Building Momentum for Change

In 2020, Interface was one of 13 organizations honored with the United Nations Global Climate Action Award. Spearheaded by the Momentum for Change initiative at the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, the awards program showcases climate change leadership by nations, businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society as a whole.

Following the Global Climate Action Awards ceremony, we spoke with Momentum for Change Team Lead Sarah Marchildon to get her thoughts on the role of business in addressing climate change, the impact of COVID-19 on climate action, and what the UN hopes to accomplish through the Global Climate Action Awards program.

Q&A with Sarah Marchildon

Traditionally, the United Nations is known for working with national governments and for providing support to developing countries. What led the UN to form an awards program that honors worldwide action on climate change?

Historically, the UN Climate Change Secretariat serves national governments that are negotiating on climate change – that is what we do and what we have always done. Back in 2009, we had hoped the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference would result in a climate agreement, and when it didn’t, we took some time for introspection and looked at what we could do better. We realized that we were never going to succeed in addressing climate change by simply focusing on efforts by national governments. After all, there’s a lot of action that’s happening at the business level – look at Interface for example – and in universities, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots movements, but these efforts weren’t reflected much in our process at the time.

Given that our initial top-down approach didn’t work, we pursued a course that would get both big and small players together and launched our first awards program in 2011, which looked at climate action on the ground in developing countries. We later expanded our focus to also include action taking place in developed countries. Since then, we’ve seen a huge shift in understanding that climate action has to happen at all levels of society, in all countries.

What is the goal of the UN Global Climate Action Awards program?

Through the awards program, we want to draw attention to innovative climate actions in the hope of inspiring national governments and the private sector to be more ambitious in their response to climate change. We look to recognize climate actions that are both replicable and scalable to generate a “momentum for change,” which will ultimately lead to a larger combined impact.

The great news is that we’re seeing more and more applications every year – in 2020, we received approximately 600 entries despite the global pandemic, and the project submissions continue to become more advanced, which is encouraging for the planet. We were very pleased to see Interface’s entry, as the company is a well-known sustainability pioneer. In fact, at least one member of our Advisory Panel expressed surprise that we hadn’t given Interface the award yet, which is a testament to the company’s contributions toward climate action!

Watch the video below to learn about Interface and the other 2020 UN Global Climate Action Award winners in the Climate Neutral Now category:

How do you anticipate Covid-19 will affect climate action?

Like everyone around the globe, our team at Momentum for Change encountered plenty of unexpected challenges over the past year. We’ve learned that flexibility, adaptability and creativity are more important than ever before. Working on climate action, we recognize there are patterns in the response to the pandemic that can also be applied to climate change. We saw the world come together to address Covid-19, and it naturally leads us to think, “We can do that with climate change, too.” It just requires science – which we have – listening to the scientists, and working together as a global community, to take it seriously. We now know that large-scale societal action can take place to address a short-term issue, and we believe this will lead governments and businesses to examine their methods and how they approach climate change in the future.

Do you have advice for others who want to take action against climate change?

When someone at an individual level asks, “What can I do to help the planet?” I always say voting is the most powerful thing an individual can do to address climate change. In my opinion, it’s not recycling a coffee cup or biking to work. It is voting because we need transformational changes to happen if we really want to make a difference.

For business leaders that see one of our winners’ stories and want to learn how they can do something similar, they can contact us at Momentum for Change. We’re happy to make those connections. That’s why we’ve got winners going all the way back to 2011. We’re in contact with everyone, and we can connect you – that’s the whole point of our program. Just reach out to us at momentum@unfccc.int.

The UN Climate Change Secretariat accepts applications each spring for the UN Global Climate Action Awards. Interested parties may apply for the 2021 edition of the program through April 30.

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