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The Great Pyramids and Net Zero Have More in Common Than Meets the Eye

Suki Benn | 21 March 2022 |
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Two and a half tonnes of stone would crush me in an instant. That is the average weight of the blocks in the Great Pyramid of Giza, with the largest being a whopping 80 tonnes. Some were quarried and transported from Aswan, more than 900 km away, with little more than a chisel, mallet, rope, and a boat. Tens of thousands of Egyptians performed this job by teaming together over a period of roughly 20 years to build one of the most magnificent architectural feats known to humankind. The pyramids still stand today, 4,600 years on.

Great Pyramid of Giza
Great Pyramid of Giza

Over the next 20 years, we have an opportunity to build a legacy for our future generations by achieving net zero by 2050. But this will require the same magnitude of collaboration that it took to build the pyramids.

I recently joined a group of passionate climate champions at the edie Sustainable Leaders Forum and one key takeaway is that collaboration is key to a net zero future, words echoed by Maria Mendiluce from We Mean Business Coalition, Sally Uren from Forum for the Future, and Una Kent from the Walgreens Boots Alliance. The only way we can move our metaphorical 2.3 million blocks weighing 2.5 tonnes to achieve net zero for the planet is by working together. But how do we go about it?

Here are four ways to start:

1) Find your North Star

North star
North star photo by Ron Kroetz

What is your purpose on this Earth? What is your purpose as a business leader? Corporations need clear direction about what they are trying to accomplish. Purpose can and should be written into the Articles of Association (UK) or Corporate Charter (USA) and embedded into the corporate culture to allow employees, the blood that runs in the veins, to not only live and breathe purpose, but also be accountable for short falls. Consider introducing a responsibility, resiliency and regeneration commitment into your Articles of Association or Corporate Charter, as a step.

2) Overcome barriers

Net zero is no small task, so seek help from communities, business, and government when faced with barriers to progress such as levels of environmental awareness, competition data sensitivity, and managing stakeholders with different perspectives. Share resources for others to learn, such as Microsoft’s Lessons from an Early Corporate Purchase and the recently-launched update for its Second Year on carbon removals.

3) Collaborate often

Identify and prioritize opportunities for collaboration in your stakeholder network. You likely share many of the same questions and goals. Some things to consider are: Identifying what strengths and unique values each party brings and/or shares; if competition is a challenge, identify what type of relationship you can foster; finally, what is your stage of play—pre-competitive, tactical, or systems change? How can you creatively collaborate for greater sustainability impact, for example, take a look at the McWhopper campaign which raised funds and awareness of Peace One Day. Thinking B2B, perhaps you share risk within your Scope 3 network?

When setting up partnerships, start small, be flexible, and think long term. Agree and document a clear objective for the partnership that will act as a guard rail when balance is lost. Remember that smaller partnerships will bring innovation, whereas larger partnerships bring scale.

Identify and own opportunities to leverage your value and create transformation. Think about ways your organisation can team up with innovative partners to jointly progress against your net zero goal.

4) Recognize achievement

Forest canopy by Glenn Oakley/TandemStock
Forest canopy by Glenn Oakley/TandemStock

Celebrate your wins, and those of others, with transparency and integrity. Leverage recognition as a tool for encouraging change in culture, policy, and the private sector. Sharing best practices also means we will build our legacy faster and better, so create parity of voice over competition.

Achieving net zero emissions by or before 2050 is a momentous challenge. Immediate opportunities for climate action exist, such as moving to 100% renewable energy and reducing unavoidable emissions through carbon finance and nature-based solutions. But for greater scale and impact we need to collaborate like the ancient Egyptians. We want to see you at the top of the pyramid.