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The Role of Consumers vs Corporations in Combating Climate Change – Who’s Responsible?

combating climate change

As we feel the effects of a warming earth, combating climate change has become common vernacular. As we call on world leaders, corporations, and fellow humans for change, the question remains… 

Who is actually responsible for combating climate change?

What is Climate Change?

We’ll start here. What is climate change?

To put it simply, climate change is long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. The most prominent cause of climate change is something you may have heard of called the “greenhouse effect” – when greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere trap heat that would normally radiate back into space. When humans burn fossil fuels we emit these GHGs and as we decimate natural land cover that is supposed to sequester GHGs for crops and cattle, global warming increases. This warming can cause disruptions in food, water, and overall living systems. 

The Beginning of Climate Change

Here at EcoCart, we believe in science. 

Unbiased and thoroughly reviewed science has provided us with a deep understanding of the earth’s natural patterns as well as the relationship between human actions and their impact on the earth’s systems.  

It’s true, energy changes in the sun and volcanic eruptions have influenced natural variability in climate long before human civilizations. However, the rapid rate of climate change in post-industrial times has supported academic observations that humans are extremely likely to be the dominant cause of expedited climate change.

Ahh, the Industrial Revolution, a mid-18th Century shift from a handicraft economy to a machine-based one, is often dubbed the start of modern climate change. In order to grow cities and innovations as quickly as possible there was a new reliance on coal and oil-burning plants and machines such as the steam engine and railways, electric generators, and modern factories. This period marked a new era of growth and brought technology that changed the world population’s everyday lives. Along with this innovation came unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

combating climate change

Why Combating Climate Change Matters

The climate change fight is an important one. With the conservative trajectory of a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures, United Nations scientists report that we will see detrimental effects from disasters and extreme weather events as well as sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, and food system disruptions. 

The impacts of climate change can be experienced differently based on class and race in the U.S. and globally. In the United States people of color and impoverished communities are often forced to live under greater threat of pollution and with less access to food, water, and basic needs. This environmental injustice is a symptom of underlying class and racism, not a direct result of climate change. Combating climate change in equitable ways means acknowledging this history of inequality both nationally and globally.

What Does 1.5℃ Above Baseline Mean?

We often hear the phrase “1.5℃ above baseline” in climate change discussions. This number signifies the rise in average temperature from pre-industrial baseline scenarios, and it is seen as a threshold over which there will be severe and dire consequences. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 6th Annual Assessment Report, Policymaker’s Summary breaks the future of warming greater than 1.5℃ down into two periods:

  1. In the near term (2021-2040),
  2. The mid to long-term (2041-2100). 

In the near term, we expect to see increased frequency and severity of natural disasters and changes to human systems. In the long term, we see an increased magnitude of severity in these issues alongside a greater percentage of the population at risk of losing property, decreased health, and reduced quality of life. 

Changes and risks intensify substantially with increasing projections of warming. The United Nations SDG Report states that children under the age of 10 are expected to endure almost four times the amount of extreme weather events than current conditions under 1.5℃ warming and five times the amount under a 3℃ scenario. Combating climate change now is vital to protect the future of our planet and its people. 

Who’s Responsible for Climate Change?

Great question.

Globalization paired with the growing sustainability movement brings a certain juxtaposition to humankind: how do we keep the economy moving forward while meeting sustainability goals? What will happen with increased consumerism alongside demands for corporate social responsibility?

We’ll break down what role consumers and corporations have in combating climate change.

The Role of Consumerism in Climate Change

Consumers exacerbate climate change with a demand based on overconsumption and materialism. 

  • Consequences of Consumerism

Significant amounts of carbon are emitted throughout the entire lifecycle of a product, which is often looked at in a linear economy. Products are eventually discarded in landfills where they continue contributing to global warming. 

It is important to foster a circular economy, which incorporates reuse and recycling to decrease the manufacturing of unnecessary items as well as unsustainable disposal. Incorporating this cyclical approach into consumption decisions can help decrease additional carbon emissions. 

  • Sustainable Options Aren’t Yet Accessible to All

As demand for cheap, trendy pieces increase, their already low price decreases, and people feel less financial guilt for buying more. Sustainable pieces are more expensive due to more durable fabrics and a focus on reducing transportation costs through local production which often results in higher wages for workers, which makes the market for sustainable clothing inaccessible for many and further contributes to the demand for fast fashion.

  • Microtrends and Fast Fashion

Fast fashion refers to the process of exporting clothing production to countries with cheap, exploited labor in order to sell the final product at a low price to maximize profits. Microtrends refer to a shortened life cycle of a trend, where styles both rise and fall in popularity quickly. 

