30 Jun 2023

Mary Ethna Black: Inspiration and the power of positive stories

In the third blog of her seven-part series on being a climate-active non-executive director, Chapter Zero Fellow Dr Mary Ethna Black looks at inspiration and the power of positive stories.

Mary Ethna Black

Chapter Zero Fellow

We are in a serious position, and a step change is needed. Boards must step up. This is my view; this is a widely held view and it is supported by the scientific imperative.

When it comes to climate change, the underlying theme can be one of impending doom out there and powerlessness inside. Feelings of ‘futurelessness’ can silently invade a board. If we give up now then there is no hope at all. One of the most powerful things you can bring as a NED is examples of change, either from similar businesses, or other sectors. These can be documented case studies, industry insights, and incentive programmes. Use these to persuade the rest of the board.

A sudden insight that major change is needed can lead to plans to make it happen. For example, a shift in strategy can bring about radical change, new business and enable your company to survive.

We also know that encouraging small shifts can produce a measurable difference. For example supporting bottom-up initiatives can reduce your carbon footprint.

The more aware your company is, the more connected to employees, customers and partners, and the more willing a board is to ask the challenging questions, then the healthier your company will be. And the better you will sleep at night.

Your role is also to promote examples from your own organisation and ensure that those stories are being told. The point is to take a journey narrative that captures transformation and moves to a new experience.

There is a risk that optimism can be buried amidst reports and targets, or defensive measures. By simply reacting we will lose the confidence of our workforce and our customers and clients. Inspiration goes beyond bean-counting and is wrapped up in stories and how and where you as a NED share them.

What do I do right now?

  1. Have a look at what others are doing and what they have learned:
    1. These case studies,  British Land, Metro Pacific Investment Corporation, Natura &Co and Smurfit Kappa embed sustainable finance.
    2. Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, Environment Agency, shares his 10 top tips for leaders on net zero.
    3. Same industry, different models: Burberry & Baukjen on meeting climate ambitions
    4. How the National Trust is turning climate ambition into action: a multi-faceted case study
    5. Embedding climate actions in day-to-day operations
    6. From pledge to progress: how businesses can take transformational ESG action.
  2. If you would like to share your experiences, the Chapter Zero network can offer you a platform. Get in touch at climate@chapterzero.org.uk.

My next two-minute read will address science and the facts.

Mary Ethna Black

Chapter Zero Fellow

Mary Ethna Black is a medical doctor, tech entrepreneur and experienced NED. She is a Fellow of Chapter Zero.


Our “Fellow’s perspective” series

Our Fellow’s Perspective series shares the views and expertise of the climate and business leaders who are the Chapter Zero Fellows.

Read more about our Fellows

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