Stopping the sixth extinction: Mobilising corporate businesses


Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

How can we restore our planet to health? From replenishing biodiversity to enforcing legal protection, Salt asks the experts for their opinions on managing the Earth’s health in a critical time. Welcome to the seven-part ‘Stopping the Sixth Extinction’ series.

Businesses must play their part in protecting the planet, writes Steve Malkin, CEO of Planet First, which delivers the Planet Mark trusted international mark of sustainability.

We have the collective ability to transform and improve the way we live. The mobilisation of the corporate sector is central to this transformation, and more specifically, it is about people and individuals in every business taking responsibility to develop new ways of working.

Human impact is morphing the planet into a world that will become difficult to live in, let alone thrive in. The corporate sector is a large net contributor to impacts from carbon emissions to hammering natural capital.

Cool Earth, rainforest protection charity and partner of Planet First says: “Contrary to the headlines, rainforest continues to be degraded and destroyed at a faster rate than ever. As one of the main drivers of climate change, this deforestation must stop. Unless we act fast, the global economic cost of changes in climate due to deforestation will rise to around $1 trillion a year by 2100.”

At Planet First, we talk to businesses about sustainability in terms of economic benefits, cost saving and profitability. We raise awareness of risk mitigation and the reputational enhancement of engaging their customers and employees to help set the strategy to determine how each business is going to respond to rapidly changing circumstances.

Whilst leadership from the top is imperative in making this shift, through The Planet Mark certification we have seen that the knowledge and passion for sustainability amongst employees becomes the real driving force within a business.

The Planet Mark starts with targets to reduce carbon emissions, energy, water and waste in each business. However, with each certification, we encourage organisations to embed sustainability, enabling them to support the Eden Project, providing 10 per cent of fees to Eden’s education programmes, and forming a team of Sustainability Champions in-house made up of their own employees.

Enabling employees’ aspirations to do the right thing and giving them an unbeatable business case for sustainability is helping shift the way organisations work. Businesses achieving The Planet Mark are making an average of seven per cent reduction of carbon per year and saving at least £100 per employee per annum so that they always save more than they spend.

Employee-driven sustainability is where innovation takes place, utilising new technology and, paradoxically, both disruptive and collaborative business models. It is here that large-scale, transformational change can take place.

DoNation, sustainability behaviour change specialist and partners of Planet First commented: “We are helping people to form healthier, more environmentally-friendly habits. They do this through working with companies and universities to engage their staff and students in behaviour change, reaching people through their workplace allows them to speak to those who aren’t traditionally engaged in environmental campaigns.”

Businesses such as Unilever, Bidvest Foodservice and Marks & Spencer are stepping up to improve their own sustainability as well as reaching out to their suppliers. They are moving from mere compliance and meeting environmental obligations to developing new ways of working, innovating and attracting and retaining customers by being a better, more sustainable business.

Historically, this has been the domain of organisations at each end of the business spectrum; the large corporates with resources to pay for sustainability teams, and start-ups with enlightened CEOs who factor in sustainability from the beginning. However, in recent years, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have realised the benefits of sustainability, particularly when considered in the context of the supply chain.

For thousands of corporations and SMEs, there is still a long way to go, but improving how we talk about sustainability is increasing knowledge and access to systems and technology that helps us change our behaviour and the way we live. Critically, more and more corporations are promoting themselves openly through their green credentials and their positive impact on the planet and humanity. This is helping to raise awareness of the issues and sharing solutions on how they are being tackled.

The solution lies in engaging with people and making sustainability both relevant and beneficial in their place of work. With board agreement to support change, employees can lead sustainability programmes so that ‘embedding sustainability’ becomes real and not a corporate cliché.

Other articles in the Sixth Extinction series:

Stopping the sixth extinction: Beyond GM food

Stopping the sixth extinction: Habitat creation

Stopping the Sixth extinction: Ecocide law

Stopping the Sixth extinction: ‘Innerpreneurship’


Photo credit: Edoardo Causarano from Flickr