Sustainability speaker and campaigner, Jonathon Porritt, is a UK-leading authority on all things climate change. As the founder of Forum for the Future and author of Hope in Hell, he has dedicated his entire career to tackling our destructive impact on planet earth. In our exclusive interview, Jonathon reflects on his advocacy and reveals what businesses can do to reduce their carbon footprint.

How did you become a sustainability advocate?

“I’ve been at it for nearly 50 years! So, I joined the Green Party in 1974 – I joined lots of organisations in the early 1970s. I’m still trying to work out why the world is so utterly stupid when it comes to understanding environmental issues and how critical it is to the future wellbeing of all humankind.

“I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last four or five years working, particularly with young people, so that drives me. These days, I’m trying to support the work of young people’s organisations and make sure we don’t leave the world in even more of a mess for them than we’re currently likely to do.”

Do you think that businesses are doing enough to protect our planet from climate change?

“Well, they’re certainly moving a lot further and faster than they’ve done before. There’s no question about that. Oddly enough, particularly in the last few years, despite the pandemic, corporate sustainability has been prospering!

“But it’s very mixed. You get some sectors where companies are doing a lot. If you look, for instance, at the fast-moving consumer goods sector, you can see companies doing enormous amounts to persuade their consumers that they really do care about this stuff.

“If you look at some of the more common intensive sectors, for instance, the water industry or cement manufacturers or steel production, you can see them gradually waking up. But it’s taken quite a long time for them to commit to the kind of targets that they now need.

“So, it’s a sector-by-sector thing. But overall, if you think back maybe ten years ago, you would have had a huge amount of what was described as ‘greenwashing’. These days, there is a lot less greenwashing, but you genuinely do have a lot of companies seriously intent on getting their act together.”

What are your top tips for corporate sustainability?

“Companies have any number of opportunities to do what they need to do. The first is basically to make sure that sustainability is a completely integrated thing across all their platforms – as well as environmental issues, that’s critical, sustainability is not the same as environment.

“It involves as much about social justice, economic issues, governance issues as it does about environment and climate and resources, things like that.

“The second thing they must do is get serious about their climate change strategy. We are in a climate emergency, as we know, so there’s literally no time for companies to be messing around any longer.

“They must work out precisely what they can do in that regard, and they need to do it as scientifically as possible. The whole idea of a science-based target, or a science-based target initiative, is for companies to get their heads around what that target looks like and then get it delivered.

“The most important thing of all, in some respects, is they must work out how they’re going to make their strategy come alive for their employees.

“All these successful examples of corporate sustainability include really good creative ways of getting employees involved in whatever it is that they’re doing. In fact, if you don’t do that, it’s very hard to persuade individuals that this is absolutely part of their own professional careers.”

What has been the highlight of your career?

“Well, I guess because so many things have flowed from it… I was involved in the Earth Summit in 1992 – so a long time ago, for sure – and I spent more than three weeks out in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit.

“It was really a crucial time for me because it enabled me to see exactly how many people were beginning to see the world differently, were beginning to understand the nature of the challenges ahead. That included business, it included a huge number of other sectors in society, including religious and faith leaders, who were gathered in great numbers in Rio.

“And for me, coming off the back off 20 years of campaigning with the Green Party, it opened up a different perspective on how to accelerate change in society and to do that, basically, by working with that kind of energy rather than constantly – well, not working against it, but constantly campaigning to stop people doing bad things.

“From that point on, it became obvious to me that it was just as important to enable people to do good things rather than stop doing bad things. And that’s pretty much what I’ve spent the last 30 years of      my life doing.”

This exclusive interview with Jonathon Porritt was conducted by Jack Hayes.