There is a sense that the concept of sustainability – the idea that through positive action now, we can ensure a viable future for generations to come – is so vast that surely the individual can have no meaningful impact on the outcome. There is a corresponding feeling that, as a truly global issue, isn’t it best just to let ‘other’, better qualified, agents take care of it?
The problem is that persistence of these opinions will lead to not enough action being taken, and the planet and its future inhabitants being left, at best, to some rather unfavourable odds.
Of course, ‘sustainability’ is nothing new. Irish physicist, John Tyndall, demonstrated in 1860 what we now call the greenhouse effect. In 1896, Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, identified human industrial activity as the main source of new CO2 into our atmosphere.
Although Arrhenius believed global warming to be benign – benefitting agriculture in colder climes – his view set in motion a train of research that, 120 or so years later, gave rise to one Greta Thunberg who set about invoking mass consciousness of the problem as we now understand it.
Thunberg draws upon the science of outstanding, but largely anonymous, researchers. By virtue of being a typical awkward teenager, she stops people in their tracks. Through her unwavering belief, she has the ear not just of the good and the great, but of regular people too. This is not ‘others’ making a difference; it is one person.
And when we set out to see what the world of treasury is doing to make a difference, we quickly found plenty of individuals, from a wide range of corporate sectors, sizes and geographies, quietly getting on with activities that are making a positive difference. By engaging with their stakeholders – such as banks, vendors and internal teams – treasurers are raising the volume of the conversation so that many more in their circle are now taking notice.
However, for treasurers active in this space, despite organisational proclamations of support for sustainability, there are still frustrations. Whether finding the time to incorporate more sustainable activities in their day-to-day role, or experiencing limited relevant dialogue with their financial institutions and vendors, this is holding some back from seeing how they too can make a difference.
Climate scientists and activists are pressing home the need for an immediate mass response to global warming. Many more individuals are taking climate change seriously, realising that they can make a difference. They know that the cumulative effect of all our actions, no matter how seemingly small, will always surpass waiting for ‘others’ to do something.
This, the first Treasury Today Group Global Sustainability Study, delivers a positive sign that increasing numbers of treasurers are taking measures – sometimes with support, sometimes without. And whilst it also shows that not everyone is clear about what they can do – with an indication that financial institutions and vendors need to be engaging more with their clients on sustainability – there is clear evidence that treasurers and their organisations are willing to do more to help us on the road to a sustainable future.