Why taking climate action sooner rather than later is good for business

  • 16/06/2023
  • Sponsored by - EECA
Air NZ, The Warehouse group and Countdown are all members of the Climate Leaders Coalition, with a mission of having NZ business CEOs leading the response to climate change.
Air NZ, The Warehouse group and Countdown are all members of the Climate Leaders Coalition, with a mission of having NZ business CEOs leading the response to climate change. Photo credit: File

While many businesses may feel that now is not the right time to start reducing emissions, taking climate action sooner rather than later will not only work out cheaper in the long run, it also offers a valuable opportunity for companies to lead and fuel innovation.

"Business has real commercial power to drive change," says Mike Burrell, executive director of the Sustainable Business Council (SBC), an organisation working to accelerate the transition to a zero-emissions future.

"Many of our businesses, and many businesses internationally, are very large – so the choices they make in terms of things like the products they use, how they ship them, their supply chains etc – can have a massive impact in reducing emissions and building a climate-resilient future."

Despite the power of business to affect meaningful change, however, Burrell says many companies are overly focused on the short-term costs of reducing their emissions and all too often overlook the long-term benefits that come with embarking on a sustainability journey. He also believes the business sector is in a unique position to fight climate change.

"When it comes to taking climate action, business has a leadership role to play," he says. "While we need input from all elements of society, there's a particularly important role for business here. Businesses also have to lead because it's only by leading that you can innovate. Attracting and retaining customers and finding new products or ways of doing things all come through innovation."

Burrell encourages businesses to take a long-term view of sustainability, focusing on the benefits that come from taking action sooner, rather than later.

"If you take a short-term perspective on this of course it doesn't seem to make sense and it seems to be too expensive, but if you take a medium to long run perspective – looking out five, 10, 15 years – suddenly these challenges don't seem so big because you can break them into component parts. Importantly, then you can also start to see what the costs are of not taking action," he says.

"If you wait until things are mandatory to take action, then you will be at the tail end of competitiveness. What we say to businesses is that it will never be cheaper to take climate action than it is today – it will just get more expensive and more complex. So, the sooner you get moving, the cheaper it will be, and the more effective it will be."

According to research by EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), businesses are increasingly deprioritising taking climate action amid more pressing concerns around rising inflation and the state of the economy. EECA's most recent Business Monitor report, which surveyed more than 500 business decision-makers across New Zealand, found that while 65 percent of business leaders felt they could make a difference to climate change, only 26 percent listed taking climate action as being a current priority.

Through its Gen Less campaign, EECA is working to encourage more businesses to take their first step towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. The research shows the most common perceived roadblocks to taking concrete climate action are cost, overall lack of knowledge and finding it too hard to start.

Gen Less advises companies keen to begin their sustainability journey to "start with purpose". After a clear decision to take climate action has been made businesses are advised to begin measuring their emissions to understand where they can make the biggest impact (as greenhouse gases are created mainly through energy use and sending waste to landfill, companies are especially encouraged to look at aspects of their business such as car use, air travel, shopping options and on-site energy-use). Once businesses are aware of precisely where their emissions come from they can make a plan to reduce them

Burrell says taking the first step is actually much easier than most businesses think, with a wealth of support and resources available through organisations such as EECA and SBC for companies to tap into.

"It's about working together and helping each other – what we're trying to do is get everyone on that journey by making it easier for them to start."

Visit www.genless.govt.nz/business to take your business's next step on your low emissions journey. 

Article created in partnership with EECA.