I created Corporate Game Changers for people who want to turn around their bullsh*t job into a positive force for change. Together we can use human-centered leadership and business-for-good practices to pave the way for a better future.
It's hard not to panic about the state of our beautiful planet, and it's hard not to feel terribly helpless by the scale of the challenge.
If this wasn’t enough to make us feel bad, there is a tendency in the media to place the focus of change onto individuals. We are surrounded by ecotaxes on our fuel, on our cars or on our water and by commercials on products that help us contribute to a better world.
From every corner we are expected to believe that our individual choices will be the solution to the climate crisis.
The problem is - that’s not true. Or at least it’s not that simple.
We are brainwashed to become climate anxious
Let’s take an iconic example - meat consumption and its impact on the planet.
Scientists have recently demonstrated in new study published in Nature that sticking to a plant-based diet, with just one portion of red meat a week, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50%.
While that statement is true and makes for attractive news titles, it neglects to mention that the “flexitarian diet” change was only one of three ways that we could limit the food system’s impact on the environment.
Interestingly, while our diet has the greatest impact on greenhouse gases (read -> temperature increase and climate change), it is changes in “technology and management” and in “reductions in food losses and waste” that contribute the most to water scarcity and pollution of our soils and water sources.
This “detail” has been conveniently omitted in most reports in the general public media, focusing solely on what we as individuals could do, rather than also point out the system changes required to leverage the other two ways described in the study.
Granted, the graph on the left is not particularly inspiring or easy to read. But the oversimplification of the media is biased towards what consumers should change, rather than how the system should change.
There is a clear bias in the media for climate-shaming, that is for creating a sense of guilt in people by making them believe they are not doing enough for the climate.
Stemming from the belief that the choices we make in our everyday lives will somehow be able to “save the planet”, there is a clear bias in the media for climate-shaming, that is for creating a sense of guilt in people by making them believe that they are not doing enough to for the climate.
[By the way, the planet does not need to be saved, it will survive the 6th extinction and the climate crisis. We should focus on saving ourselves because humanity isn’t likely to survive it…]
There are two problems with this belief in the ability of individuals’ changes to be the solution to the climate crisis: it distracts attention away from the actual action required and it distracts attention away from the real changemakers.
#1 Focusing only on changes by citizens provides a false sense of security
Going vegan and refraining from taking the plane are very noble personal commitments but they will not be enough to handle the climate crisis, even if repeated by millions of people.
These changes in our personal lives are very efficient ways to make us feel better on the individual level and to send signals of what the population want at the societal level.
But they still need to be turned into change via governments and/or companies. And we have been waiting for 30 years for change that does not seem to come...
These personal changes to some extent even blind us from reality. When looking at the scientific data behind climate-change, it becomes obvious that the main contributors are not under the influence of individuals: it’s energy, it’s transport, it’s food production and it’s construction.
[Little known fact: It’s estimated cement is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions. Another way of looking at it is that if the cement industry were a country, it would have the third-highest carbon emissions in the world, behind only China and the US. ]
Even though it's only showing impact on Green House Gas emissions, it is clear from the pie chart on the right that citizen impact is minor in comparison to the economical, industrial and agricultural impacts (a.k.a. "the system"). The business and political decisions are the key drivers of the climate crisis, not our individual decisions.
#2 Focusing only on changes by citizens puts pressure on the wrong changemakers
We are busy placing all decisions people make in their personal lives under a magnifying glass, but we happily ignore what people do in their professional lives.
Melissa Lane, a professor at Princeton University, concludes in her 2017 paper called “A new professional ethics for sustainable prosperity” that there is too much focus placed on the micro (individuals as consumers) and macro (governments), and not enough on the meso level (people as professionals within organisations).
In my opinion, the individuals in their corporate jobs is where the real power to change systems, lies.
The individuals in their corporate jobs is where the real power to change systems, lies.
The rise of the purpose-led leaders
A point of clarification: a purpose-led leader is not someone who chooses a company or a job because it delivers environmental impact. There are more and more jobs solely dedicated to contributing to a more sustainable world: cleaning the oceans, studying the carbon life-cycle of production processes or taking care of the corporate social responsibility of the company you work for.
A change as part of your job benefits from the multiplying factor coming from the scale of your company.
The focus is less on the “what” you deliver and more on the “how” you deliver it.
And the decision of how you deliver your work is precisely what could impact the systems significantly for the better.
Because as compared to your individual action as a citizen, a change as part of your job benefits from the multiplying factor related to the scale of your company.
A cleaning procedure revisited to use less chemicals and water will result in kilos of chemicals and tons of water saved.
A supply chain optimised to use trains instead of trucks will save hundreds of liters of fuel and clean the air of exhaust gas.
A whole office separating waste and starting a coffee ground upcycling program will have hundreds of kilos of waste up to proper treatment in a waste plant.
A facility manager triggering a car-pooling service will catalyse a more social and less polluting transport system, and will alleviate the pressure on the infrastructure which can lead to reduced traffic jams (and therefore even less CO2).
A marketing VP who decides to accelerate plant-based as an alternative to milk in its food product range will not only tap into the next big consumer trend as the first mover, but will also work towards millions of unit of a product with a reduced CO2 footprint as compared to its milk counterpart.
And so on and so forth ...
Now can YOU start looking at your corporate job as a platform for opportunities towards positive change? Can you reflect on your current situation and generate one example, as tiny as it can sound where you could start taking action? Where could be the multiplying effects in your job?
Transforming the idea into action is a whole different chapter, as it typically falls in the realm of easy but not simple.
Yet it is a tremendously rewarding journey, where you can find both personal purpose in contributing to the construction of the new (corporate) world, and a renewed motivation in your job thanks to this new dimension you created in your job description.
You are helping the world, you are helping your company, you are helping yourself. Triple win!
We let ourselves be manipulated into thinking that the most important action for the planet we can have is through our choices as consumers - eat less meat, buy fewer clothes, travel less.
We conveniently contribute to the consumer/producer belief system, where our convictions are limited to the private sphere and where we need to comply to the oppressive constraints of the invisible “company” at work.
There is however ample space to transfer our behavior and convictions to the work sphere and to contribute positively to the world by tapping into the multiplying effect of the company we work for.
That's how we can change the system: from the inside out.
It takes creativity, courage, patience and resilience; it can be challenging and disheartening at times.
But it creates a sure path to actual, measurable, significant change for a better world, way beyond what all your private changes could have achieved.
And you'll be better of too, finding purpose and fulfillment beyond your job description.
So roll up your sleeves, and use your power inside of your company to change (a bit of) the world - it’s YOUR turn.
Do you agree or disagree? Did something make you react?
Would you like to add an example or share an additional view?
Feel free to leave your comment below!