Our society has always been fascinated by fast results and overnight success stories. Often, we seek easy and distinct answers. Answers we can point to and that are easy to grasp. Answers that are almost self-explanatory.
At this very moment, such easy answers for the climate crisis seem to be measuring the personal and – increasingly – corporate CO2 footprint and then paying to compensate for those emissions to become carbon neutral.
We’ve already written about CO2 and the meaning and origin of the carbon footprint. You might remember that the carbon footprint is an invention of the advertising agency Ogilvy, which, in 2005, helped their client BP refocus from corporate responsibility to questioning consumer’s individual actions. You might also remember our series of articles explaining the dangers of the widely advertised corporate goal of becoming a climate-neutral company and how many companies only investigate their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and mostly bury responsibility for their supply chain (Scope 3) under a shiny marketing carpet.
At NEW STANDARD.S, we believe it’s time to discuss new concepts to bring the discussion around climate action to the next level.
In our opinion, one such concept is Emma Pattee’s term “climate shadow.”
Oregon-based climate writer Emma Pattee describes the climate shadow as a concept that helps us visualize how the sum of our life’s choices influence climate emergency. In her definition, it consists of three major pillars: consumption, choices, and attention.
Consumption includes lifestyle expectations of what we believe should be normal. There are obviously good and bad expectations. Things such as running the AC in the summer or flying to London for a weekend of shopping. But of course it might also be the decision to always bring a reusable coffee cup instead of opting for a single-use plastic one.
Choices are things like deciding how to donate or invest money, the number of one’s children, or the size of one’s apartment. It might also be the choice to only eat vegan food or always cycling to work instead of driving.
The last pillar is how we decide to spend our time and what we decide to focus our attention on. What is it we do as our careers? What impact do we want to have on the world around us?
This is where things get more complicated and the numbers blurry.
Take this example:
One person flies a lot and sleeps in a hotel room most nights. Obviously, even their towels get replaced after one use.
The second person lives in a small studio in the city center and cycles to work every day.
Likely, you would immediately say that the first person has a much higher CO2 footprint.
But what if we told you that the first person is a climate scientist with a large online following, educating people around the world on the latest research?
The other person might cause very few emissions with their personal lifestyle choices, but they work for an advertising agency popularizing fossil fuel companies.
Is your judgment of who’s got a smaller or larger climate shadow still the same?
And, when thinking of corporate governance, is a climate-neutral company (Scope 1 and 2, most likely not 3) really that climate friendly if their company’s business model increases the need and usage of carbon emissions?
At NEW STANDARD.S, we’re fans of changing small personal habits to more sustainable ones. We love working on these changes with companies and their employees. To us, changing these small habits – and that’s incredibly important to say – is a great way to prevent climate anxiety and help people refocus on seeking out solutions instead of feeling victimized by the amount of terrible news we all face every single day whenever we tune into the news. It’s an easy way to engage people – and employees – in looking for solutions instead of problems.
We also love accompanying teams as they make climate-friendly choices and helping them figure out which ones have the highest impact.
However, what we get most excited about is when companies decide to dedicate their attention and their company’s purpose to climate action.
We’ve already seen how the climate sector is becoming one of the most economically viable industries. And we’d love to encourage you to see this blog post as an invitation to take the first step toward becoming a climate-relevant company – whether it’s through your choices or your purpose.