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What a difference a year makes

By Amanda Powell-Smith

My 2019 calendar social impact story reflects on a year when we finally started to wake up to the threat of the climate emergency…

January  

We kicked off the year in our fabulous new offices. A quiet but important policy came into effect with the revised Corporate Governance Code strengthening director responsibilities for listed companies achieving sustainable, long term growth.  The launch of Gregg’s vegan sausage rolls was a much louder sign of change – and enjoyed by all at Forster.

February

Or revolution month. Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate, led by Greta Thunberg, put the climate crisis at the top of the global news agenda and changed the course of not only this year, but probably all our futures. The narrative shifted from ‘change’ to ‘emergency’ and action became imperative for stakeholders at every level. We were delighted to win Consultancy of the Year at Edie Sustainability Awards for the actions we are taking ourselves and with our clients.

March

The school strikes continued and so did discussion and debate.  In the absence of an active government, many of our clients were emerging as active funders – taking on the role of innovation and problem solving. An entrepreneurial mindset is crucial.

April   

As the City warmed up, air pollution started to dominate discussion with new urgency around the need to collaborate and tackle the problem. It matters to everyone in our office as many of us walk or cycle to and for work. This affects everyone.

May   

Innovation and ideas; entrepreneurs and funding; conversations and campaigning. We were immersed in a range of projects to help our clients find and scale new solutions.  At a national level, the Committee on Climate Change published its recommendations for the UK to have a net zero target – and business leaders lobbied for the Government to adopt it. Shared targets are important to enable change.

June 

On 12 June, the UK Government announced a legally binding target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – the first major industrialised nation in the world to do so and the start of a cascade of business pledges.  Where are the charity sector pledges for a net zero future?

July  

We published our first annual carbon disclosure report.  We worked with clients large and small as they grappled with the complexity of achieving rapid action once a goal has been set.  The hottest day on record in the UK occurred on 25 July and ONS records show that 200 more people than usual died.  The case for change continued to be made.

August    

The Amazon rainforest fires provided a moment of clarity on what is important, galvanising both governments and investors to speak out. More recently this has been followed up by major companies and investors seeking to prevent deforestation for soy production. As business take responsibility across their supply chain we are seeing an increase in collective action and expect clashes to grow as businesses push governments for better global environmental standards. Businesses are becoming activists.

September   

Greta Thunberg addressed the UN General Assembly at the UN Climate Action summit and challenged the apathy towards climate change. At the same meeting, 77 nations signed up to become net zero by 2050.  We joined Business Declares and pledged to be net zero by the end of 2021 – with a key focus on our suppliers, clients and wider community. Interestingly, we started to see a significant increase in businesses looking at B Corp as a way of integrating and living a sustainable purpose.  Action is everything.

October   

Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, reiterated the need for climate-related financial disclosures from major corporations and underlined the changes taking place in across the investment market.  Impact investing – much discussed but little understood – is rising up the agenda and we expect the Make My Money Matter campaign, announced by Richard Curtis at the UN General Assembly in September, to be a catalyst for consumer action and discussion.  Money does matter.

November

All the political parties bar one significant one put climate change action high up in their election manifestos and Channel 4 news hosted a climate debate for the first time ever.  Manifestos of Labour, LibDem, Green and SNP also contain significant corporate governance reform – building in principles that are aligned to B Corp beliefs. Despite political turmoil, our clients are getting more, not less, active as they and their employees continue to take on a problem-solving approach.  Collaboration is rising.

December  

And so we approach Christmas as one of 500 B Corps pledging to cut carbon missions to net zero by 2030 at COP25; UKSSD launching its new food systems programme; Greta Thunberg named Time Person of the Year for 2019; and the scene set for the 2020 decade of action.  We finish the year with ideas, opportunities, active plans and – perhaps most importantly – hope.

Change is possible.