Building a greener city: how the Livery can help to tackle climate change

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How the City of London Corporation has undertaken its own environmental responsibility commitments in October 2020 with their Climate Action Strategy.

Covid-19 aside, the biggest issue on our collective agenda is probably environmental responsibility. In 2020 Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, leading the way in tackling climate change globally. Then this month, Biden has announced a game changing target for the USA, pledging to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

But governments can only go so far. It is the individual businesses, communities and people whose collective actions amount to decisive change. With that in mind, the City of London Corporation undertook its own commitments in October 2020 with their Climate Action Strategy. The City Corporation has committed to:

  • Achieve net zero carbon emissions from its own operations by 2027

  • Achieve net zero carbon emissions across their investments and supply chain by 2040
Support the achievement of net zero for the Square Mile by 2040
Invest £68m over the next six years to support these goals, of which £15m is dedicated to preparing the Square Mile for extreme weather events

Alison Gowman, Alderman for the Ward of Dowgate, is especially passionate about the subject:

“Our targets are intentionally more extreme than the government’s and they’re not just about reducing emissions but also increasing biodiversity to improve resilience in the City (against flooding for example). We have to value nature and if we show the commercial as well as ethical value in that then it will encourage people to make a change today. To paraphrase Mark Carney: ‘If we can place a market price on Amazon, worth $1.5 trillion, then why don’t we have a dollar value assigned to the Amazon rainforest?’”

The Livery Companies’ role

Alderman Gowman also believes that the Livery Companies of the City have their part to play in supporting the Corporations ambitions for the City. Following the publication of the Corporation’s climate strategy, she has spearheaded the formation of The Livery Climate Action Group which has already attracted several livery companies . They are currently working on their mission statement and proposed modus operandi

The Group aims to help individuals, organisations and businesses to do their bit by drawing on the expertise, knowledge and reach of the collective liveries.

Alderman Gowman says: 

“If we want the whole of the Square Mile to be net zero by 2040 we must engage people in the City: businesses, churches, individuals etc. Livery Companies can play a role in that. There are 110 and they represent, broadly, all the trades, professions and crafts that exist - everything from plasterers to investment managers to marketers. When you think about their involvement in business and the community - the buildings they own, the people within them who travel, contribute to food miles, emissions, and the influence they all have on their trades and professions - that’s a very powerful community.”

Helping each company to do more

The role of the Livery Companies is also eminently pragmatic. Many members of the working community in the City of London are members of livery companies or connected to them (keeping in mind that the working population of the City is approximately 542,000 people, in addition to the 9,000 residents). The variety of skills and knowledge that they have amongst them also provides ingenuity and ideas for putting plans in motion.

For example, the Worshipful Company of Horners, whose historic trade was around animal horns made into items such as drinking cups, bows and arrows, have naturally had to change their focus over the years. They have done so by  transferring their engagement into plastics and have a phenomenal understanding of what’s good and less good about plastics, giving them the possibility of supporting businesses in making sustainable choices.
With that in mind, the Group’s goal is to help template ways in which both individuals and businesses can make changes by drawing on its members skills and capabilities - in essence, being helpful.
Alderman Gowman says:

“I think if we can make a template to explain to people what the targets are all about, then it can be applied elsewhere as well, along with other useful guides. We all use jargon, but we need to make it easier for people to understand the issues and to do something. We can’t do it all in a day but if we begin to put pieces together then that makes a difference. I think it’s also about believing that an individual action can make a difference. I really do think that’s the case, and you hear everyday of someone or an organisation who has committed to something. For example, last year the City Corporation ran the Green Horizon Summit and agreed rules requiring premium listed companies to make better disclosures about how climate change affects their business, consistent with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).” 

Applying our historic capabilities to the issues of today

When asked if it is possible for businesses to be commercially savvy and environmentally responsible at the same time, Alison firmly believes that they can. More than that, she believes that the City of London has historic tools for adapting to change. 

“The Livery Companies have been around for centuries and our whole DNA is about the sustainability of The City itself. If we had been bad at planning we wouldn’t have been around for 500+ years. I think the known impact of climate change is that we’re investing for the future by being sustainable and pivoting towards that as a community. It’s the same for businesses - if they don’t face the inevitability of these changes to their supply chain, to the interest of their customers - they won’t survive. There’s every proof that investing sustainably is as economically viable as not investing sustainably, and that’s if you’re purely looking at investment in the Stock Exchange. If you look beyond that into other measures of success, then it’s really unequivocal."

Of course, the conversation around climate change is vast and ongoing, but the goal for the Livery Climate Action Group is for the Livery Companies to come together, play a proactive role in responding to climate issues and doing so by using their own subject matter expertise and engaging with both their membership and the businesses actress the City and beyond.