The Primacy of Economics

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James Edney
Consultant- Upstream Sustainability Services


The economic imperative of modern society has made climate change a taboo even for sustainability consultants.

That is a deliberately provocative statement but raises an important area of concern that affects many people that work in sustainability. We spend so much time couching our advice in a cost-saving context, one wonders what the place of climate change is in the field of sustainability?

Rarely does a compelling sustainability statement not end with ‘this will save you £’; other common endings address reputational or legislative risk and market differentiation. But how often is the motivation or the outcome ‘this will help stop climate change’?

A stigma still surrounds sustainability professionals and we each work hard to use a business language, understand the economic pressures our clients operates under, and avoid being pictured with flowers in our hair. Whilst we may accept those things as part of the job, in my experience, using the phrase ‘climate change’ is often seen as taboo.

Is framing sustainability advice in a predominantly financial context a bad thing? Does it limit people’s will to act? Should we be grateful that people and businesses are acting at all? Should explicit ‘climate change’ language be reserved for the lexicon of environmental campaigners and scientists?

Those are not questions that keep me up at night, but they do bother me throughout the day.

In private we talk of a bold future, of radical change and societal transformation but in the workplace and the marketplace we tone it down until any notion of a changing climate is almost imperceptible.

The word ‘sustainability’ is increasingly being discarded and the reasons for doing so are valid, it encapsulates so much and means so little in itself that the time is ripe for change.

One wonders if the time has finally come for climate change to emerge from the shadow of sustainability.

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