Corporate Climate Change

Companies not embracing ESG might find themselves losing customers, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman. 

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, in which the UN Secretary-General reported that the world is on “a fast track to climate disaster.” In response, more than 1,200 scientists in 26 countries demonstrated, calling attention to leaders and organizations they believe have failed to act with urgency.

NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus was one of the demonstrators. “I think the biggest takeaway from the IPCC report is we need to switch into emergency mode as a society,” said Kalmus. “We’ve got to end this disconnect between what the scientists are saying we need to do, and what society and leaders of society—the elected officials, and CEOs, and the judges, etcetera—are actually doing.”

The discrepancy between word and deed is greenwashing. And regrettably, it’s everywhere.

Earlier this year, a bottled-water giant admitted in court that its claims around recycling and sustainability are “vague and hyperbolic.” Its argument was revealing: its environmental claims are “aspirational” and therefore don’t actually violate the law.

This is exactly the kind of thing that has moved climate scientists like Kalmus to action. “I’ve been thinking about this for years and trying to make cultural change for years,” says Kalmus, “and I can’t come up with any other solutions.”

But what does climate activism look like?

In America, one of the most powerful ways to make change is with our dollars. This is one of the great gifts of capitalism. At any moment, we can stop supporting the companies that don’t align with our values

For investors, this has begun to look like focusing on impact; looking into a company’s sustainability record; funding organizations that are acting around an Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) perspective; and taking money away from the ones that aren’t living up to their own claims. A survey by JPMorgan and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) found that more than 65% of impact-investment opportunities result in competitive, market-rate returns.

“That is the essence of profitable purpose businesses. It's perfectly possible to have very viable and scalable businesses that also deliver measurable and meaningful impacts at scale,” says Vaughan Lindsay, the CEO of Climate Impact Partners “The knack is trying to get the balance of those two.”

Sustainable-investing dollars have increased by 456% from 2005 to 2020. This is because for many investors, it’s a double win—a way to make change while maintaining profitability.

For individual consumers, activism could easily look like leveraging the power of one’s purchasing decisions—taking a stand by preferring brands that address climate change and avoiding those that aren’t walking the talk in terms of their environmental claims.

A recent study reveals that across the globe, more than a third of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability. An even higher percentage of women, higher-income shoppers, and members of Gen Z expressed a similar willingness.

The longer organizations fail to take responsibility for their role in addressing climate change, the more we can expect to see individuals taking matters into their own hands.

“Emergency mode” may not look like chaining themselves to the front doors of the very worst offenders. It may look like thinking twice about where we put our time, energy, and hard-earned resources. 

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.