In this exciting interview with Nigel Topping, courtesy of The Sustainability Speakers Agency, discover why ‘ESG’ is outdated, how politics collides with sustainability and what Nigel does to protect the planet.
Nigel is a true climate champion and was appointed the UK’s High-Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26 in 2020.
Do not miss this exclusive Q&A for the Live Business Blog with this pioneer of sustainable practices.
In your words, what is ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and how important is it for tackling climate change?
“Well, I think it is a little bit like yesterday’s acronym for a series of reasons.
“The reason why I say it’s yesterday’s acronym is because it gives the impression that environmental, social and governance issues are separate from mainstream issues of how businesses are performing.
“If you think that you can worry about the business’s success Monday to Friday and then Friday evening, worry about ESG, then you’re missing the point.
“If you’re running a car company, for example, how fast you electrify is not an ESG issue. It’s a business strategy. So, I think ESG is a placeholder for a set of issues which financial markets haven’t been taking seriously and mainstreaming, but now they’re being mainstreamed.”
What role does politics play in tackling climate change and what can political figures do to drive sustainable change?
“Well, I mean, politics is huge because ultimately politicians set the rules of the game.
“Although the private sector can innovate, the overall pace of change will be dictated by policy makers – so, their role is huge.
“What they can do is a couple of things. One, bring constituencies with them, so bring voters and businesses with them, because policy will not grow faster than markets and voters.
“Keep making the case that this is in our long-term interests, that it will be creating jobs and improving health. Then, set the clear long-term policies so it’s very clear what we’re going to do over 10, 15, 20 years; it makes it much easier for us all to manage the adaptation and innovation over time with very clear short-term policies.
“But with the end dates, like when we burn the last lump of coal in the UK or sell the last internal combustion engine, it is very helpful to set those end dates because then people can organise their lives around them.”
As the CEO of WE MEAN BUSINESS you worked with global leaders to accelerate action on climate change, which achievement are you the proudest of from this role?
“Our part in bringing a very positive business voice to Paris and securing the Paris agreement, that was a really crucial moment of global solidarity.
“It was because the conditions were created for businesses, cities, civil society, all the countries of the world from the very big to the very small, to come together and do something that really transcended selfish individual actions.
“I think whatever small part I played in securing the Paris agreement would be my proudest achievement.”
In your personal life, which everyday changes have you made to decelerate climate change?
“Easy one is using 100% renewable electricity, by putting solar panels on the roof.
“A more significant change has been my diet. I’m almost exclusively vegetarian now, I’m what people call a flexitarian. But from growing up as a kid eating meat every single day of the week, I might eat it once a month now!”
What role do you think circular economies play in our fight against climate change and how long will it take for global circular economies to become the norm?
“A ’circular economy’ is not just about making stuff, using it, and then throwing it away, but using it in a continual loop of value.
“Recreation is absolutely essential for our zero-carbon future, which we know we’ve got to get to, particularly in the parts of the economy regarding plastics, cement, steel. Every tonne of plastic, cement, steel, and aluminium that we produce today needs to come back into the economy, not just be thrown away as scrap.
“In fact, in those sectors, secularising material flow represents about 40% to 50% of how we get to zero-carbon.
“So, it’s really crucial and the sooner the better is the answer.”
This exclusive interview with Nigel Topping was conducted by Jack Hayes for the Live Business Blog.