I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the earth!

Posted on 11 October 2022

I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the earth!

Will Silverwood - helping organisations to shape and realise their sustainability strategies.



What business leaders can learn from Flash Gordon in the fight against climate change.
This year’s IPCC report conclusions and the famous '14 hours to save the earth' line from the classic Flash Gordon film (1980) have similar, stark timebound urgency.
Most business leaders were not hired to save our planet but now face the huge responsibility of leading their organisations towards a sustainable or regenerative future. In the same way, the strikingly handsome, blond quarterback of the New York Jets found himself hurled into space with no choice but to fight against Ming the Merciless in a battle to save the earth.
Business leaders are faced with a climate crisis that they must address now but unlike challenges that they have faced in the past, this time there is no tried and tested corporate playbook.
We can learn 3 key lessons from Flash?
1 – Take action now
A perfect plan will take time. Capability will need to be built. Data will need to be collected. Decarbonisation analysis and roadmaps will determine specific long-term activity, but leaders should, like Flash start the fight immediately. No sooner had he and Dale, his heroic partner, and journalist from the New York Times, crash-landed on Mongo than they started the seemingly futile resistance against Mings palace guards.
Create accountability, set an ambitious goal (most businesses are working towards Net-Zero goals that they don’t yet know how they’ll achieve), start with the low-hanging fruit (perhaps renewable energy transition and efficiency measures), run test and learn initiatives in parallel with the larger, capability building activities. You don’t have time to know everything now – build action based on what you do know.
2 –  Democratise the challenge, be open and engage the whole organisation and partners
Fixing climate change requires a system change, likely to affect all parts of our organisations. Democratising the ownership is key. Enable the vision and empower everyone to play their part. Build a culture that supports innovation and encourages sustainable practices that respect natural capital, recognise the need to work across the whole value chain with life cycle thinking (suppliers, partners, customers, NGOs, investors etc).
Colleagues facing new challenges may question; “What about my day job?”, however, when engaged, equipped with the knowledge, and supported they'll realise that their ‘day jobs’ are evolving and that they have the opportunity to play a key role in shaping their organisation for future generations.
Like our earth where natural systems are interconnected and interdependent, our solutions require us to collaborate - it's broader than a single organisation's knowledge set.
Just as Flash did, we are ‘hurtling into the void’, and this unprecedented situation means that we don’t have all the answers on how to fix it, but this must not paralyse action. We have enough collective knowledge to know that we can create solutions if we collaborate.
The Restaurant Group PLC, whom I've been helping with their Net Zero journey, like almost all of the quick service and fast food restaurant operators in the UK has joined to collaborate in decarbonisation activities through The Zero Carbon Forum led by Mark Chapman. Join or create a group in your sector.
Flash created a collective, a powerful alliance of previous enemies to beat Ming. The Hawkmen (led by Brian Blessed as Vultan) and Prince Barin’s men (led by a dashing Timothy Dalton) shed their history of hatred to join Flash in his quest. 
3 – Be Bold
With everyday evidence of climate disruption (no hot hail made of molten rock..yet), the debate is over as to whether climate change exists, the focus is now on how we, like our space heroes step up and take systemic action to replace incremental change.
Leaders need to look beyond the annual planning cycles and understand that short-term value, and immediate share price must exist alongside longer-term change toward a sustainable future.
Consumer behavioural change is unlikely to be the driver, it’s us from within our organisations who will drive meaningful change - hopefully supported by a committed government's regulatory framework and investment strategy.
We’re all in that rocket, hurtling through space. Like Flash and Dale Arden, we are reluctant passengers facing a perilous future but collectively we can vanquish Ming.
We can and must all become Flash and Dale Arden.
Having helped many organisations to shape and deliver strategic change, most recently to establish a sustainability programme for The Restaurant Group, it’s clear that becoming sustainable requires much of the same thinking to define and drive action.
Big thanks to The Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership through which I completed the excellent Business Sustainability Management course – helping to simplify the complex and how to organise a practical approach to plan for sustainable outcomes.
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