Climate change is affecting some people on our planet more than others. To drive real, sustainable change, organisations need to create ESG strategies that redress intersectional imbalances, says chief sustainability officer Dana Haiden
Tackling the climate crisis needs collective action – but we need to get it right. The effects of climate change are not the same around the world. Those in the global south are disproportionately affected by consequences for which the global north is largely considered responsible.
We need to amplify the voices of those who are more affected by climate change but who, so far, have been less heard in the mainstream climate dialogue. We can learn a lot from other communities, cultures, countries and even indigenous wisdom about sustainable practices, appreciation of nature and being true stewards of our planet.
We can’t safeguard the future of humanity without recognising that climate change is multifaceted. It is not simply a weather problem, nor an environmental one. How the repercussions of climate change are experienced is largely shaped by the social systems and structures that define identity.
What is intersectionality?
When a person or community has more than one form of possible disadvantage in their social identity, such as ethnicity, gender, class or sexuality, that intersectionality is likely to compound their discrimination. Until recently, this was seldom part of the climate conversation.
We are living through a polycrisis – the climate crisis, growing social inequality, political dissonance – that is causing the divide between the communities most and least impacted to grow, exacerbating existing inequalities and generating new ones.
The effects of extreme weather events and a changing climate are not experienced equally around the world; there are many communities who lose more than others, compounding deep-rooted societal and systemic inequalities. Women are more at risk than men of the consequences of climate change due to long-standing gender inequalities. For women of colour, the reality is even bleaker as they are more likely to be more economically vulnerable to the climate crisis because of systemic gender discrimination challenges.
As the effects of climate change become more profound – and visible – the struggles of many communities will continue to worsen and we will start to see these struggles overlap. Those in rural areas around the world will continue to see frequent weather pattern changes that damage crops, causing food shortages. We have seen the effects of poor harvests in the UK, with the resulting price increases making it difficult for many people to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.
Why intersectionality is an essential part of the climate conversation
It is essential that we address the needs of those worst affected by climate change and to platform their voices in decision-making and solutions. This discrepancy can limit perspectives on the issue and the success and relevance of proposed solutions.
The only way to achieve an outcome where everyone’s voices are included in the fight for climate justice is by diversifying the movement and making space for intersectional system-level thinking.
At Virgin Media O2, we started with an intergenerational justice focus. We created the Virgin Media O2 Youth Advisory Council (a diverse group of gen Z activists), which acts as an adviser and a sounding board to help us ground our climate action plan in the needs of the generations who will inherit the planet.
From a business perspective, it is essential that intersectional problems are addressed with intersectional responses. For example, air pollution which, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health disproportionately impacts global majority groups.
By understanding the complex challenges that marginalised communities face, we applied an intersectional lens to e-waste and social inequality to create initiatives such as Community Calling. Working with environmental charity Hubbub, Community Calling is an initiative that re-homes devices with the people and communities that need them, which helps to make e-waste less of an environmental problem and more of a digital inclusion solution.
How intersectionality can future-proof ESG strategies
It is vital that businesses consider intersectionality when they create ESG strategies. The groups that are most impacted by the decisions around climate action need to be involved in the insights, solutions and decision-making.
Yet, these perspectives are often overlooked or unheard due to the low representation of global majority groups in key climate action sectors.
In fact, according to the Annual Population Survey, global majority groups only account for 1.8% of the energy and water sector. These industries have a huge role to play in tackling the climate crisis, yet they have the second-least workforce diversity ratings.
Bring inclusivity to the fight against the climate crisis
I’m a firm believer that the fight against the climate crisis must be fully and deeply inclusive. We must tackle crises together, or we cannot tackle them at all.
The days of tackling the ‘E’, ‘S’, and ‘G’ in isolation are long gone. The climate crisis has become such an existential threat that these boundaries no longer exist.
I strongly encourage my fellow business leaders to step back from their ESG strategies, consider the lens of intersectionality, where it applies, and how it should be reflected.
The onus is on everyone to play their part, taking both small and big actions that, when combined, create lasting impact for the planet, for each other and for generations to come.
Dana Haidan is chief sustainability officer at Virgin Media O2, leading the delivery of its ESG strategy: the Better Connections Plan. Over the past 15 years she has held regional and global sustainability leadership positions in Fortune 500 organisations, including Visa Europe and Vodafone, with her career centred on using the transformative power of technology to drive sustainable development. Haidan has a business degree from Carnegie Mellon University, a postgraduate degree in sustainability leadership from Cambridge University and a master’s degree in sustainable urban development from Oxford University.