british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2011 - Climate change dialogue series: viewpoint from our independent facilitator

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Sustainability Report 2011
I applaud British American Tobacco for its decision to use this series of dialogues to really examine how climate change will impact on its business.Paul Burke, Senior Partner, Acona Partners LLP

In 2010 and 2011, British American Tobacco held a series of stakeholder dialogue sessions focused on different aspects of climate change: water availability and management; carbon pricing and regulation; and renewable energy and low-carbon options. Acona Partners LLP helped with the design and organisation, including the recruitment of participants, and I facilitated each of the sessions.

Stakeholder dialogue has always been a cornerstone of British American Tobacco’s approach to sustainability. The methodology has evolved a lot over recent years to one that seeks, first, to understand stakeholder views and, second, to develop strategies and specific plans in response.

I think this has made for rich and valuable discussions. My impression is that participants – both inside and outside the business – have enjoyed their sessions and really welcomed the fact that they produce tangible outcomes. And that the business was keen to draw upon the experience of its peers and other experts.

Climate change is often named as the greatest challenge facing the planet. Many sustainability reports, annual reports and so on from the corporate world pay lip service to this. They claim that the business in question is responding to the risks, but often there seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. Many businesses just aren’t doing enough. 

So I applaud British American Tobacco for its decision to use this series of dialogues to really examine how climate change will impact on its business. After all, it’s only by fully understanding future risks that a company can protect its long-term business interests. 

Each dialogue focused on a different issue, but some common themes came up. The first was that the impacts of climate change on a company such as British American Tobacco are real, significant and likely to increase. These will probably include pressure on water resources for tobacco growing and increased energy costs in manufacturing. The business needs to take these into account.

The second theme that emerged was the importance of cooperation and collaboration in responding to climate change. The challenges and opportunities of climate change – things like managing water resources and developing the infrastructure for renewable energy – are too big for any one business to address on its own. Also traditional boundaries between what the public sector is responsible for and what the private sector should be doing don’t really make sense when you need these huge, systemic changes.
The final theme that recurred throughout the dialogues was that businesses need to adapt their existing processes for risk management and capital expenditure assessment to better take into account the impacts of climate change. This means having a much broader and more sophisticated understanding of environmental and social issues and evaluating risk and pay-back over longer time frames.

More detailed information on the insights from each of these sessions can be found in the dialogue reports at British American Tobacco regards these dialogues as part of a much wider process of engagement and is keen to expand its understanding of the specific issues. If you would like to contribute to this process, please contact

Paul Burke, Senior Partner, Acona Partners LLP


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