Today’s second May Day business summit on climate change is carefully designed for gluttons for punishment. This time last year we convened more than a 1000 business leaders and, rather hopefully, invited them to take collective action to tackle climate change. Given the scale of the problem, it is immensely reassuring to see you returning in even greater numbers –around 1,600 in all nine English regions and in Scotland and North and South Wales. This is a great testament to the Business in the Community team and the organizations which sponsor the May Day initiative - not least BT, our generous host today, the Regional Development Agencies, Alliance Boots, DLA Piper, the Carbon Trust, Lloyds TSB, BSkyB and United Utilities. And, of course, I could not be more encouraged and delighted that the Prime Minister has found time to be here today, demonstrating his real personal commitment to this most pressing issue.
I have also been enormously heartened to see the response from companies, each of which is part of a growing May Day Network, to the challenge issued last year. I particularly want to congratulate all those who have submitted examples of best practice from which others can learn as I realize only too well that each of those initiatives – some of which we have already heard about this morning - required personal commitment and leadership from extremely busy people with many other responsibilities. Needless to say, I am enormously impressed and encouraged by the announcement we have just heard from Patrick Cescau that Unilever has set a target to procure 100 per cent of its palm oil from certified, sustainable sources by 2015. This is really is a groundbreaking development which could make the whole difference to the future of the rainforests, about which I will say more later. Meanwhile, I can only hope that other companies which use palm oil will follow your determined and principled leadership – this really is corporate responsibility in action.
At the same time I can’t help pointing out that in many companies a blunt assessment of progress would have to be ‘could do better’! I am sure I could as well. For instance, a large number of companies are not even measuring their carbon footprint. In other areas of their businesses the mantra of ‘if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ is applied rigorously – and the same must surely apply to carbon emissions. In this regard, I have been interested to learn that some of the larger companies have appointed senior executives whose sole responsibility is to drive forward the climate change agenda, and I do wonder if this is not an example that could be more widely followed?
Many of the case studies we received highlight the business benefits of developing and incorporating a low carbon strategy - not least the real, tangible, bottom-line savings that would delight the heart of even the frostiest Finance Director. And there may be quite a lot of them about. The recruitment company, Reed, for instance, has reduced its PC power use by 80 per cent by replacing 4500 PCs and 400 lap tops with ‘thin client terminals’. The mind boggles! I have never heard of that one before. The office supplies company, James McNaughton Paper Group Ltd, has overhauled its fleet and distribution operations which will result in a 20 per cent reduction in costs. The drinks company, Innocent, has reduced costs and emissions by converting to 100 per cent recycled plastic packaging.
There are initiatives to cheer Human Resources Directors too. BT and Vodafone have both continued to promote their flexible and home-working models, thereby reducing carbon emissions. Royal Mail has pioneered an innovative payroll-giving scheme with The Woodland Trust that encourages employees to reduce emissions and then offset what is left. And Chess PLC, a small business providing communications services, has rewarded employees who car-share with free parking. Improving energy efficiency and cutting back on the appalling levels of waste are the kind of simple things we can all do…
One of the most encouraging outcomes from last year’s May Day Summit has been the growth in the number of sector initiatives. The insurance sector has led the way with its ClimateWise Principles and, in view of their profession’s influence on the activities of all companies, I am particularly pleased that the Legal Sector Alliance is following suit, led by DLA Piper and its energetic chief executive, Nigel Knowles, with the support of the Law Society. There are also initiatives at an early stage of development amongst the bus operators and with the water industry, the pharmaceutical sector, the British Retail Consortium and the Marketing Society. And we have already heard what United Utilities are doing. I’m enormously grateful to Phillip Green for putting it in the way only he could.
At the end of the day there are so many practical actions which businesses can take to tackle climate change, and working with suppliers must rank high on the list. This includes asking for information on issues such as their carbon footprint. But if every customer wants that information measured against different criteria, and packaged differently, the cumulative burden on the poor supplier quickly becomes intolerable. This is why I am delighted to announce that, with the support of Lloyds TSB and working with my United Kingdom Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, Business in the Community and the Small Business Consortium, a group of businesses who are here today are going to develop proposals for streamlining the way in which larger companies request information on sustainability from suppliers. This should allow smaller companies to focus more on action rather than simply on responding to requests for information.
Finally, looking to the wider community, the Climate Group’s “Together” campaign, in partnership with Business in the Community, has already helped members of the public reduce nearly half a million tonnes of CO2 emissions through simple, affordable actions such as cheaper energy efficient light bulbs and loft insulation.
These positive developments demand real leadership and can make the whole difference – particularly if others take the trouble to emulate them. Needless to say, I can only congratulate all those who are making them happen...
