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The Business Case for Carbon Literacy

April 2023 by Nicole Leslie Charria

The need for Carbon Literacy has never been more urgent than now. With the growing understanding of the effects of everyday consumption on the carbon emissions humans create, Carbon Literacy is a crucial component in understanding how individuals and organisations can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Carbon Literacy goes further than understanding the science behind climate change. It is an awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions on an individual, community and organisational basis. Collaborative action is vital for our future and crucial in the fight against climate change.

The IPCC released their AR6 Synthesis Report this month, stating that limiting human-caused global warming requires net-zero CO2 emissions, that is, adding no more emissions than are removed from the atmosphere. Continued greenhouse gas emissions will lead to increased global warming, intensifying hazards, and threatening biodiversity and livelihoods.

We need rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. Indeed, the IPCC state a lack of climate literacy is holding back progress and adaptation—increased Carbon Literacy can contribute to accelerated behavioural changes and planning, which in turn, impacts climate change policy and laws.

Business understanding

The British Chambers of Commerce’s newest report showed that action on net zero in the business sector has been held back by a lack of business understanding, both in terms of targets and steps to achieve them. Without full understanding, businesses are less likely to take action, such as prioritising sustainability; or avoid implementing sustainable practices and policies that can contribute to mitigating climate change. Businesses are not yet fully engaging with net zero targets, which is having knock-on effects on customers, consumers and, of course, the environment. This undermines the ability of businesses to achieve net zero goals. Cost and efficiency are cited as major barriers, yet those who have embraced a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint have seen cost savings and improved efficiency. Carbon Literacy is thus shown to be an effective tool for understanding environmental and financial savings: wasting resources is worse for your wallet as well as the planet.

The lack of business and corporate understanding of carbon emissions and net zero filters down to consumers too. Around 70% of consumers openly admit they don’t understand the contributors to their carbon footprint or understand the most impactful choices they can make.

Consumer behaviours

This is made worse as the benefits of smaller, easy-to-implement changes, like switching to reusable plastic bags, are significantly overstated. This is not to say little changes are useless changes. However, there is a much lower willingness to transition to larger-scale changes an individual can make, like transportation and diet. The British Retail Consortium states that there is a mismatch between the most effective choices and the most popular—Carbon Literacy helps reduce this. Of course, these are individual-specific actions–on the Carbon Literacy training, individuals can be aided in making informed decisions about what they can do to change their lifestyle and habits to more sustainable actions.

Social norms play a role here too, with individuals more likely to adopt changes (like sustainable behaviours) if they perceive them to be the norm within their social group. Therefore, this sustainable behaviour needs to be modelled by businesses, leaders, teachers and others in positions of influence—as a norm rather than a special thing to do. Carbon Literacy training includes a group pledge to help with this. Significant behaviour change ensues – the Project has engaged 56,770 individuals to pledge individual and wider group actions, totalling 113,540 actions. Requiring group action allows Carbon Literacy to be spread at all levels, making it accessible and inclusive, as well as sharing the responsibility. As a result, climate action becomes a norm.

Shared responsibility

We see the responsibility businesses have in educating consumers about sustainable products and making sustainable choices more accessible to all. This involves providing clear information about products’ carbon footprints or developing sustainable alternatives. Businesses can only fulfil this responsibility to consumers if they have a comprehensive understanding of carbon emissions and their impact on the environment. Without this, consumers cannot make fully-informed decisions. Carbon Literacy is thus imperative in supporting governments and businesses’ expertise to drive real change.

Carbon Literacy bridges the gap between consumers and businesses and plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change. Every Carbon Literacy training programme is necessarily tailored to a specific audience, allowing for more specific understandings of our actions in relation to where we live, work, or study. Find an open Carbon Literacy course relevant to you here.

The Carbon Literacy Project also offers sector-specific Toolkits that are available to be picked up and used by any organisation in that sector. Find out more about the Sector Toolkits here.

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