Although the business community has made progress toward climate goals since the 2015 Paris Agreement, fewer than one-fifth of net-zero targets set by national and subnational governments and only a third of the largest public corporations with net-zero targets actually meet science-aligned criteria. Further, anti-climate lobbying has had a disastrous effect on the planet and cost years in meaningful action. Inaction is not an option. Businesses committed to being on the right side of history must advocate for policies, regulations, and laws to achieve economy-wide systemic change at the pace and scale required to achieve climate targets. Based on their cross-organizational work at three B Corps, the authors identified five critical elements for advocacy strategies that will help businesses use their power and influence to push for the system change required to meet climate targets.
“We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The data is clear: Global emissions are going up. Voluntary pledges to prevent new fossil fuel projects and curb devastating practices such as mass deforestation are failing to prevent the destruction of nature and rising global inequality.
Inaction is not an option. Businesses committed to being on the right side of history must advocate for policies, regulations, and laws to achieve economy-wide systemic change at the pace and scale required to achieve climate targets. This means working on their own transformational approaches as well as joining forces with others to create the critical mass needed for wide-scale change.
Based on our cross-organizational work at three B Corps — Natura & Co (Charmian), Patagonia (Beth), and Ecosia (Sophie) — we’ve identified five critical elements for advocacy strategies that will help businesses use their power and influence to push for the system change required to meet climate targets.
Advocating for System Change
Although the business community has made progress toward climate goals since the 2015 Paris Agreement, fewer than one-fifth of net-zero targets set by national and subnational governments and only a third of the largest public corporations with net-zero targets actually meet science-aligned criteria. Further, anti-climate lobbying has had a disastrous effect on the planet and cost years in meaningful action.
The nonprofit B Lab UK breaks system change down into two parts:
- Regulatory change. Companies can work with policymakers, trade associations, and NGOs to shape changes in the law. For example, prior to the UN General Assembly in 2022, the Climate Champions Team worked with experts from across the voluntary, standards, and regulatory landscape to publish the Pivot Point report, which proposed a range of policy interventions that would build on the global campaigns Race to Zero and Race to Resilience.
- Culture change. Even with the right policies in place, we know that culture needs to change in order for them to be effective. Businesses can engage in culture change using tools including media and advertising to promote and amplify new norms, bring awareness to key issues, educate consumers on why policy change is important, and show them how to engage with others to make change happen. For example, the recent move toward repairing outdoor gear rather than replacing it — initiated in the 1970s by Patagonia but now common among outdoor manufacturers and retailers — is encouraging consumers to think about their consumption habits.
In thinking about the regulatory and cultural elements of system change, avoid reducing advocacy to just its outward-facing corporate initiatives and programs. Internal advocacy programming plays a critical role in mobilizing people within the business, inspiring a desire in workers to engage and enabling them to take action.
Recent research from political scientist Erica Chenoweth shows just how much impact people “on the inside” can have when it comes to driving changes at a government level. “The 3.5% rule,” which Chenoweth developed in 2012, provided evidence to show that governments are generally unable to withstand the force of 3.5% of the population engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. A decade on, their revisiting of that research shows the importance of securing support from powerbrokers from institutions that benefit from the status quo, such as corporations and shareholders.
Designing an Advocacy Strategy
GlobeScan’s 2022 Sustainability Leaders Survey compiled views of more than 700 sustainability experts around the world and found that advocacy is increasingly seen as a leadership practice in business. Now is the time for business leaders to create advocacy strategies for their companies.
A comprehensive, meaningful advocacy strategy should be anchored by a core set of principles. Through our cross-organizational work, we’ve identified these 5 As of advocacy to serve as a foundation:
Center your advocacy around your company’s story, including where, why, and how it started, and what problem it was trying to solve. Transparency is critical — even if the story isn’t always perfect. For example, Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, started the business based on his love of the mountains. Over time, the proximity to nature helped affirm Patagonia’s commitment to protecting our “home planet.”
Not every business has purpose embedded into its history in this way — and that’s OK. It isn’t a prerequisite, but what is required is transparency in order to build trust and engage meaningfully in advocacy work focused on forward-looking system change. Take for example Interface, a carpet tile company that was founded in 1973 by Ray Anderson. In 1994, Anderson had an “epiphany” and began the company’s Mission Zero initiative, with the goal of eliminating Interface’s negative impact on the environment by 2020. The company celebrated the achievement of that goal in 2019 and continues to roll out climate-change initiatives, including by engaging other businesses.
Build on science-based targets to set stretch goals rather than being limited by what feels possible. For example, Ecosia became one of the world’s largest reforestation movements by using 100% of its profits for climate action. On top of that, Ecosia’s green search engine runs on 200% renewable energy.
Engage employees to take action and become advocates for system change. The full power of a business comes when every employee feels supported and empowered to use their own voice to take a stand on the issues they care about — both inside the business through the decisions they make in their work as well as externally in their own social and community circles.
For example, Natura’s “The Future is in Your Hands” campaign was launched on World Amazon Day, a critical period leading up to the 2022 Brazilian elections. This campaign mobilized employees as well as the wider public to take action to protect the Amazon. The business also developed a “conscious vote” campaign for the network of approximately 2 million consultants and representatives of the Natura and Avon brands, most of whom are women. João Paulo Ferreira, CEO of Natura &Co Latin America, explained, “Research shows us that female voters are more reluctant to participate in the election. On the other hand, they wish to be better informed to make their own decisions, and we know the power of women to influence their families and communities.”
While many company leaders may feel uncomfortable engaging with or showing support for social movements, bringing a business voice to the table can make a big difference in protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized in society.
For example, Ecosia sponsors “Climate Cafes,” where young people can turn eco-anxiety into action organized by the youth-led movement Force of Nature. As part of their global activism strategy, Natura &Co brand The Body Shop is taking a long-term view and advocating for policy and legislation change that allows for greater youth participation in politics and public life. And Patagonia regularly holds “Tools” conferences to teach campaign, social media, publicity, and fundraising skills to strengthen small, grassroots NGOs.
Governments around the world are falling short of protecting the most vulnerable. Businesses must play a crucial role in correcting the current trajectory by placing people, justice, and human rights at the center of climate action — civil society and youth movements alone can’t do it and shouldn’t need to.
All three of our companies have dedicated strategies focused on listening, supporting, and amplifying the voices of indigenous communities, be they in the Amazon, where Natura is working with 40 local and traditional communities, or the Atlantic Forest, where Ecosia is working with PACTO Mata Atlântica, an umbrella organization of more than 300 tree-planting projects.
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As you develop your advocacy strategy, be aware of the barriers you’re likely to come up against. Some people will challenge the role of business in engaging in the democratic systems that guide policy making. That’s valid, but with governments struggling to keep within climate targets, progressive businesses leaders who are themselves committed to net-zero and beyond must hold governments and large polluters accountable and ensure net-zero targets are enshrined in robust policies, regulations, and laws.
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