Don’t Buy. Don’t Supply. Say Why.
8 August 2019 at 8:13 am
Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter offers three clear steps every workplace can take to help get fossil fuels out of our economy, as part of a series on Fighting Global Warming in your Workplace.
History is punctuated by non-linear moments; turning points of extraordinary social progress that appeared impossible before they occurred but inevitable once they had happened.
The dramatic end of apartheid South Africa in the early 1990s was one such instant, marking the triumphal stage in an epic struggle for liberation. Among the significant drivers in bringing down apartheid were the formal and informal sanctions that were applied to South Africa. Many nations including Australia refused to trade with the apartheid regime, but the ban was also voluntarily applied by countless private institutions and businesses.
In 2014, one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid movement, Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu called for a new boycott. This time though the target wouldn’t be a nation state, but the fossil fuel industry. Archbishop Tutu wrote:
“People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
Since then, numerous institutions of various kinds have divested from fossil fuels. But the climate emergency is deepening and every workplace can play its part by applying three straightforward principles to getting fossil fuels out of our economy.
- Don’t buy
- Don’t supply
- Say why
Each of these steps is a clear and direct contribution that any business or institution can make to the climate emergency.
This is not about individual consumer purchasing decisions, but participating in a systems shift in how we relate fossil fuel companies through organisational level decisions. Let’s go through each step in turn.
In a previous article in this series, I’ve described how every workplace can go 100 per cent clean power. Coal is Australia’s worst driver of climate change (as well as being responsible for deadly black lung in miners, and appalling air pollution and water wastage). If you only buy 100 per cent clean power from renewable energy sources – or generate the power through your own solar – then you are making a contribution to tackling climate change by taking profits away from the fossil fuel industry and driving demand towards clean energy.
The apartheid sanctions didn’t just involve not buying South African goods – but also refusing to sell. Memorably this spirit was encapsulated in the (very 1980s sounding) protest song, I Ain’t Going to Play Sun City which reflected the commitment of numerous high profile musicians and other artists to refuse to play concerts in apartheid South Africa.
“It’s time for some justice it’s time for the truth
We’ve realized there’s only one thing we can do
We gotta say
I, I, I, I, I, I
Ain’t gonna play sun city.”
In the midst of climate emergency, it is no longer morally defensible for any business or institution to take business from the coal, oil and gas sectors. And it is particularly hypocritical for any organisation to assert climate or sustainability credentials while at the same time continuing to enable the destructive work of the fossil fuel corporations by providing services to them.
Selling to the fossil fuel industry is profit from the suffering of people and the devastation of the natural world – and the drug dealer’s defence that if-you-didn’t-someone-else-would is no more persuasive than when used by a heroin dealer. Businesses can turn away work. Professionals can refuse clients. Institutions can decline sponsors. Individuals can decline roles.
There have already been some high profile examples of “don’t supply” in recent years – like Lego ending its 60 year relationship with Shell – but there have been lots more at a local level, like the business executive in Perth who told me he’d declined consultancy services to a coal company, and the accountant in Melbourne who told me she had refused to work on a new fossil fuel development on the grounds that it was inconsistent with her firm’s sustainability policy. In late July Suncorp announced it would no longer insure any new thermal coal projects – meaning that now no Australian insurers are willing to underwrite new thermal coal developments. Meanwhile, in the communications sector, a group of more than 20 advertising agencies have declared that they will avoid taking briefs from the fossil fuel industry.
Prominent individuals are also taking powerful stands. Mark Rylance, one of the world’s greatest contemporary actors, quit the Royal Shakespeare Company because it refused to sever a sponsorship arrangement with oil company BP. The writer Ahdaf Soueif also cited BP’s sponsorship as a reason when she recently resigned from the board of the British Museum.
It is also really important to say, as loudly, memorably and kindly as possible, why you, your business or institution are severing commercial ties with the fossil fuel industry.
When Mark Rylance left the Royal Shakespeare Company, he wrote an impassioned explanation, in which he said that he preferred “to be on the side of the world-changing kids, not the world-killing companies”. Closer to home, I asked local business owner Karl Tschler, who is the founder director of Marlin Communications, why he will no longer accept any brief from the fossil fuel industry. Karl told me that he believed that “any advertising agency that promotes or works with fossil fuel companies is complicit” and that for every enterprise it is time to decide:
“Very soon, all businesses – regardless of what industry they’re in, will have to start making some choices about who they work with and what impact they are responsible for. It is a time for idealism to trump pragmatism. I believe that we’ve passed the stage where we can have the fortune or time to be pragmatic about this.”
Such statements are crucial, because they communicate the truth: that profiting from the fossil fuel industries that are destroying the world is no longer morally defensible.
The more individuals, businesses and organisations who say that they will not supply their services directly or indirectly to the coal, oil and gas companies driving the climate emergency, the faster the social licence of the dirty polluters will collapse.
We are in the middle of a climate emergency driven by the fossil fuel companies: so don’t buy, don’t supply and say why.