At Stuart we define sustainability as increasing positive impact for our stakeholders; including the climate, our courier partners, clients and communities. Creating solutions to meet their urgent challenges is part of our mission and why we’re committed to revolutionising the last mile.
Yet in the wake of COP26, like many, I have been reflecting on the huge gap between the ambition demanded by science and called for by activists, in contrast to the level of action happening today. Of course change can’t happen overnight, but we must accelerate momentum and make informed choices on all levels, especially on behalf of our people, customers and communities.
But that’s easier said than done. How do we consider the impact of all our choices? Well, it starts with knowledge. That’s why at Stuart we’re on a journey to educate and equip our entire company to consider impact in all decisions. This can’t just be the responsibility of the Sustainability team; it must be embedded throughout the organisation, from operations to engineering to finance.
Crucially, inspiring behaviour change will take a coordinated effort, to capture hearts as well as minds. This was a topic that really stood out at COP26, held in November 2021. I had the opportunity to attend the last two days of the climate conference in the Green Zone in Glasgow, which focused on the role of Cities and Culture in enabling and inspiring change.
Insights from COP26 in Glasgow
Let’s start with cities. Cities take up just 2% of global landmass, but consume 75% of natural resources and emit 60% of greenhouse gases (source: Ellen McArthur Foundation). It’s clear that collaboration is needed in cities to accelerate impact. On this topic, The Carbon Trust brought together city authorities from Guadalajara México, China C40 Cities, the Welsh Government and the City of London Corporation. They emphasised the role of local policy in having a unique ability to engage at a grassroots level and empower people to act through cross-sector partnerships, citizens assemblies and engagement campaigns.
A significant part of the net zero city transition is enabling the shift to low-carbon and active travel, which is an important topic for us at Stuart. A shocking statistic shared during the panel discussion revealed that in the UK today, 10% of car journeys are less than 1 mile (a distance easily cycled in 5 min). One city tackling this is Oxford (UK), which plans to reduce road transport by 25% by 2030 through increases in cycling, walking and car sharing, enabled by initiatives such as the Zero Emissions Zone pilot, a bold plan to transform the city’s transport infrastructure. During the Covid-19 pandemic, urban design concepts like the 15-minute city experienced a resurgence. The concept, initially introduced in the 1920s, is based on four principles: proximity, density, diversity, and ubiquity. With benefits also including improved physical and mental health, Amsterdam just announced their 2050 strategy to be fully circular based on "Donut Economics" theory.
On the circular economy, the EllenMacArthur Foundation had a great presence at COP26, highlighting the need for an economy designed to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature in order to reduce emissions. I recommend watching the Glasgow panel discussion on circular mobility with representatives across the value chain (including speakers from São Paulo city, Volvo & Arup) here.
When it comes to culture, Brian Eno hosted a fantastic panel of global artists and authors; leaving us with the powerful message that while science discovers, art digests. This resonated strongly, as in the past months we’ve been tapping into our creative side to help our people digest the latest climate science in the sixth IPCC report and deepen collective knowledge around sustainability.
Understanding the Climate Science
At the end of October we partnered with the Climate Fresk, a pioneering NGO based in Paris, who are on a mission to increase education about the science of climate change. The Fresk is an interactive and creative game which maps the causes and consequences of climate change in 42 cards to create a collage, then reflects on the most impactful actions we can take at a government, company and individual level. Together with the Fresk team, we designed and delivered over 50 workshops in 7 different cities with over 300 people—all in 1 day! This was achieved by first training up 26 passionate internal climate champions to lead the sessions, who were nominated from across teams and countries.
And we were blown away by the moment… Many people showed up to the event feeling powerless ("I know the climate crisis is important but there’s nothing I can do") and honest ("It’s not impacting my life yet, so I don’t feel any urgent responsibility to change what I do"). However as we worked through the game, the energy evolved from ambivalence to despair through to hope and optimism, with a strong desire to act ("that was awesome...now to translate those learnings into our day-to-day jobs"). It was the first time we have brought so many people together since the pandemic began and dedicated so much time out of our day jobs to learn and reflect on climate change, which created a renewed sense of togetherness, as well as deeper knowledge and understanding.
From Knowledge to Action
As always, the next steps are just as important. Running three follow-up workshops on actions that came up, many great ideas have evolved into team projects and affinity groups. These range from how to make the office more green; to how to help our food charity partners scale geographically; and how to make on the fly emissions calculations so we can take impact into account for day-to-day business decisions.
To continue embedding knowledge we created a Udemy learning path with links to articles, videos and podcasts related to Stuart’s most relevant Sustainable Development Goals (climate action, decent work and city communities). After the launch, we then held three weeks of informal Lunch and Learn meetups to discuss what people had found most interesting. It’s been fascinating to discover recommendations from colleagues and dissect complex topics together, learning from the many nuanced perspectives and insights in our engaged internal community.
Of course individual and corporate action will only get us so far in addressing the scale of the challenge. There are many interesting debates on the role of governments and big business vs. individual action (check out this episode from How to Save a Planet). My own thinking has been influenced by Mathias Risse’s 2008 paper arguing for different levels of institutional accountability on climate action based on emissions contributions, using the principle of common ownership of the earth. Yet the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee estimates that over half of the emissions reduction needed to achieve the sixth carbon budget involves people making low-carbon decisions, ranging from the technologies used and consumption patterns for heating and mobility through to dietary choices.
We’ve got lots still to do to embed sustainability at Stuart (such as introducing a carbon pricing mechanism and every team owning an impact objective). But seeing the sustainability movement grow from within Stuart, I’m confident businesses can become epicenters of behaviour change and a driving force to increase our wider level of ambition and action.
Interested in joining the Stuart team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions.