Radical collaboration: alignment, allocation, aggregation and amplification: Interview with Nigel Topping, We Mean Business

Is this what it takes? We spoke with Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business, directly after COP21 in Paris. We Mean Business is a coalition of organisations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors to transition to a low carbon economy.

Why do you think the We Mean Business coalition has been so successful?

I think it’s largely down to our unique approach, which I like to call radical collaboration. Four “As” shape everything we do.

First, there is Alignment.

From the outset, the partners that make up the coalition committed to a very clear objective: to transition our society to a low carbon economy. The partners have always recognised how important businesses and investors are to drive this transition.

Then there is Allocation.

Our approach makes it abundantly clear who is taking the lead on what, depending on resources and expertise. This allows the right people to lead the processes they’re best suited to while others can “get out of the way” or concentrate on their own tasks.

The third A is Aggregation.

Once we decided where we wanted to go, we put the full weight of the coalition behind it. We looked at the existing landscape and initiatives, and narrowed it down to ten things that already had traction and which allow businesses to contribute to the low carbon economy objective. For instance, procuring 100% of electricity from renewable sources and reporting climate change information in mainstream reports as a fiduciary duty. When you create clubs like RE100, it ensures many people work towards one result, rather than working less effectively towards several initiatives. That concentration of efforts attracts more people to the cause because of the clear results achieved. Businesses are grateful for the simplicity and effectiveness of this approach.

And finally, there is Amplification.

We really paid attention to what our core message should be. We then helped our partners make bold public commitments and broadcast these appropriately. Policy makers now understand they have partners in the private sector who are pushing for the same agenda. They want to innovate and invest – just like the public sector.

Critical to all of this has been making sure each partner knows each other well. I believe our coalition became powerful because we helped people and organizations realize that we have different, but complementary strengths. It takes time to really understand each other…

What are your reflections from COP21 in Paris?

We have seen incredible show of leadership and dedication from businesses over the past few weeks in Paris.  They have come to Paris to say that they are acting. That have come to show they are committed. And that businesses, together with cities, regions and countries, all want to do this together. I have been to a few COPs and this one has had a totally different feel.

What’s next?

By 2020, if you are a major listed company and you are not committing to 100% renewable energy, then you will be seen as old-fashioned. Companies like Unilever, P&G, Apple, Amazon, Facebook – they are all moving in the direction of using only 100% renewable energy. They are establishing a new norm for big business. Committing 100% is easier and more interesting than committing to 7%, 13% or 15% renewable energy. 100% gets you to the other side of the transition.

The next thing for countries is to move from Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to establish a clear climate change policy. Then they can start thinking about the next INDCs. Countries need to start thinking about how far they can go now, so that they are not surprised in 2019.

Companies need to execute their plans. CDP is playing a crucial role in this because they are collecting the data and publishing it. And now businesses need to start getting their leaders, customers, suppliers and peers on board. By making one of the We Mean Business commitments, we can make sure the whole value chain is moving in the right direction.

Our approach has very clearly shown that businesses have an important role to play. And working together to accelerate implementation – that’s next.