Not Business as Usual. Time to wake up

Earlier this week I received an email from my sons’ school outlining the school’s position on the Global Climate Strike starting tomorrow.

It was an amusing account of the principal’s struggle with whether the school should or shouldn’t let students participate.

“Damn these Year Elevens,” he wrote. “They tell me that it is their planet too and they should be able to protest about what is the most important issue of their lives. They ask whether the school will stand up for them.”

After weighing up how he would respond if the students were asking to support abortion or immigration, he reflects on how he should deal with students who are not motivated by the issue at stake and just want to skip class.

He goes on: “I’d rather they went away. I’d rather get back to the school’s strategic plan... But these kids are passionate, they are smart and they have thought it through.

“Damn these Year Elevens,” he concludes. “Because they’re right.”

The principal’s internal narrative has similarities to our thought process at Iress when we received requests from our people to put Iress’ name alongside the many hundreds of businesses who have pledged to support those wanting to participate in this climate-change ‘strike’.

We concluded that we wanted to and that anyone wanting to take part in the ‘strike’ can take a few hours away from the office.

Iress has a clear statement on climate change in our ESG report: “We recognise that we all have a part to play in tackling climate change, and Iress is committed to reducing its impact on the planet.”

The world is too complex to operate in a system where businesses “should” or “shouldn’t” be involved in “core” or “non-core” issues.

Reducing our impact on the environment is something that’s important to us. It’s why we consciously reduce the number of flights we’re taking, establish energy-efficient offices, limit paper-spewing printers, and are increasing cloud infrastructure so that we’re not chewing up electricity with always-on servers.

While we didn’t damn any of our people for asking the question, we did weigh up similar questions to the ones my sons’ principal did. Where does this end if we support this activity? Is this a priority for us right now? Is the issue too “political”?

We learned a few things:

  • The framing of issues as “social” or “political” is unhelpful. All manner of issues can be framed as political or social when convenient.
  • It’s easy to point the finger at governments across the world who may not have done enough. That’s not our stance. Our belief is that everyone has a part to play - so assuming everyone accepts the facts of climate science, I encourage everyone, including people at Iress, to take an action in their own lives to reduce their impact on the planet. (PJ O’Rourke’s famous quote captures it best: “Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to help mom do the dishes.”)
  • Business is intrinsically linked with climate change and with other important issues of the day. These issues aren’t a distraction from doing business - they are part of doing business. Businesses don’t tend to get involved in causes where there isn’t a valid reason for them to do so.

Ultimately what we learned was that if you say you stand for something but take no action, then why say you stand for it in the first place?

The world is too complex to operate in a system where businesses “should” or “shouldn’t” be involved in “core” or “non-core” issues.

For us, these matters require a case-by-case approach based on what’s important - using our strategy, and the needs of our stakeholders, to guide us.

Original artwork used in the images to support this blog by Jhon Cortes.