How we talk about things

Some very good, leading edge companies now proclaim their intent to 'decouple growth from carbon' or some similar aspiration.

This is not going to happen. If you decouple a train - the carriages are no longer linked. One can move forwards whilst the other is slipping backwards. It is the wrong language.

If growth is about real stuff being manufactured and used by real people, then growth cannot be decoupled from carbon. You can, of course, significantly improve the efficiency of the relationship.

If you produce ten times more stuff, but do so with a carbon cost that is ten times more efficient it may look like you've achieved "decoupling". Because you produced ten times more stuff, but the carbon is the same.

But it only looks that way. If you produced one hundred times more of the same stuff, then carbon would go up ten times. It's simple math.

The language we use is important, because it frames what we are trying to achieve. If we announce our target as being 'to decouple growth from carbon' then it means nothing. If you say, 'our aim is that our entire product range is going to produce only a quarter of the carbon it does today' - the scale of ambition in that aim is clear and measurable.

Posted on: 3 Jun 2011

Tags: CSR carbon language corporate social responsibility Mallen Baker

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