All this activity, coupled with the Government’s strong international lead on climate change issues, has attracted interest from other countries, so I could not be more pleased that representatives from the Commonwealth Business Council’s Academy, Canadian Business for Social Responsibility and representatives from companies with a significant presence in South Africa and Australia were able to accept my invitation to join us today. While in the Caribbean recently on an official tour, it occurred to me that it might be possible to develop a May Day Commonwealth network - sharing ideas and best practice and spurring on companies in countries which might not have such a strong tradition of responsible business practice.
If things seem to be going in the right direction, you might ask why are we here for a second year? Well, we will hear later from Dr Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about the latest science on climate change which will leave none of us in any doubt. As I said last year, ‘May Day’ is the international distress call, summoning instant help from anyone who can provide it. I have said it before, and I will say it again – I fear that climate change is just such an emergency, requiring unprecedented levels of urgent, collective action. That is why it will be so fascinating to hear from Senator George Mitchell about the importance the candidates for the U.S. Presidency attach to this issue, not least because it is absolutely clear to me that we can only ask China and India to tackle the problem of climate change when we in the wealthier developed countries – who perhaps unwittingly, have caused global warming - set an example ourselves and take tough action.
By way of trying to set an example and as a result of listening to the urgent pleas of deeply concerned experts, since last year’s event I have initiated a Rainforest Project. Did you know – a lot of people don’t - that cutting down and burning the forests is the world’s third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – third only to industry and energy and greater than the transport sector? Ladies and gentlemen, curbing deforestation is a matter of the gravest possible urgency and that is why – building upon twenty-three years of involvement with corporate responsibility, to the point of your exhaustion I suspect – I have asked fourteen major international companies (I pinned them against a wall and asked them to help!) to spearhead my Rainforests Project, advised by a world class group of experts from a range of disciplines, to try and come up with innovative answers to this most complex of challenges. We are working with the World Bank and the European Union; with Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations; with the British Government, the White House, the Chinese Government and the Russian Government; and with Commonwealth countries and many others besides. The N.G.O. community, which has done invaluable work alerting us all to the scale of the problem, is an important partner too. Therefore, after all these years of trying to encourage partnerships, I am determined that this will become the largest ever public/private/N.G.O. sector partnership. The scale of the problem demands nothing less. We simply have to find a way to make the forests worth more alive than dead – and fast – and to show how the vital eco-system services which they provide can be paid for in an equitable way. But there is scope for smaller scale initiatives too and I want to congratulate Jonathan Wild, the chief executive of Betty's and Taylor's and my BITC Ambassador in Yorkshire and Humberside, who is developing his own project to help preserve an area of precious rainforest.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am acutely aware that many companies are facing uncertain times at present in the more challenging global economic environment and I do understand that this is putting you under real pressure. And, of course, addressing these new circumstances must be a high priority. But at the risk of being a blinding nuisance, and because I don’t think we any longer have the luxury of putting the threat of climate change to one side, I would beg that you don’t let these circumstances divert you entirely from the challenge of tackling climate change, which Lord Stern has warned us carries grave implications for the world economy. Forgive me repeating his warning, but he has said that global warming has the potential to shrink the global economy by between five and twenty per cent – causing a similar impact to the Great Depression. And only the other week he said that this may have been an underestimation. Knowing this, surely we have to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough? Frankly, I find it staggering how many people simply do not believe it when the scientists tell us that there is just the smallest window left for us to be able to make the transformational change in the way we live to stop catastrophic climate change. The worry, of course, is that this window exists at exactly the same time as the global economy is under some stress. I am no longer at risk of being a blinding nuisance – I am a blinding nuisance! What more can I do but urge you, this country’s business leaders, to take the essential action now to make your businesses more sustainable. I am exhausted with repeating that there really is no time to lose. Of course, we also know that real economic opportunities can come from the new technologies, business models and financial instruments needed to combat climate change. We also know that there are huge amounts of capital within the world economy looking for a suitably productive home. You would think, wouldn’t you, that protecting the ultimate capital asset upon which all future income depends – in other words this fragile planet – was worth investing in, seriously and urgently. So isn’t now the critical time to be developing these technologies, business models and financial instruments for environmental reasons, above all, but also for economic reasons? We have to act now because any difficulties which we face today will be as nothing compared to the full effects which global warming will have on the world-wide economy and on the well-being of every man, woman and child on our planet.
And that is the whole point of my May Day initiative; to help you, and others watching this and taking part in this, to make the necessary change in the way you do business. I am fed up with the sound of my own voice going on about all this and you were doubtless fed up with it long ago (but not half as fed up as we are all going to be when we are deafened by all the voices of all the headless chickens as they come home to roost in the only trees left standing!). However, I hope you will leave here today not only reminded of the reality of how much still needs to be done, but full of inspiring ideas to pursue within your own companies and on which you can report back next year!
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to introduce The Prime Minister and once again to thank him for giving up the time to be here today.