Corporate Change Makers

On Monday 7th November, the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society held its first Careers Showcase for a Low Carbon Economy. Over forty-five students came to hear our speakers talk about the opportunities and challenges climate change presents to business.

Jonathan Grant – climate change and carbon markets specialist at PwC
Ruth Findlay Brooks – Senior Advisor, Sustainability Leadership, University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability leadership
Hugh Parnell – Director at NW Brown Group

From left to right: Jonathan Grant, Hugh Parnell, Ruth Findlay Brooks

We’re not there yet

According to PwC’s annual Low Carbon Economy Index, the global economy’s carbon intensity increased for the first time since 2004, with the UK performing particularly badly. Slow action has cost us – we will need to reduce carbon intensity by 4.8% each year between now and 2050, which is faster than any country has achieved over an entire decade. To put us on a more sustainable trajectory, we need a revolutionary change in the way we use and produce energy. We need a transformation in the traditional business model and a move away from the short-termist thinking that dominates the current business and political decision-making. We need to remove the power from those barring the way to action and impart more certainty within the investment market. We need to change behaviour and reverse consumerist habits. Ultimately, we need to start taking responsibility for climate change.

The business case

The role of business is crucial in the transition to a low carbon economy, and in many cases, firms are leading the way, ahead of governments and individuals. Views of what motivated businesses to act differed between the panel members. Ruth, through her work with business leaders, has found that leadership on climate change is important for recruitment and retention, as graduates are increasingly pushing the sustainability agenda. Jonathan spoke about the co-benefits of low carbon generation and how businesses are responding to new opportunities and risks, especially within the carbon market. Hugh argued that business sustainability is what ultimately motivates the private sector and their continual drive for innovation and the search for the next generation of thinking.

Sustainable leadership

What are the leadership qualities that are required in the low carbon economy? All speakers emphasised the value of innovation and creativity, along with more traditional skills including the ability to build and maintain relationships, deal with stressful situations, work in a team, have high standards of communication and project management, and technical competence. Opportunities within the low carbon economy are increasing rapidly, amongst both small and large firms. The sustainability and climate change team within PwC has almost trebled in four years, whilst there are more than 450 innovative clean tech firms around Cambridge. The opportunities are out there, so seize them and make a positive difference.

We will be posting a podcast of the evening online soon.

Our next Careers Showcase will be looking at the role of law and the legal profession in the low carbon economy: Monday 21 November, 7.30pm, Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre.