Speculation remains about how sustainability will be impacted since the referendum but the United Kingdom’s obligation to reducing carbon emissions, ensuring clean water, and protecting production and consumption—to name a few—cannot be amended by fear of future business decisions. It is important for companies to evaluate their sustainability strategy in the face of economic uncertainty, not lose sight of the big picture and think globally.
The cost of sustainability
In anticipation of the Brexit vote on the 24th June, leading green experts predicted that a departure from the European Union would mean negative consequences for the sustainability agenda, going so far as to say that it would even be “damaging” to Britain’s environment.
Once the votes were counted, fears surfaced that Brexit would make it more difficult for Britain to uphold its responsibility in addressing issues of climate change. Initial threats also warned of major job losses, particularly in the banking industry, along with predictions of significant profit declines across the business sector.
The pandemonium that emerged in the hours, days, and weeks following the Brexit decision forced many companies to closely examine their budgets. In these heightened emotional times, companies would be making a mistake if they allowed their decisions to impact sustainability or corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Despite real and speculated economic implications of Brexit, businesses cannot afford to make any cuts in the areas of sustainability—the price is simply too high.
There is majority opinion that global sustainability issues will continue to intensify over the next decade. Issues like climate change, water quality, or food scarcity are just as critical now as they were prior to the June vote. If these issues haven't changed due to Brexit nor should our commitment to a sustainable future waver. While Brexit does impact the UK’s ability to shape EU policy directly, it doesn’t mean that our businesses can’t strive to be industry leaders, embracing the age-old phrase “leading by example.”
Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science articulates, ‘The UK’s commitment on climate change is longstanding and based on a understanding that it is a global issue and should not be altered by its future departure from the EU.”
The true definition of sustainable business is grounded in being able to recognize or anticipate future environmental trends and to be able to stay ahead of the game with proactive decision-making and goal setting. The businesses that have a grasp on the global issues and can keep an eye on the sustainable trends are going to be able to weather the post-Brexit economic storm.
Perhaps better to focus less on trying to anticipate how sustainability regulations will be impacted with the referendum and instead, turn our attention to international global trends.
More than 150 world leaders, including the UK, adopted the United Nation's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year aiming to end poverty, hunger and inequality; protect the planet; ensure prosperity for humans through improved access to health and education; foster peace; and enhance global partnerships.
UK businesses should continue to take part in the international conversation on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Companies such as Unilever, Mondi and Diageo, to name a few, are starting to show how they are implementing the goals into their business model. While this remains an emerging area, the SDGs provide a framework for companies to be able to examine how their business practices can work toward creating a more sustainable world.
At this time of continuing uncertainty post-Brexit, leading companies will be maintaining their commitment to the value of sustainability and keeping it at the core of their business practice.
Kate Walker is an intern with Green & Good Consulting. Green & Good Consulting works with small to large businesses to maximise sustainability strategy, helping to identify the correlations between their company’s purpose and the global issues.