Letter to Tom — Asking our CEO for organisational leadership on the climate crisis

IM ClimateAction
Jul 23 · 9 min read

Immediate Media is a UK private company of around 1400 people. A leading multi-platform media business that reaches some 26 million people through our well-known brands, like BBC Good Food, RadioTimes and Gardeners’ World.

On 15th May, a group of employees decided to write and hand in a letter to our CEO, Tom, along with a copy of the “Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells. It asked him to consider what more we could do as a business to address the growing climate crisis.

At the time, the letter had 37 signatures; a week later when our bi-annual all company meeting was held, signees had jumped to 52. Today, 136 staff members* from across the business have added their names, from editorial to production, ad sales and digital teams.

We are like many ordinary people today. We go to work each day, focusing on our jobs, our to-do lists and the deadlines we need to meet. Yet just beneath the surface, in some corner of our minds, we hear the warnings and see the climate and ecological breakdown unfolding in the news. In those moments crammed between the busy slots in our diaries, the reality of the life-as-we-know-it dangerously unraveling held up against the reality of a day job — it can feel jarring, absurd, hopeless.

We hope that by sharing our letter publicly we will show other people, in organisations everywhere, that you are not helpless in the face of this climate crisis. In any business, together you are a force for change multiplied by those co-workers, teams and managers, who you already achieve so much with every day; people who you probably spend more waking hours with than members of your own families and people who have just as much invested in a diverse natural world and a safe future for their families and communities.

One of the biggest roles you can play in any company is to wake up those around you, wake up those who lead you and challenge what you can do as an organisation to tackle the climate emergency face-on. This is the top of your to-do list. This is our deadline. This is the work that needs to be done today.

Below is our letter.

* * *

Dear Tom,

We have a few questions for you. They are not easy ones, so we hope you’ll forgive the lengthy and unconventional way of submitting these to you, but it is only because we feel they are so essential to the future of the company that we have decided to take this route. We hope you will take the time to seriously consider and address these questions openly at the next All Hands.

Immediate Media has the enviable position of being an important part of millions of people’s lives in the UK. We believe this means that we have a historic and unique opportunity to now become one of the UK’s inspiring climate leading businesses.

Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report laid out that global temperatures have already risen 1°C as a result of human activity, and the planet could pass the 1.5°C threshold as early as 2030 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate [1].

Climate change is an issue we can no longer think of as affecting our far-off descendants. 2030 will be the world that any children alive today will be growing up in. The scale and seriousness of impacts have also become increasingly clear. Going past 1.5°C would put us on a path as David Attenborough described as “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world.” [2]

The last government commitments made in 2015 by some 190 countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions would still allow temperatures to rise more than 3°C and in the UK we are not even on track to meet those modest targets.

On the 1st May, Britain’s parliament became the first in the world to declare a climate emergency. To meet the challenges posed by tackling what UN leaders described as a “moral, ethical and economic imperative to mitigate the existential threat posed by climate change”.

We believe any company with a strategic outlook and plan for the next 3, 5 or 10 years must now face the climate crisis boldly and aggressively.

Just last month, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) representing over 190,000 businesses stated “Put simply, the world needs to get a grip on it. It requires real solutions from the government and business — as well as changes to the way each of us lives our lives — right now.” [3]

In previous All Hands, you have addressed calls by staff for how we might reduce one-off plastics use in our business or mitigate the risks of Brexit. Climate change encompasses a significantly greater and more meaningful business challenge to our company and even society’s future.

As Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s governor wrote in an open letter last month on climate crisis, “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.” [4]

Whilst it is common sense for Immediate Media to continue its steps in improving recycling or conserving energy, this alone will not meet the scale of the changes science has shown as necessary.

Our questions therefore to you are bigger, broader and we hope more exciting, across 4 areas for possible action:

1/ What is Immediate Media’s deadline and plan for going carbon neutral?

This month, the Committee on Climate Change recommended a new emissions target for the UK of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050 and this was further supported by businesses.

“Businesses have a responsibility to take action that will help address climate change, and many of us are already doing so. But we need to accelerate progress.” CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope [5]

In fact, forward thinking businesses are already leading on this and bringing their own targets forward.

“German engineering giant Bosch has promised to make its entire business carbon neutral by the end of next year… Bosch said it would increase the proportion of renewables in its energy supply and offset ‘unavoidable’ emissions in a move designed to neutralise its carbon footprint by 2020.” [6]

What plans can we put in place to do the same?

2/ Can we commit to stop taking advertising from oil and gas companies?

It is now known that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions [7]. The growing divestment movement over the last 6 years saw £6.4 trillion pounds divested from coal, oil and gas companies already, which not only made good investment sense, but also acknowledged the morally questionable idea of doing business with these companies.