According to the UNEP, the average consumer buys 60% more pieces of clothing today than 15 years ago. As companies cater to these trends before the population has moved on, more clothing sits in closets or landfills and leading to a pattern of increased consumption without the fear of breaking the bank or considering ecological consequences. 

combating climate change

Ways Individuals can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint 

  • Support Sustainable Brands 

Your role as a consumer affects the demand and supply of goods across the economy. The best way to reduce emissions from consumption is to limit purchases of new goods. Shopping secondhand and only replacing what you can’t repurpose will decrease your personal carbon footprint, and when you must buy something new, it is important to research and support companies that follow ESG guidelines and are working to reduce their emissions. 

It is important to keep an eye out for greenwashing: when a company makes unsubstantiated claims to sustainability with the intent of gaining consumer interest. Greenwashing can be spotted with vague language, a lack of transparent data, carbon offset initiatives without practicing emissions reductions, and a lack of third-party verification of green practices. 

  • Decrease Energy Use and Increase Efficiency

Individuals can use tools such as the EPA carbon footprint calculator to identify personal high-emitting activities. Based on your results, you can target strategies to areas of your home that are using the most energy. 

  • Adopt More Sustainable Diets

Simple changes to diet can have a large impact on a household’s carbon emissions. The Nature Conservancy reports that by just partially omitting red meat, you could emit almost 30% less from individual diet-based carbon footprints. 

Eating seasonally and as locally as possible is another way to lower the carbon footprint of the foot you’re consuming.

  • Use Public Transportation

The federal transit administration reports that by taking public transit you can decrease a trip’s emissions by up to 77% and substantially decrease your overall travel footprint. 

  • Vote for Change

Exercising our right to vote for policies and legislation on combating climate change is vital to the future of our planet. We often worry about issues that seem most immediate to us– in the 2022 US midterm elections, 49% of voters deemed the economy “very important”, while only 26% said the same for climate change. It is important to remain diligent in showing up to vote for policies that encourage sustainability. 

The Role of Corporations in Climate Change

We’ve all heard the phrase “what goes around comes around”. 

It’s the same when it comes to manufacturing just about any product… all manufacturing produces greenhouse gas emissions, so no company is exempt from the climate change fight. Corporations push market trends with control of inventory, and it is their job to implement greener practices. 

  • Corporate Commitments to Climate Change and ESG 

The Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)  Framework was introduced in the 2006 United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment Report and provides a holistic approach to assessing sustainability issues through both ecological and social metrics.

By looking into more than just how corporations affect the physical environment, market players can begin to understand and mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and hold themselves accountable to consume ethically. Corporations must meet this new demand for sustainable alternatives and transparency in their ESG metrics in order to foster trust and loyalty in their customer base as well as do their part to fight climate change. 

You can read more about sustainability vs CSR vs ESG here.

combating climate change

Climate Change Solutions for Corporations 

  • Obtain Climate Related Certifications 

Companies can work to obtain third-party certifications such as B Corporation to assess the environmental impacts of their operations. 

  • Decreasing Workplace and Employee Carbon Emissions

Corporations can also decrease carbon emissions in places such as reducing business travel or employee commutes, looking to incorporate sustainable activities for employees such as gardening or volunteering, or implementing zero waste or recycling initiatives within a workplace.

  • Carbon Removal and Carbon Offsetting

Corporations can offset their emissions by purchasing credits from carbon offset projects that sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This can be done in various ways, from reforestation to renewable energy to improved livelihood for communities in need.

  • Nature Based Solutions

Companies can also pledge to support nature-based solutions, such as sustainable management, the use of natural features, and processes to tackle socio-environmental challenges, to contribute positively to the environment. These projects focus on co-benefits outside of carbon emissions reductions, such as biodiversity, land restoration, and justice for indigenous communities. 

It is important to note that these projects will not solely combat the climate crisis and are not an end-all-be-all solution for emissions reductions. Carbon offsetting and nature-based climate solution support must be paired with emissions reductions in order to truly bring down corporate emissions. 

  • Invest in Alternative Energy 

Shifting to renewable sources can help to decrease corporations’ carbon emissions. As technology for renewables improves, prices of installation are going down and reliability is going up. With volatile and record-breaking gas prices we see that in the context of climate change, alternative energy will save corporations money in the long term. Making the transition early can help corporations with profits and sustainability goals. 

Conclusion

Combatting climate change can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if we all work together. 

There are so many perspectives, standards, buzzwords, and recommendations circulating public discourse as the effects of a warming earth become prominent. 

As consumers, we must hold businesses accountable by striving to only shop at businesses that recognize and actively fight climate change. 

As business owners or sustainability specialists, we must improve technologies, research and identify areas to reduce emissions, and provide transparent studies and goals to our customers. 

As humans who have all contributed to the climate crisis, we must vote for legislation on combating climate change and make changes in our own lives to reduce individual carbon footprints. 

Is your brand ready to play its part in combating climate change? Reach out to EcoCart today. 

 

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