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Why Earth Day matters and what you could do about it…

Earth Day
By Andrew Adie
20 April 2023
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

Saturday is Earth Day (or the UN International Mother Earth Day to give it its full title). It’s tempting to greet this news with a weary sigh and wonder what the point of it all is.

Yesterday, the IPPR think tank published a report stating that only 2.5% of UK firms have published a transition plan for reaching net zero by 2050 – which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not taking it seriously but does suggest that many businesses are taking a subjective view on what they need to do to deliver net zero targets. 

We live in a world that, at COP26, pledged to ‘scale down’ the use of coal and yet in the face of the global energy crisis has actually seen an increase in thermal coal use and in generating energy from fossil fuels. Promises by governments to use this period of energy market turmoil to increase sustainable resilience through investing more into renewables don’t appear to be bearing much fruit.

Our own research from the SEC Newgate ESG Monitor shows that 77% of the UK public think companies should be doing more to minimise their environmental impact. Concerns about green washing are rife.

In the face of this, Earth Day can feel like a valiant attempt to grab attention in a world that is overwhelmed with its failure to deliver results.

And yet Earth Day is critical. The environmental movement was long-regarded as a home for cranks and delusional hippies peddling ‘bad science’. That is no longer the case. Repeatedly shining a light on the problem can risk overwhelming people with a sense of helplessness, but when aligned with specific requests and calls to action it is also galvanising.

The huge reaction and co-ordinated response from NGOs like the RSPB, WWF and National Trust to David Attenborough’s Wild Isles series shows that directing attention to specific environmental issues and solutions can drive results. The Save Our Wild Isles campaign is not showing signs of slowing down.

Aligned to that, PWC has today published a report that finds that 55% of global GDP (some £58 trillion) is at risk from nature destruction. A separate report from Hays, published exclusively in City AM, has found that 52% of the firms they surveyed are hiring more sustainability experts in the face of an expected increase in environmental regulation.

Back to our own SEC Newgate ESG Monitor and we see from our research that 77% of consumers want businesses to behave like good corporate citizens and consider their impacts on other people and the planet.

Progress may sometimes feel slow, but we are making progress when business starts to measure nature and environmental destruction in terms of cash, people and governance. It tells you that the environmentalists are now talking to business in their own language, we now need to move much faster to deliver on that. 

For me, Earth Day is important not just because it provides a moment to pause, consider and reflect on what more we need to do but because it ratchets up pressure and shines a light on the environment at a point when we are entering a period of international conferences that lead up to COP28, starting on 30th November in the UAE.

In the coming months we have the G7 Leaders’ Summit in May in Japan, World Environment Day in June, the Bonn Climate Change Conference also in June, London Climate Action Week, the G20 Leaders’ Summit in India in September and the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit in September. And that is just a selection of the summits coming up at which climate change and the environment will be high on the agenda. 

We also, post COP28 in 2024, see the US Presidential Election and UK General Election taking place, with voters (the same consumers we have surveyed) concerned about environmental issues.

In a world of multiple competing priorities and short-term challenges, kicking environmental protection and nature into the long grass is an easy route for any politician and business. Earth Day and the many other initiatives that continue to capture attention play a key role in preventing that from happening. 

So, this Earth Day is perhaps a moment for all of us to reflect on what we can individually do and celebrate the power of collective action, no matter how small. Rather than being overwhelmed by the problem; plant a tree, join an environmental NGO, sign up to Save Our Wild Isles, write to your MP or just buy some pollinator-friendly wildflower seeds and scatter them in the corner of your local park. Celebrate being a small part of the movement and acting together to make a change and ensure that the light keeps shining on the needs to act in defence of nature and the planet.