In a recent open letter by 7000+ Amazon employees and shareholders, they called on Amazon to put an end to offering custom cloud-computing services that support the oil and gas industry in extracting more fossil fuels. [8]

Oil and gas companies have obscured fossil fuels as the cause of climate change, similar to big tobacco company tactics used to lie about smoking causing cancer. Detailed evidence has surfaced in courtrooms arguing the case against these companies for the harm of denying and delaying climate change action, often using multi-million advertising campaigns in this process. [9] [10]

Is it morally acceptable to allow these companies to use our platforms and audience reach? Do we have policies in place about advertising from cigarette or gambling industries on our brands and why would we treat fossil fuel companies differently?

3/ What greater role can we play in talking to our audiences about climate change?

Our brands are known for being a trusted voice to our audiences, yet climate silence is a pervasive problem within the media industry.

The story is simply so big it’s often difficult to know how to tell it. “Climate change is a strange kind of dual issue — it’s both an environmental issue and an everything issue,” as one writer put it. [11]

Immediate Media regularly reaches people in the moments that bring joy through their shared passions, sparking new ideas, and lending a voice to the problems they face and things they care about. In March, a government survey found a record 80% of the UK public are now “very” or “fairly” concerned about climate change. [12].

All our brands — whether it’s the concerned voice of a parent uncertain of what the future holds, answering the practical questions of the cook enthusiasts switching to a plant based diet, talking about the role of soil in combating climate change or recognizing the cultural lead from emerging TV, film and entertainment in bringing climate change into popular consciousness — we all have a story to tell around this issue.

As climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe put it. “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it[13]

Helping people navigate the confusing and rapidly changing climate world is one of the greatest missions any business can hope to achieve this decade. Do you agree?

4/ Providing a supportive environment for employees to openly talk and act on climate change

Recent headlines from school strikes, London protests by Extinction Rebellion or the open letter by Amazon employees to its board of directors has shown that everywhere around us — our children, our neighbours and other professionals — are waking up to the challenge ahead of us.

Many people are realising that we are not doing enough, anywhere near fast enough. Our business-as-usual world is filled with inertia to act as individuals on the climate crisis, but act we must and urgently.

As Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Climate Change laid out in April. “We need to significantly and markedly increase ambition in everything we do….if we do not significantly change our course by 2020, we will miss the point where we can avoid runaway Climate Change[14]

An organisation can provide practical solutions that empowers staff to act in small and big ways. For example, offering paid ‘journey days’ to staff who choose to travel on holiday by train, coach or boat instead of flying. [15]

It could also support staff who wish to participate in regular actions that take place globally every Friday. For example, in the last 2 months a small group of IM employees have taken part in 11 minutes at 11am action [16] — simply taking a tea-break’s worth of time to come together and raise the importance of climate change openly. Yet, how much more powerful would this message be if it was given the wider support of the business through a mention in Friday news or being openly supported by managers.

Immediate Media has always felt like a unique workplace that not only asks everyone to bring their best selves to their work every day, but is committed to living its values through the open company culture. But those values and our work culture do not exist in a vacuum somehow separate to the real life and climate emergency outside our front doors. Recognizing this helps everyone to tackle this difficult subject and supports staff well-being.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. We hope it has given you some practical ideas, as well as important questions for you and the management team to discuss.

We know and believe that Immediate Media has the capacity to take on the bold climate leadership required to continue to stay relevant in these rapidly changing times. Put simply, our question to you is, will it?

Sincerely,
136 Immediate Media employees*

*Number is being updated as more staff continue to add their names. If you are an Immediate Media employee who would like to add your name, please email IMclimateaction@gmail.com from your work email with your name and job title. Staff names will not be publicly shared.

List of references

[1] IPCC climate change report: What does it mean and how will it affect our lives

[2] David Attenborough: collapse of civilisation is on the horizon

[3] CBI: Extinction Rebellion are asking ‘absolutely the right questions’ — and businesses are committed to answering them

[4] Open letter on climate-related financial risks

[5] Business leaders urge EU heads of state to signal new economic direction towards net zero by 2050

[6] ‘The final countdown begins’: Bosch promises to be carbon neutral by 2020

[7] Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says

[8] Amazon employees get support from Glass Lewis and ISS on its resolution for Amazon to manage climate change risks

[9] NYC Sues Big Oil Over Climate Impacts, Plans To Divest $5 Billion From Fossil Fuels

[10] Lawsuits took down Big Tobacco. Can they make oil companies accountable for climate change?

[11] The climate crisis is a story for every beat

[12] Proportion of public ‘very concerned’ about climate change hits record high

[13] The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it

[14] Ovais Sarmad at UN Climate-SDGs Synergy Conference in Copenhagen

[15] Climate Perks ‘Journey Days’ scheme

[16] 11at11 Climate Strike #FridaysForFuture

IM ClimateAction

Written by

Group of employees @immediate_media responding to the climate crisis through personal and organisational actions.

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