Businesses which are failing to tackle climate change are “failing humanity” and are heading to a “graveyard of dinosaurs”, the former CEO of FMCG giant Unilever, Paul Polman warned.
During his lecture at the World Retail Congress in Rome, Polman said society had reached a tipping point and the cost of inaction was far higher than the cost of action, which is “something firms would ignore at their peril.”
“Consumers are demanding change, especially Millennials and Gen Z,” he told delegates, “they want to buy from brands that stand for something and they are willing to pay more for it,” he said.
“They will also choose to work for more responsible employers so companies would be well served to focus on their people and take action at the level that is needed.
“The ones that don’t I think are already heading to the graveyard of dinosaurs.”
The comments follows a report from global management consultants Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released at the conference, which revealed under 20% of companies were on track to hit targets needed to meet the limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The former Unilever CEO said the food sector are responsible for 30% of greenhouse gasses and 70% of deforestation, yet, while 800 million people go to bed hungry each night the sector has the “audacity” to waste about one third of the food that is produced.
As a result, he said business owners now needed to show “courage” and be more ambitious in tackling climate change and human rights issues, instead of just doing the bare minimum that they could “get away with”.
Business could not afford to be a “bystander” and could not succeed in a system that was failing so many people. They needed to focus on the size of the prize rather than the costs involved, Polman stressed.
“The cost of inaction is higher than the cost of action, which makes it an enormous opportunity.”