seen as more apt to make a difference than other institutions. Amid a crisis of trust that has weakened the public’s faith that important issues will be tackled by governments, businesses are now seen as having outsized influence, credibility, and will to take on society’s most pressing challenges.
Despite the fact that the population increasingly looks to businesses to take bold action that makes the world a better place, they are not satisfied with the business community’s actions to date. Only 23% of survey respondents say businesses are doing enough to address the world’s challenges.
However, the generation that stands to benefit the most from business actions — or suffer the most from business inaction — has not lost faith in the collective power of business as a platform for change. 51% of millennials and 50% of Gen Z believe the crises of 2020 will spur businesses to do more to address the world’s challenges, compared to 39% of baby boomers and 43% of Gen X.
The climate crisis puts stakeholder capitalism to the test
Of all the crises humanity faces, perhaps none is as severe and consequential as climate change. It is the most prominent issue that businesses have an obligation to confront, not only for their own interests, but for those of their stakeholders — including the planet.
Reducing emissions — and ultimately reaching Net Zero emissions — is the most critical step for businesses serious about tackling the climate crisis. 64% of survey respondents believe emissions reduction should be a top priority, in fact.
However, the general public is not yet convinced that corporate commitments to emissions reduction will result in meaningful action. 47% of survey respondents go as far as to call such commitments superficial.
The million dollar question is: will businesses step up to this ultimate test? And, how will their stakeholders know when they do?
Transparency is the way forward
You can’t reduce what you can’t measure, and carbon emissions are a prime example of how lack of measurement hinders progress toward meaningful action. Inherently complicated and notoriously difficult to account for, greenhouse gas emissions fall into three broad categories, ranging from those emitted by owned assets to the energy they procure to the downstream impact of their operations. The majority of survey respondents view businesses as responsible for reducing all of them.
While nearly seven in ten (69%) respondents believe all companies — regardless of industry — should leverage technology to track and reduce emissions, technology companies bear a particular responsibility to enable businesses in this regard. In fact, 64% of survey respondents believe that technology companies should develop climate solutions.
Salesforce takes this responsibility to heart, having developed Salesforce Sustainability Cloud to track its own carbon footprint and help customers transparently report their progress in reducing emissions. But with just one-quarter (26%) of survey respondents claiming to find information on business’s sustainability efforts through company-issued reports, it’s incumbent on companies to use additional channels to make clear their commitment to more sustainable operations.
- Learn how Salesforce has achieved Net Zero emissions and 100% renewable energy.
- Go “Beyond Net Zero” and learn how Salesforce’s nature-based solutions team battles climate change.
- Read about 1t.org — part of the World Economic Forum — is enlisting businesses to invest in nature-based solutions to climate change.
- Get an inside look at how UpLink is empowering entrepreneurs to tackle society’s greatest challenges.
- Learn how businesses and other organizations can get involved in Race to Zero, a campaign to build momentum around the shift to a decarbonized economy.
Salesforce conducted a double-blind online survey of the general population in the United States and United Kingdom. Data was collected on August 13 and 14, 2021 and yielded 2,396 responses.