‘A failure of imagination is the biggest threat we face

For several years, Nigel Topping has been a vocal advocate for ambitious climate action, calling for increased collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society to achieve global sustainability goals. As the former CEO of WE MEAN BUSINESS and the UK’s High-Level Climate Action Champion, he has worked with organisations across many sectors to create a united front against climate change. In this Q&A, the top sustainability speaker reflects on his role at WE MEAN BUSINESS and the importance of teamwork in sustainability.

What is your proudest achievement from your role as CEO of WE MEAN BUSINESS?

“My proudest achievement was our part in bringing a very positive business voice to Paris and securing the Paris agreement – that was a really crucial moment of global solidarity.

“It was because the conditions were created for businesses, cities, civil society, all the countries of the world from the very big to the very small, to come together and do something that really transcended selfish individual actions.

“I think whatever small part I played in securing the Paris agreement would be my proudest achievement.”

How have you personally tackled your contribution to climate change?

“Easy one is using 100% renewable electricity, by putting solar panels on the roof, but a more significant change has been my diet. I’m almost exclusively vegetarian now, I’m what people call a ‘flexitarian.’ But from growing up as a kid eating meat every single day of the week, I might eat it once a month now.”

What is the biggest challenge we must overcome in our fight against climate change?

“Our belief in ourselves, our ability to imagine what we can do differently, radically differently. We find it very difficult to imagine that the future could be very different from the past.

“I think it’s a failure of imagination that makes us decide it’s too late, we failed, or it’s impossible to transform as fast as we need to. I have huge faith in the innovative capability of humans when we decide to do extraordinary things. So, a failure of imagination is the biggest threat we face.”

Why is it important for businesses, investors, and Governments to work together to tackle climate change?

“No one can do this on their own, everything is interconnected. Businesses respond to investors and customers and Governments and vice versa. So, it’s important that we act with the proper urgency because this is an inevitable transition.

“We know that not dealing with it is going to be disastrous in terms of economics and human suffering, that’s inevitable. It will only happen in a controlled way if we get on with it together. We often talk about radical collaboration, because you can’t win this race on your own.”

What were your thoughts on greenwashing?

“Greenwashing is basically lying, and it’s assuming that your customers are stupid. It’s a pretty bad strategy; you might get away with it in the short term, but you won’t get away in the long term. So, the way you can avoid that is by being honest, bold and using acknowledged standards.

“That’s why we created the #RaceToZero. If you join the race to zero, you can only do it in a robust way. It’s about setting targets and delivering on them. So, if you’re not up for the fight, then retire because this is going to be disruptive. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s also exciting.

“Greenwashing would be pretending to do something and knowing you’re not actually going to or using clever words to give the impression that you’re doing something when you’re not. So, good luck with that as a strategy for wealth creation because your customers will find you out and then reject you. They’ll be angry when they find out.”

This exclusive interview with Nigel Topping was conducted by Jack Hayes.

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